Back in November 2015, Toyota announced a $1 billion investment fund to start a new company called Toyota Research Institute (TRI) focused on accelerating the development of artificial intelligence and robotics. Amazing progress has been made in just two short months. In addition to Toyota bringing on Gill Pratt, an expert in robotics and artificial intelligence from DARPA, as CEO, they have recruited some of the biggest brains in this field to form the leadership team for this organization. Offices in Palo Alto and Cambridge are set to open in March 2016. Locations were designed to be within a 10 minute commute of Stanford Research Park and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
You might ask what does robotics and artificial intelligence have to do with selling more Camrys and Tacomas? Well, a great deal. Toyota believes that the future of mobility will follow two simultaneously developed paths. The first is the ability to provide access to mobility for everyone regardless of their physical limitations especially for the elderly and the handicapped. This means fully autonomous technology in addition to personal robotics that can assist those with limited mobility with daily living. The second is to build advanced safety through acceleration of machine learning. Machine learning will allow more functions to be assigned to cars to avoid a crash. Cars will not only be able to learn and become better drivers, but they will even be able to explain the actions they took to avoid crashes. A recent survey by insurance comparison website Kanetix.ca revealed that more than 50% of Canadians expect that using an autonomous car would mean fewer accidents and crashes on the roads.
According to Pratt, a fully autonomous car is still far from completion. The cars today can only navigate under simple environmental circumstances such as limited speed and clear driving conditions. Toyota’s strategy is to develop technology that will work in the most complex situations. Autonomous cars have been tested reliably for millions of miles. Toyota believes that in order to achieve a reliable autonomous car, 1 trillion miles of testing is required. This math comes from the fact that there are 100 million Toyota cars and trucks around the world that travel 1 trillion miles per year. This audacious goal can only be achieved by artificial intelligence and machine learning technology
Toyota is investing in this technology because it recognizes that the world is changing. Software and data are now essential components of Toyota’s mobility strategy. The need for machines to assist our daily lives outdoors has broadened with the use of cars and our lives indoors will be enriched with the use of personal robotics. TRI’s ultimate goal is to bridge the gap between research and development and drive the products Toyota builds in the future.