Toyota Investing $50M Into “Life-Saving Intelligent” Vehicles

There’s a lot of talk these days about the inevitable arrival of self-driving cars and the implications they will have on safety, insurance, traffic, and fuel costs, but Toyota has announced an investment in new research to develop “life-saving intelligent” vehicles that aren’t necessarily self-driving, but which could ideally combine the best of the autonomous car with one driven by a real human.

Toyota said today that it will invest around $50 million over the course of five years to establish joint research centers at Stanford University in California and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The goal, according to the car giant, is to “improve every-day living through artificial intelligence supported technologies” and develop “life-saving intelligent vehicles and life-improving robots.”

The head of Toyota’s research and development group, Kiyotaka Ise, says that the immediate goal is to cut down on traffic casualties with a longterm goal of using “enhanced mobility and robotics” to improve users’ quality of life.

Dr. Gill Pratt, who recently left DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to join the program, says that intelligent vehicles will “recognize objects around the vehicle in diverse environments, provide elevated judgment of surrounding conditions, and safely collaborate with vehicle occupants, other vehicles, and pedestrians.”

Speaking to the NY Times, he likened the idea of an intelligent vehicle to having a “guardian angel or driver’s education teacher” in the car with you.

“It usually does nothing, unless you are about to do something dumb,” explained Pratt.

MIT professor Daniela Rus believes there may be the potential for a car that is “incapable of getting into a collision.”

The group also expects to be able to take what it learns from its work on intelligent vehicles and apply it to robotic devices and information services that interact directly with humans. While Toyota is most widely known for its cars and trucks, it has been building industrial robotic devices for decades.

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