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Toyota spending US$50m on intelligent technology research

POSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 07 September 2015

TOYOTA is investing US$50 million (RM215mn) with Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in hopes of gaining an edge in an accelerating race to phase out human drivers.

The financial commitment will be made over the next five years at joint research centres located in Silicon Valley and another technology hub in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the company said in a press release.

Toyota has hired robotics expert Gill Pratt to oversee research aimed at developing artificial intelligence and other innovations that will enable future car models to navigate the roads without people doing all the steering and stopping.

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Pratt (left) was programme manager at DARPA (the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and leader of its recent Robotics Challenge.

Major tech companies such as Google and Uber are competing against a range of automakers to make robot cars that will be better drivers than people and save lives by causing fewer accidents.

Toyota promised to have collision-prevention technology installed in all its US cars by 2017, but isn’t as optimistic about building a car capable of driving entirely by itself within the next decade.

Instead, Toyota envisions cars becoming gradually smarter and more independent of humans as its own engineers and the research centres at Stanford and MIT discover breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and robotics.

Dr Pratt said that the combined research will target improving the ability of intelligent vehicle technologies to recognise objects around the vehicle in diverse environments, provide elevated judgment of surrounding conditions, and safely collaborate with vehicle occupants, other vehicles, and pedestrians.

The joint research will also look at applications of the same technology to human-interactive robotics and information service.

Toyota chief officer, R&D Group, Kiyotaka Ise, said: “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.

“This partnership, led by Dr Pratt, is a great opportunity to work with two leading research teams from two top universities. I am very excited about what this new venture means for Toyota, and I look forward to more announcements in the future.”

The MIT research centre will focus on inventing ways for cars to recognise their surroundings and make decisions that avert potential accidents.

If the goals are realised, Toyota might be able to build a car “incapable of getting into a collision,” said Daniela Rus, the MIT professor who will lead the university’s research partnership with the automaker.

Besides working on recognition technology, the Stanford research centre will try to create artificial intelligence programs that can predict behaviour patterns so cars can quickly adjust to potentially dangerous situations.

Stanford’s research will be led by Fei-Fie Li, director of the university’s artificial intelligence laboratory.

General Motors and Ford Motor have established offices in Palo Alto, California, in their own quests to make smarter cars.

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