Toyota finally entered the race to build self-driving cars, as the Japanese automobile manufacturer announced that it is making a $50 million investment over the next five years into development of the technology.
The investment will go towards the establishment of research centers with Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the centers to work on the combination of artificial intelligence with self-driving car technology.
"We will initially focus on the acceleration of intelligent vehicle technology, with the immediate goal of helping eliminate traffic casualties and the ultimate goal of helping improve quality of life through enhanced mobility and robotics," said Toyota head of research and development, Kiyotaka Ise.
The five-year collaboration will be directed by Gill Pratt, the former program director for the Defense Sciences Office of the Defense Research Project Agency, or DARPA. Pratt used to run the Robotics Challenge of DARPA, which is a contest for creating robot systems that would help emergency responders in disaster incidents.
The research that will be carried out at MIT will be focusing on advanced architectures, which will allow cars to perceive, understand and then analyze the surroundings. The leader for the program will be Daniela Rus, who has recently worked on the development of driverless golf carts and the laser, or LIDAR, sensors that self-driving cars mostly use to be able to map their environment.
The research in Stanford, on the other hand, will focus on machine learning and computer vision. This technology would be crucial to teach vehicles on how to navigate busy streets, where a variety of situations can happen at any time. The center will also be working on analysis for human behavior, both for the pedestrians and for the people inside the vehicles.
During a Q&A Session, Toyota representatives said that while artificial intelligence and self-driving cars are not necessarily the same, the technologies are certainly connected. Toyota is hoping to take the next step in self-driving car technology by developing a smart machine which not only be able to react to stimulus, but also make difficult judgments based on the environment and naturally interact with its driver.
Self-driving vehicles will need artificial intelligence to help them think through inaccurate information in mapping data and to think about how to interact with pedestrians.
Toyota, however, has not said that it will actually be building its own self-driving car. Rivals Mercedes and Nissan, on the other hand, have said that they will be releasing driverless cars by the year 2020, while Audi is already developing a human machine interface which such vehicles will require.
Toyota has not revealed its long-term intentions for its $50 million investment, but surely the research that the company spurred for the technology will prove to be beneficial in the future.