Toyota to spend $1bn on artificial intelligence project in Silicon Valley

Toyota is investing $1bn in a research company it is setting up in Silicon Valley to develop artificial intelligence and robotics, underlining the Japanese automaker’s determination to lead in futuristic cars that drive themselves and apply the technology to other areas of daily life.
Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda said on Friday the company will start running in January 2016, with 200 employees at a Silicon Valley facility near Stanford University, with a second facility near Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The investment, which will be spread over five years, comes on top of $50m Toyota announced earlier for artificial intelligence research at Stanford and MIT. Toyota said its interest extended beyond autonomous driving, which is starting to be offered by some automakers and being promised by almost all of them. The technology was pointing to a new industry for everyday use, delivering a safer lifestyle overall, it said.
Toyota has already shown an R2-D2-like robot that scoots around and picks up things for people, designed to help the elderly, the sick and people in wheelchairs. It has also shown human-shaped entertainment robots that can carry on conversations and play musical instruments. As the world’s top auto manufacturer, Toyota already uses sophisticated robotic arms and computers in auto production, including paint jobs and screwing in parts.
To drive home the message his vision was more than about just cars, Toyoda appeared at a Tokyo hotel with high profile robotics expert Gill Pratt, who will head the new organisation, called Toyota Research Institute Inc. Pratt was formerly a program manager at the US military’s defence advanced research projects agency and joined Toyota as a technical adviser when it set up its AI research effort at Stanford and MIT.
Pratt said the company’s goals are to support older people in homes, not just outdoors, with robotics, as well as making cars free of accidents and having everyone driving regardless of ability. Toyota, which has gone through troubled times with massive recalls and the 2011 tsunami in northeastern Japan, has the cash these days to invest in the future.