Toyota Research Institute to open facility in Michigan

Michigan technical center will focus on fully autonomous driving, expanding carmaker's ongoing work on "guardian angel" driving.

More big moves at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI): CEO Gill Pratt announced that the carmaker's $1bn dollar artificial intelligence and robotics initiative would open a third facility, this one in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The announcement came at Nvidia's GPU Tech Conference in San Jose and follows a period of early growth for TRI, which last month absorbed Massachusetts-based Jaybridge Robotics and already has two research facilities, one in California and one in Massachusetts.

"Beyond the extraordinary work that U-M is doing broadly in advancing automotive safety research, and in autonomous driving, in particular, Toyota has deep roots in the Ann Arbor community," said Pratt.

Last November, Toyota announced an initial five-year, $1bn investment in TRI, which will be a research and development enterprise designed to bridge the gap between fundamental research in robotics and artificial intelligence and product development.

The idea is to accelerate the development of all the cool AI research that's currently happening in labs and DARPA-backed projects and bring it to market as quickly as is feasible, which is why the initiative has people so excited. Comparisons have been drawn to famous industrial laboratories like Bell Labs and PARC, which are jointly responsible for an impressive chunk of silicon-age advances.

Some of TRI's specific goals are to enhance the safety of automobiles with the ultimate goal of creating a car that is incapable of causing a crash, to increase access to cars to those who otherwise cannot drive, including the handicapped and the elderly, to help translate outdoor mobility technology into products for indoor mobility, and to accelerate scientific discovery by applying techniques from artificial intelligence and machine learning.

TRI's first two locations opened in January and are both near universities with which it's partnering. The Palo Alto location is located near Stanford University while the site in Cambridge, MA is adjacent to MIT.

Ann Arbor the University of Michigan is becoming a hotbed for AI research and self-driving car technology. In July UM opened Mcity, a 23-acre mini-city designed to let researchers and automakers test driverless car technology. UM is also home to the Mobility Transformation Center, which is developing a system of connected and automated vehicles.

TRI is taking an interesting approach to self-driving cars, putting many of its resources behind so-called "guardian angel" driving, in which autonomous functions like automatic braking and crash avoidance operate in the background while a human driver maintains control of a vehicle.

Much of the research for guardian angel driving is being carried out in TRI's Silicon Valley facility. TRI's Ann Arbor research site will focus on research around fully autonomous driving.

The Ann Arbor location is scheduled to open in June with an initial staff 50.