Toyota getting in gear with smart cars

Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor's fuel cell vehicle Mirai is displayed at the Smart Community exhibition in Tokyo on June 17, 2015.
Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor's fuel cell vehicle Mirai is displayed at the Smart Community exhibition in Tokyo on June 17, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) - Toyota on Friday announced plans to invest $50 million into building artificial intelligence into cars, an indication it could be joining the race to develop driverless vehicles.

The joint research with Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will take place over the next five years, Toyota Motor Corporation said, emphasising its interest in technology that could be used by people as they grow old or become less able to drive safely.

"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," Toyota's research and development chief Kiyotaka Ise said in a statement.

Lab efforts will be directed by former US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program manager Gill Pratt, who headed a recent contest for robots that could be used to help emergency workers in disaster situations.

Google and several major car makers have been pursuing autonomous vehicle technology and while the Japanese automobile giant did not mention making cars that drive themselves, it did promise work on "intelligent vehicle technology."

A Stanford lab led by professor Fei-Fei Li will work with Toyota and MIT to use computer vision, machine learning and large-scale data analysis to enable vehicles to navigate complex traffic situations.

"Our team will work to help intelligent vehicles recognise objects on the road, predict behaviours of things and people, and make safe and smart driving decisions under diverse conditions," Prof Li said.

The joint research will also look at applying innovation breakthroughs in robots, according to Mr Pratt.

"This bold collaboration will address extremely complex mobility challenges using ground-breaking artificial intelligence research," Mr Pratt said.