Toyota announces $1bn artificial intelligence and robotics plan

Published: 06 November 2015

► Toyota Research Institute for robotics and artificial intelligence
► $1 billion investment planned over next five years
► Immediate goals are improved car safety and useful robots

What’s Japanese for ‘hasta la vista, baby’? We’ve no idea. And worry that Toyota might not know either, given it’s just announced a new $1 billion robotics and artificial intelligence company. Hasn’t it seen the Terminator movies?

(Sorry.)

The new company will be called the Toyota Research Institute Inc. (TRI), and it officially opens its doors in January 2016.

The $1 billion, which represents the next five years of investment into TRI, is in addition to $50 million Toyota has already pledged to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University to establish joint fundamental artificial intelligence research centres at each institution. TRI’s HQ will be located in Silicon Valley, California, near Stanford University, with a second facility near MIT.

Why is Toyota investing in artificial intelligence and robotics? 

Let’s not put words in its mouth – here’s the reason exactly: 

‘Toyota believes artificial intelligence has significant potential to support future industrial technologies and the creation of an entirely new industry.’

What will Toyota’s new TRI robot and AI firm actually do?

Again, here’s the official message:

‘TRI will help bridge the gap between fundamental research and product development. Its primary mission is to accelerate R&D 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.’

Not such a big task, then…

Ok, but what does that actually mean? 

It means it wants to build cars that can drive better than we can, and build robots that will help bring a higher quality of life to their users. It has already shown concepts for the latter, including the ‘Partner Robot’ family and even the Kirobo Mini (below) from the 2015 Tokyo motor show – a tiny, manga-style humanoid robot designed to act as an artificial companion. It’s small enough to fit in a cupholder.

Toyota's Kiribo Mini robot

So who’s going to be holding the detonator?

Toyota has appointed Dr Gill Pratt as TRI’s chief executive officer. His prior position as a program manager at DARPA (that’s the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency...) involved leading the annual DARPA Robotics Challenge and working on ‘neuromorphic systems’ projects. Which as far as we understand it means designing artificial neural systems.

We wish him, Toyota and the 200 or so employees that will be aiming to accomplish our eventual robotic apocalypse the best of luck. We’re still not overly keen on the idea of self-driving cars, though.

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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