Although Toyota has an existing five-year $70 million investment with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, today’s announcement will see the company pour $1.4 billion into its new operation.
The new Toyota Research Institute (TRI) company’s stated goal is to “help bridge the gap between fundamental research and product development”, focusing on future mobility and robotics.
Above: Kirobo, a human interaction robot experiment developed by Toyota with universities and other companies in Japan.
The announcement was accompanied by the usual marketing spin - promising to contribute to “a sustainable future where everyone can experience a safer, freer and unconstrained life” - but it is clear that Toyota is now moving to ensure a position on the bleeding edge of automotive technologies as they become increasingly computerised and complex.
“Improving safety by continuously decreasing the likelihood that a car will be involved in an accident” is posed as one of the company’s driving goals, but the focus on artificial intelligence makes clear another point: making driving “accessible to everyone, regardless of ability”.
The carmaker sees a wider application for its artificial intelligence research, though, including a plan to “apply Toyota technology used for outdoor mobility to indoor environments”, again making life easier for seniors and the disabled.
Famous for its lean manufacturing philosophy, The Toyota Way, Toyota also expects to use its artificial intelligence research to further improve production efficiency.
"As technology continues to progress, so does our ability to improve products,” Toyota president Akio Toyoda said today.
"At Toyota, we do not pursue innovation simply because we can; we pursue it because we should. It is our responsibility to make life better for our customers, and society as a whole.”
The new company will be headed up by Dr Gill Pratt, an electric engineer and computer scientist with college teaching posts and lengthy DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) work to his credit.
Toyota Research Institute Inc will begin operations in January 2016 with 200 employees, based out of its Silicon Valley headquarters near Stanford University, along with a second facility near MIT.