Toyota investing $1 billion in Silicon Valley research lab

Toyota FCV Plus concept

Toyota FCV Plus concept  (Toyota)

Toyota will establish a new research and development facility in California’s Silicon Valley at the cost of $1 billion over five years. The new facility, to be called the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), will be based near Stanford University in Palo Alto and focus initially on artificial intelligence and robotics. It will eventually be joined by a second facility near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Toyota believes artificial intelligence has significant potential to support future industrial technologies and the creation of whole industries, and sees its role as providing a bridge between the areas of pure research and actual production. In fact, Toyota says TRI’s primary mission will be to accelerate research in the practical use of artificial intelligence and big data.

Where might we see some of the practical applications of the technology? Gill Pratt, who will head TRI, explained that automotive applications could include systems to help decrease the likelihood that a car will be involved in an accident, such as active safety features that could take over control of a car if it detects a crash is imminent. He also mentioned systems to make driving accessible to everyone, perhaps even the vision impaired, such as through the use of fully autonomous technology.

But Toyota sees the application of artificial intelligence and big data far beyond the auto industry. Pratt said Toyota is also looking at indoor applications of the technology, perhaps in mobility devices for the disabled or senior citizens. Toyota has also hinted at a future where robots interact with humans with concepts like the original Kirobo astronaut and the more recent Kirobo Mini “communication partner.”

There will be other areas of research at TRI, for example to improve production efficiency and accelerate scientific discovery in materials.

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