Toyota’s $1 Billion Investment in AI About More than Autonomous Driving



Early this November, Toyota announced the creation of the Toyota Research Institute in Silicon Valley, a business unit especially designed to develop AI solutions to help make vehicles safer. The TRI represents a $1 billion investment over the next 5 years, in addition to the $50 million the automaker has already invested in Stanford University and MIT. But Toyota has tapped Gill Pratt, the well-known roboticist previously in charge of DARPA’s Robotics Challenge, to oversee the project, so TRI’s advancements won’t be limited just to vehicles.

Take assisting the elderly, for example. Toyota has specifically expressed its desire to create assistive technology to help people in their homes, which is why it’s working on developing the Human Support Robot (pictured above). As Pratt says, “There’s been an enormous expansion in interest in manufacturing and assistive technologies. What they have in common with each other and with autonomous driving is this notion that at some level robotic systems will be working with people. Autonomous driving is actually the more difficult problem because you have to contend with a completely unpredictable environment.”

Structured environments like factories are fairly easy for robots to handle, as every thing has its designated place and vice versa. A situation like the open road on the other hand, can vary from relatively ordered (stop-and-go traffic) to a variety of sudden hazards (birds flying across the road, inattentive fellow drivers, etc.). In developing systems to help the elderly, Toyota’s AI are better able to understand human behaviors and motivations. Such an environment is relatively stable, with some low-risk changes interspersed throughout due to human activity. Martial Hebert, Director of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, offers as an example a person reaching for a cup.

“Suppose I have a robot in my workspace. It will need to observe my hand moving, understand that it is moving in a forward direction along a trajectory, and therefore understand that, given what it knows about the environment, my hand is going to grab a cup. If it knows that, the robot can make much deeper decisions about how to stay out of my space or how to help me. You can clearly see how you can transfer that capability to manufacturing, to assistive technologies, and to autonomous driving.”

Frankly, we’re very excited here at Roseville Toyota about the TRI, and we expect to see great things to come from it in years to come. To learn more about Toyota’s latest technological advances, be sure to call, contact us online, or just stop by by the dealership and test-drive one of our current Toyota models.

Image: Toyota

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