Toyota to establish $1bn US-based robotics and AI R&D company

Toyota Motor Corporation has announced a plan to establish a new research and development company to help boost research into artificial intelligence, robotics and big data to address society’s future mobility challenges.

TMC will make a $1bn initial investment over the next five years to establish, staff and conduct operations at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) – the new company that will help bridge the gap between fundamental research and product development, with an initial focus on artificial intelligence and robotics.

TRI’s headquarters will be situated in Silicon Valley near Stanford University, with a second facility near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Toyota FCV Plus (concept)
Toyota FCV Plus (concept) which was showcased at the recent Tokyo Motor Show.

TRI will begin operations in January 2016 with a planned 200 workers, and is the latest investment in addition to the $50m investment over the next five years with MIT and Stanford University to establish joint fundamental artificial intelligence research centres at each university.

Toyota’s investment in its TRI reaffirms the company’s belief that artificial intelligence has significant potential to support future industrial technologies and the creation of an entirely new industry.

The creation of this new industry driven by future technologies will be forged by the research and development achieved by the TRI.

TRI’s primary mission is to accelerate research and development in a range of fields to help resolve society’s future challenges by using artificial intelligence and big data, thereby contributing to a sustainable future ‘where everyone can experience a safer, freer and unconstrained life.

Former DARPA manager to head up TRI

Dr Gill Pratt is Toyota’s executive technical adviser and chief executive officer of the new TRI enterprise - image courtesy of Toyota
Dr Gill Pratt is Toyota’s executive technical adviser and chief executive officer of the new TRI enterprise – image courtesy of Toyota.

TRI will be directed by Dr Gill Pratt, Toyota’s executive technical adviser and chief executive officer of the new enterprise.

Dr Pratt was a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the US Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military.

As a DARPA Program Manager, Dr Pratt led projects in Neuromorphic Systems and Robotics, including the DARPA Robotics Challenge from 2010 to 2015, a tenure which saw him awarded DARPA Program Manager of the Year 2014.

Dr Pratt’s initial goals for the TRI are to improve safety by continuously decreasing the likelihood that a car will be involved in an accident, make driving accessible to everyone regardless of ability, and to apply Toyota technology used for outdoor mobility to indoor environments, particularly for the support of seniors.

Dr Pratt also said that the TRI would branch out into other areas such as scientific research and discovery.

“We also plan to apply our work more broadly, for example, to improve production efficiency and accelerate scientific discovery in materials,” he said.

In addition to Dr Pratt’s leadership and expertise, the TRI will hire leading researchers and engineers to support its wide range of activities.

TMC president Akio Toyoda said the company shared the same goals and motivations as Dr Pratt, which would be harnessed through the TRI.

“As technology continues to progress, so does our ability to improve products,” he said.

“At Toyota, we do not pursue innovation simply because we can; we pursue it because we should. It is our responsibility to make life better for our customers, and society as a whole.

“I want to work with Gill, not just because he is a great researcher, but because I believe that his goals and motivations are the same as ours.”