The automaker is earmarking $1 billion in funds for a new subsidiary called the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). The R&D firm will focus on building artificial intelligence products for automobiles and the home. It’s a big move for Toyota, one of several large automakers that are trying to navigate the tangled landscape ahead of the transition to autonomous and semiautonomous vehicles.
The company's public facing efforts on artificial intelligence in cars so far skew toward features like enhanced parking and lane spacing capabilities rather than self-driving cars such as those Google are working on.
The automaker is also making a high-profile hire to lead the lab. Gill Pratt, the program manager at the DARPA Robotics Challenge, will oversee the new team. Toyota is initially opening a lab in Palo Alto, and a second location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is planned for a future opening. TRI will start operations in January 2016.
In a statement, Pratt said the following:
Our initial goals are to: 1) improve safety by continuously decreasing the likelihood that a car will be involved in an accident; 2) make driving accessible to everyone, regardless of ability; and 3) apply Toyota technology used for outdoor mobility to indoor environments, particularly for the support of seniors. We also plan to apply our work more broadly, for example to improve production efficiency and accelerate scientific discovery in materials.
While Toyota has dabbled in support for seniors before, an emphasis on applying automotive industry technology to everyday life for senior citizens is new for the company.