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Toyota to invest $1bn in artificial intelligence with new research facility

Toyota, the world’s largest car manufacturer, has announced plans to invest $1bn into artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics through the creation of a new research and development company.

The announcement comes shortly after Graeme Hackland, IT director of the Williams Martini Racing, told Computing that the Formula 1 racing car team is looking into how it can potentially use AI.

The new company, Toyota Research Institute (TRI), is set to begin operating in January 2016 and will be based in Silicon Valley, near Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. A second facility will be based near Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Toyota is making the £1bn investment in the institute over the next five years because the company believes “artificial intelligence has significant potential to support future industrial technologies and the creation of an entirely new industry” and will ultimately make driving safer.

The mission statement of the new Toyota Research Institute is to “bridge the gap between fundamental research and product development”. It aims to do that by accelerate RD in areas “to help resolve society’s future challenges” by using artificial intelligence and big data.

According to Toyota, this will mean the facility is “contributing to a sustainable future where everyone can experience a safer, freer, and unconstrained life”.

TRI’s CEO will be Dr Gill Pratt, Toyota’s executive technical advisor, who said TRI will explore how artificial intelligence can make driving simpler and safer.

“Our initial goals are to improve safety by continuously decreasing the likelihood that a car will be involved in an accident, make driving accessible to everyone, regardless of ability; and apply Toyota technology used for outdoor mobility to indoor environments, particularly for the support of seniors,” he said.

“We also plan to apply our work more broadly, for example to improve production efficiency and accelerate scientific discovery in materials,” Dr Pratt added.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corporation, commented that the company is excited about the potential innovation that could be brought about using AI.

“As technology continues to progress, so does our ability to improve products. At Toyota, we do not pursue innovation simply because we can; we pursue it because we should. It is our responsibility to make life better for our customers, and society as a whole,” he said.

“I want to work with Gill, not just because he is a great researcher, but because I believe that his goals and motivations are the same as ours,” Toyoda added.

Another of the world’s largest car manufacturers, Volvo, recently announced it had partnered with big data analytics company Inrix to provide drivers with what they call “the first live, real-time traffic service” to help “better tackle the challenges of daily driving.”

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