Toyota announced this morning that it plans to invest somewhere around $1 billion over the next five years to establish a new, Silicon Valley-based artificial intelligence and robotics research company. The company will be known as the Toyota Research Institute, and is being formed so that Toyota will be able to have access to Silicon Valley’s wealth of engineers that specialize in artificial intelligence and robotics, without having to rely on American technology companies to develop the technology that’ll power its future self-driving cars. Toyota isn’t the first automaker to do something like this either, as many companies are worried about Silicon Valley encroaching on the automotive industry.
Toyota Motor Corp. is pushing back against technology companies that are muscling in on its automotive turf, saying Friday that it would spend at least $1 billion on a Silicon Valley research center to study autonomous driving and robotics. The move shows that the world’s largest auto maker is shedding some of its caution and accelerating plans to develop “smart” cars. Auto makers are rushing to set up labs in the home of the tech industry as new players such as Google Inc. pour money into research on self-driving technologies. The Toyota Research Institute will be headed by Gill Pratt, a prominent expert on artificial intelligence who joined Toyota from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency earlier this year. Analysts say the $1 billion commitment, spread out over five years, is one of the biggest investments in Silicon Valley by an auto maker, though it is only a fraction of Toyota’s roughly $46 billion cash hoard. “This is the first small step that allows us to go beyond automobiles and make use of the Toyota group’s potential by utilizing artificial intelligence,” Toyota President Akio Toyoda said. Mr. Pratt said that in addition to studying driving technologies, the lab will conduct basic research on robotics for homes, factories and the health-care sector and will work on developing advanced materials that could be used in cars. The initial investment could grow as the research center delves into areas beyond autos, he said.