Toyota Research to Set Up Shop in Cambridge

Dr. Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute. Photo courtesy of Toyota.
Written by Michael Sol Warren

Toyota’s five-year, $1 billion investment in artificial intelligence research will touch down in Cambridge, Mass., as well as Palo Alto, Calif.

The Toyota Research Institute announced in a press conference at CES Tuesday that it will be partnering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. The partnerships include the opening of two new offices, one in Kendall Square in Cambridge and one in Stanford Research Park in Palo Alto.

The Toyota Research Institute, which was created when the investment was announced last November, will focus on perfecting autonomous cars, creating cars that can be used by people with disabilities, and advancing in-home robotics and material science.

The team working with MIT will focus on in-car artificial intelligence according to Dr. Gill Pratt, the CEO of the Toyota Research Institute. Pratt said that the goal is to make it so that a car can understand what went wrong in an accident. Pratt said that this development is an important part of creating cars that are incapable of causing an accident.

The team at Stanford, meanwhile, will be focused on getting autonomous cars to better react to unanticipated events.

Pratt said that his organization will enthusiastically collaborate with others. He used Toyota’s sharing of hydrogen fuel cell patents as an example of the company’s collaboration, but he stopped short of saying that Toyota will open future patents related to robotics.

“We believe that we’re early on in our work here,” Pratt said. “It would be very exciting to figure out collaborations with others to work together rather than each one of us duplicate the work that the others do.”

Near the end of the press conference, Pratt turned to the past while giving a glimpse into Toyota’s future. He talked about the company’s history, specifically how Toyota transitioned in 1933 from producing looms to focusing on cars. Pratt said he would not be surprised if Toyota was nearing a similar key transition, and that one day Toyota may be associated more with robotics than with cars.

“It’s my goal to understand [how the world is changing] and think about how can Toyota be the most effective company at serving mankind and making quality of life better as our desires change,” Pratt said. “I do believe that the robot in the home, if it’s truly effective and useful, not only for aging society but for all of us, will become a beloved machine.”

Toyota Research introduced the leadership and advisors for the new research.

Technical Team

  • Larry Jackel, former Bell Labs department head and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program manager, will be advising on machine learning.
  • Eric Krotkov, former Defense Advanced Reserach Projects Agency program manager, will be the chief operating officer.
  • James Kuffner, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the former head of Google robotics, will be the area lead in cloud computing.
  • John Leonard, a professor at MIT, will work part-time on autonomous driving.
  • Hiroshi Okajima, the project general manager of Toyota’s R&D management division, will be the executive liason office.
  • Russ Tedrake, an associate professor at MIT, will work part-time on simulation and control.
  • Brian Storey, a professor at Olin College of Engineering will work part-time on accelerating scientific discovery.

Advisory Board

  • Rodney Brooks, an emeritus MIT professor.
  • Richard Danzig, former secretary of the U.S. Navy.
  • Yann LeCun, a professor at New York University and director of artificial intelligence at Facebook.
  • John Roos, general partner at Geodesic Capital and senior advisor at Centerview Partners.
  • Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com.
  • Bran Ferren, the former president of R&D at Walt Disney Imagineering and the chief creative officer of Applied Minds.
  • Fei-Fei Li, the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
  • Daniela Rus, the director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

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