Toyota Investing $1 Billion In A.I., Robotics Research Facility In Silicon Valley

Nov 06, 2015 11:15 AM EST | John Nassivera

Silicon Valley continues to receive interest from companies around the world, the latest being Toyota, which announced Friday that it will invest $1 billion in a research company in the area that will develop artificial intelligence and robotics.

The Japanese automaker plans on beginning operations at the Toyota Research Institute in January 2016, and the $1 billion will be spent on the company over the next five years, according to CNET. The institute is currently headquartered near Stanford University in Alto Palo, Calif., and has a second base located close to MIT in Cambridge, Mass.

The investment is the latest made by Toyota in the facility, as it previously put $50 million towards establishing joint research labs at Stanford and MIT.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda said Friday that the Silicon Valley facility will consist of 200 employees, ABC News reported.

Robotics is a large focus for Toyota, as it previously built an R2-D2-like robot programmed to help the elderly, the sick and people in wheelchairs by picking up and carrying objects, as well as human-like entertainment bots that can talk and play music instruments. The company has also used robotics to improve its cars, developing robotic arms and computers for paint jobs and screwing in parts.

The A.I. and robotic technology that Toyota will develop at the new facility will go towards making driving easier for humans, CNET noted.

"Our initial goals are to improve safety by continuously decreasing the likelihood that a car will be involved in an accident, to make driving accessible to everyone, regardless of ability and to apply Toyota technology used for outdoor mobility to indoor environments," said Gill Pratt, Toyota's executive advisor.

Toyoda said at a news conference that he previously said that Toyota would focus on self-driving cars if they could beat humans in a 24-hour race, but he shifted towards cars specifically designed for the elderly and disabled after he helped plan the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, according to Reuters.

Pratt, a former MIT professor appointed CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, noted that companies looking to develop autonomous technology will need to solve many safety issues before releasing self-driving cars.

"It is possible, at the beginning of a car race, that you may not be in the best opinion... But if the race is very long, who knows who will win?" he said.

Tech giants working on self-driving cars include Google, Apple and Facebook, while car makers joining the autonomous race include Mercedes-Benz, General MotorsTesla and others.

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