When most people think about Toyota, they think of a modest line of fuel-efficient cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs. While this is certainly the main focus of the company, Toyota also has interests in robotics and assistance technologies. In an announcement on Friday, Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda announced a $1 Billion investment in an in-house research group tasked with Artificial Intelligence and Robotics research.
The first facility for this research group, dubbed Toyota Research Institute Inc., will start operating in January at a location near Stanford University. This facility will employ 200 people. A second location will join in the research in Massachusetts close to MIT. The entire operation will be headed by former DARPA program manager and robotics expert Gill Pratt.
While it would be easy to guess that Toyota is interested in joining the smarter, self-driving car fray, this is far from the only avenue this investment will influence for the company. Toyota has loftier goals in mind when it comes not only to driving, but to safety and assistance. Pratt outlined the initiative’s goals, which are three-fold: Support the elderly with robotics, make cars smarter to help them avoid accidents, and improve A.I. to allow anyone to drive regardless of ability. He further elaborated on several life events that lead to his desire to help:
He gave three examples from his personal life that motivate him to develop robotics and related technology: when he was a child, seeing a boy on a bicycle killed by a car; telling his 83-year-old father he could no longer drive; and sending his father to a nursing home when he was 84.
When explaining why he chose Toyota over other competing companies, Pratt explained that he saw that Toyota was “so focused on social good.”
Toyota may not be the first to investigate self-driving cars or other autonomous vehicle/robotic technology in this area, but it is definitely equipped to hit the ground running and catch up quickly.
What would you like to see come out of Toyota’s A.I. and Robotic research? Tell us all about it in the comments below or on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter.Source: LA Times