Does Toyota AI Ventures care whether a particular startup gets acquired or becomes an exclusive partner to Toyota or has a different end goal?
We are actually very clear about not putting any constraints on them up front that they need to work with Toyota. That's a core part of the philosophy. We look for opportunities where it makes sense, but we want them to be successful whatever that looks like. So far, we've invested in 27 companies and we've had one acquisition, Blackmore, which was acquired by a company named Aurora, and the others are still privately held.
The hype over autonomous driving from the last few years has quieted down a bit, with people talking more now about advanced driver-assistance systems. Has that sort of shift affected the investments you're making—
TRI was an early voice saying this is going to take a really long time, so that has guided us. We haven't really bought into the hype. May Mobility is an example of a company that is taking what's possible today — their vehicles are fully autonomous but have to be geofenced — and they have paying customers.
Of the three companies Toyota brought to a CES panel for journalists, only one had anything obvious to do with artificial intelligence. AI is in your name, but it doesn't seem like that's a requirement. Does the AI in your name in fact stand for artificial intelligence?
I think you're the first person to ask that, but yes, it does. From Day One, our investment thesis was always to look in different areas: artificial intelligence, mobility, robotics, data cloud. If you look at our portfolio as a whole, the majority of the investments have some sort of AI component, it's just not exclusively AI.
What kinds of micromobility seem to make the most sense to you— Scooters must be one, but is there anything else worth attention?
The two areas that we've invested in micromobility, and they've been the more recent ones, are Skip Scooters and Revel. There are a lot of scooter companies, and we chose Skip because of their team and their data-driven approach, and that they really emphasized safety and things that were important to us. For Revel, it was, again, the business model and team, so we're not necessarily out there looking to make a bunch of micromobility investments. It's when the right combination bubbles up. I think it remains to be seen what that all will look like. This is new to us, but we're excited to see where it goes.