Lexus sedans can automatically switch lanes and Toyota robots play trumpets and baritone horns in company quartets. “Child’s play,” Toyota’s board of directors said, “bring us more robots, smarter artificial intelligence, and knock on the brightest doors of Stanford and MIT.” The result: Toyota will commit more than $1 billion to new research in Palo Alto, California, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, two cities with some of the world’s brainiest scientists, to automate our lives ever further.
The plan embeds Toyota R&D at both universities to bring self-driving cars and home-care robots to the masses, particularly for elderly and disabled people. A totally new division, called Toyota Research Institute, is on a hiring spree, and we hear they’re paying well. Toyota initially announced the MIT-Stanford hookup in September with a $50 million budget, or just four percent of MIT’s endowment. Now that Toyota is bringing serious cash, it’s expecting a few marvelous innovations, such as how self-driving cars should “safely collaborate with vehicle occupants, other vehicles, and pedestrians.”
As for the home-care robots, Toyota wants to move into the mobility market, including motorized assists for people with paralysis and machines to lift patients onto beds.
At the helm is Dr. Gill Pratt, an electrical engineer, computer scientist, and former MIT professor who was program manager at the U.S. military’s DARPA project, which is advancing robotics and self-driving vehicles for next-gen combat. He’ll start with Toyota’s roughly 200-strong team on both coasts this January.
Since this is Toyota, we’ll bet safety and conservatism will be top of mind, even in the liberal, risk-it-all chambers of Silicon Valley and Cambridge. After all, we can’t deal with A.I. uprisings and cars that refuse to take us to McDonald’s.