PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Seeking to make cars better at avoiding crashes, Toyota Motor Corp. will spend $50 million over five years to set up joint research centers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, the Japanese automaker said today during an event near Stanford’s campus here.
To manage its own artificial intelligence research, Toyota has also hired a robotics expert from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon r&d division that has played a pivotal role in the development of self-driving cars.
“We will initially focus on the acceleration of intelligent vehicle technology, with the immediate goal of helping eliminate traffic casualties and the ultimate goal of helping improve quality of life through enhanced mobility and robotics,” Kiyotaka Ise, a senior managing officer at Toyota and chief officer of its r&d group, said in a statement.
The initial focus of researchers, Toyota said, will be designing software that can adeptly recognize objects in different road environments, make wise driving judgments and collaborate with human passengers, pedestrians and other vehicles.
Now joining Toyota to manage these activities is Gill Pratt, the head of DARPA’s Robotics Challenge, in which teams design a robot to serve a specific purpose such as rescuing people trapped after a natural disaster. In 2004, 2005 and 2007, the agency ran a series of “Grand Challenges” for autonomous vehicles that yielded many of the engineers that started the pioneering self-driving cars program at Google Inc.
The two university teams funded by Toyota will be led by Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
“We understand the importance of this technology, and we know that competition from other automakers and technology companies is increasing,” Ise said at the event. “Today’s announcement is the beginning of unprecedecented commitment by Toyota to artificial intelligence and robotics technology research for years to come.”
Led by Pratt, “we plan to take on new challenges,” he added, “and we will do so at a scale that matches how important we believe this work is.”
Said Pratt: “Our goal today is to create machines that help people be more autonomous and move about without regard to limits imposed by age or illness. Our goal is to eliminate highway collisions without eliminating the fun of driving. Our goal is to enable people to continue to enjoy freedom and independence, no matter their age. … That is why I’ve chosen to join Toyota and to work with these two extraordinary schools in this effort.”
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