Toyota invests millions into intelligent cars

Toyota Senior Managing Officer Kiyotaka Ise announces the new research investment. Image courtesy of Toyota
Toyota Senior Managing Officer Kiyotaka Ise announces the new research investment. Image courtesy of Toyota.

Japanese automaker Toyota yesterday announced plans to collaborate with research institutions to develop what it calls ‘intelligent vehicles’.

The company will work with Stanford University as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in order to advance these technologies.

All up, Toyota plans to invest $50m into this program over the course of the next 5 years to set up a pair of research centers.

Toyota will work with Dr. Gill Pratt, a former Program Manager at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and leader of its recent Robotics Challenge, in order to direct this research.

“We will initially focus on the acceleration of intelligent vehicle technology, with the immediate goal of helping eliminate traffic casualties and the ultimate goal of helping improve quality of life through enhanced mobility and robotics,” said Kiyotaka Ise, Toyota senior managing officer and chief officer, R&D Group.

The establishment of these research centers and the hiring of Dr. Pratt shows that Toyota is getting serious with its plans to manufacture its own autonomous vehicles.

As well as the rapid progress being made by its competitors in this field, Toyota is also viewing the aging population in Japan and other western countries as a driver of these technologies.

“As we age, mobility becomes more challenging; and larger segments of society are unable to drive or move freely […]. Toyota believes the opportunities to improve every-day living through artificial intelligence supported technologies are boundless,” stated the company in a press release.

The primary field of research for these new centers will not be the creation of a complete, stand-alone autonomous vehicle, but rather the technologies which these vehicles incorporate.

These include computer vision systems allowing for the rapid detection of objects in the vehicles’ path, as well as digital networking equipment which allows vehicles and their occupants to communicate with each other.

“Our team will collaborate with Stanford and Toyota to develop advanced architectures that allow cars to better perceive and navigate their surroundings in order to make safe driving decisions,” said Professor Daniela Rus, a researcher at MIT.

“These efforts will play a major role in helping reduce traffic casualties, and potentially even helping us develop a vehicle incapable of getting into a collision.”

Toyota’s latest investment comes at a time of great interest in autonomous vehicles and driverless cars. The entire automotive industry is heavily investing in these vehicles and their associated technologies, with BMW, Tesla, Honda, and many others all working on their own concepts.