Toyota invests $50 million with Stanford, MIT to develop vehicle AI

Toyota, unlike Google, is steering its research toward technologies that will assist human drivers, rather than replace them altogether.

The Toyota Motor Corporation is investing $50 million with Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to accelerate the development intelligent vehicle technologies.

The automaker will use the investment over the next five years to establish joint research facilities at each university with the hopes of building out vehicle-based artificial intelligence and robotics in a way that will make automobiles safer to drive.

Additionally, Toyota has hired Gill Pratt, a leading roboticist and the former program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to oversee the project.

Kiyotaka Ise, head of Toyota's research and development group, said the initial focus of the research effort will be on "helping eliminate traffic casualties" through enhanced mobility and robotics.

Toyota, unlike Google, is steering its research toward technologies that will assist human drivers, rather than replace them altogether.

For example, if a driver becomes distracted and begins to veer into another lane toward another vehicle, the intelligent vehicle system would sense the surroundings and correct the vehicle's trajectory. Toyota and its researchers see this type of driver-assistant technology as more attainable in the short term compared to full blown autonomous vehicles.

The facility at MIT will focus on the development of architectures that "allow cars to better perceive and navigate their surroundings in order to make safe driving decisions," according to Professor Daniela Rus, one of the team members heading research at the university. "These efforts will play a major role in helping reduce traffic casualties, and potentially even helping us develop a vehicle incapable of getting into a collision."

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, the Stanford facility will draw upon the university's expertise in computer vision, machine learning and large-scale data analysis to make vehicles better equipped to predict behaviors of people and objects on the road.

Meanwhile, both General Motors and the Ford Motor Co. have established offices in Palo Alto to develop smart automobile technologies. And of course there's Google, which can be seen regulary testing its self-driving cars on the streets of Mountain View.