Toyota today announced that it has formed partnerships with Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to open joint research center on both of those U.S. campuses. Researchers there will focus on artificial intelligence and robotics — but not in the same way that other automakers have been doing in recent years.
The immediate intent of the $50 million initiative is to make it safer for human beings to drive cars.
“Toyota believes the opportunities to improve everyday living through artificial intelligence supported technologies are boundless, with significant breakthrough potential for the development of life-saving intelligent vehicles and life-improving robots,” Toyota said in a statement on the news.
The initiative will be led by Gill Pratt, who until now was program manager in the defense sciences office at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the figurehead of the DARPA Robotics Challenge. Fei-Fei Li, a Stanford professor highly regarded in the world of computer vision, will be heading up the new Stanford lab.
With this new effort, Toyota is zigging while other car companies zag. Audi, Honda, Mercedes, and Tesla have all begun programs to build self-driving cars. (Toyota has done work here in this department, too.) Alternative cab service Uber and mainstream tech companies Apple and Google have their own autonomous vehicle programs, too.
Toyota, by contrast, is intent on developing “intelligent vehicle technologies.” That might mean new Toyotas based on this research will be able to better anticipate and react to the appearance of obstacles in the vehicle’s path — not unlike Google’s cars.
The New York Times has more on the news.