Honda Moves AI Efforts To Tokyo, Passes Up Silicon Valley

Nov 05, 2016 10:59 AM EDT | Matthew Cruz

As traditional automakers like Toyota broaden their artificial intelligence (AI) footprint in Silicon Valley, Automotive News reported that Honda Motor Co. is breaking from tradition by establishing its AI research home in Tokyo, where the car giant is also based.

Honda hopes to resettle its current AI teams, now working from Silicon Valley, Europe and Japan, into the new Tokyo lab that will open next year and serve as its flagship research and development center for AI.

Yoshiyuki Matsumoto, president of Honda's research arm, said the company would be unable to innovate if they simply followed the trends in Silicon Valley. He added that not every company succeeds in the tech mecca that is home to industry giants like Facebook, Google and Uber.

Setting up shop in Tokyo also bridges the gap between Honda's researchers and engineers, he said. Honda hopes this will speed up efforts to translate AI research into viable products that the company can sell to consumers across the globe. 

Matsumoto envisions a future where AI is the driving force behind autonomous vehicles, incorporating a range of technologies like robotics, navigation and sensing. 

AI has rarely found its way into commercial markets, Apple's Siri service being one of the recent exceptions, but Matsumoto seemed optimistic about future application of AI under their new Tokyo lab. 

"By adding a brain, which is AI, to hardware such as robotics, we will be able to venture into various new businesses," he said.

Unable to abandon Silicon Valley completely, AI experts from the area might be brought onboard on a contractual basis to pass on any developments or breakthroughs from the U.S. 

Honda first began delving into robotics two decades ago. Their latest development in AI, the Asimo humanoid robot, has the ability to decipher postures, facial expressions and gestures and move its own fingers.

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