Toyota, the largest car maker in the world, has announced that it plans to pave the way to the future of vehicles by heavily focusing on the research and development of artificial intelligence (“AI”) with applications to safer, smarter vehicles.
The company, mirroring a trend within its home country of Japan, is also looking at designing to improve lives at home. The company states that its major push into AI and robotics is critical for addressing the challenges that society faces both now and in the future.
Toyota stresses that its primary, immediate goal is to improve vehicle safety and save lives on the road. The company further points out that its goal is not to create a fully autonomous car, like the ones Google, Apple and Uber are developing. Rather, Toyota is working on “assistive autonomy,” where vehicles will continuously sense and interpret the environment around the driver, ready to intervene once it detects a harmful or dangerous situation.
Toyota is going all in and the director of this research, Dr. Gill Pratt, stated that, “Our long-term goal is to make a car that is never responsible for a crash.” He further proffers that such intelligent cars will “allow older people to be able to drive, and help prevent the one and a half million deaths that occur as a result of cars every single year around the world.”
Dr. Pratt will collaborate and work with Professor Daniela Rus, head of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (“CSAIL”), as well as Professor Fei-Fei Li, director of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (“SAIL”).
In fact, Toyota has pledged $50 million over five years to the two laboratories, funding specific lines or research which Dr. Pratt amounts to “a very strong effort in terms of R&D.” Dr. Pratt will oversee the collaborative research and will “direct and accelerate these research activities and [their] application to intelligent vehicles and robotics.”
It is unusual to hear companies make such strong claims but Toyota and Dr. Pratt reiterate that, “Our goal, which is a little different than the approach that other take, is to build intelligence to help the car be really a guardian angel for you and keeping you from having a wreck. We want to enhance the fun of driving for the human being while making it far more safe.” The company hopes to do this by improving and expanding on already-existing safety features and to invent new ones.
So, rather than direct its immediate efforts towards developing and producing a self-driving car, Toyota is focused on the central AI component of autonomous driving. The “substantial” scope of Toyota’s commitment will be necessary for the significant work needed to create a “vehicle that will never crash.”