Toyota invests $1bn in driverless cars

Toyota invests $1bn in driverless cars

The world’s biggest carmaker has thrown its weight behind driverless vehicle technology with the launch of a $1 billion research facility in Silicon Valley.

Toyota said that it would work on artificial intelligence and robotics when it opens the doors to the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) in January.

The institute will go head to head with Google, which runs the world’s most advanced driverless vehicle programme, as well as carmakers including Ford and Mercedes-Benz, which have opened research facilities in Silicon Valley in recent years.

However, Toyota said that the focus of the TRI would extend beyond driverless vehicles to technologies that improved safety in day-to-day life.

The company recently showcased a robot akin to R2-D2, the Star Wars droid, which is designed to help the sick and elderly by picking up objects for them around the home. Toyota has also developed entertainment androids that can play musical instruments and take part in conversations.

The TRI will be led by Gill Pratt, a former programme manager for the US military’s defence advanced research projects agency. Dr Pratt said: “Our initial goals are to improve safety by continuously decreasing the likelihood that a car will be involved in an accident.”

The new facility, which will employ 200 people at the outset, will be based near Stanford University in Palo Alto. A second facility will be opened near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Toyota will invest $1 billion in the institute in the next five years.

Although driverless car technology has evolved rapidly, one of the problems that has stumped engineers is that driverless cars cannot operate properly in rain and snow. Their radar systems become confused by water droplets and snowflakes in the air.

Apple is believed to be developing driverless car technology, although it has not admitted as much.

Manufacturers on road to full automation

Google Lexus prototypes have covered millions of miles on Californian roads. Self-built “bubble” cars, right, began road tests this summer

Tesla Software on Model S marques updated to unlock new self-driving features, such as “autopilot”

Audi Latest prototype drove 500 miles unaided from California to Las Vegas. The A8 model, below, will be first Audi production car with self-driving functions

Mercedes-Benz Semi-autonomous Intelligent Drive vehicle travelled 60 miles unaided on German motorway in 2013 VolvoPlans to give 100 customers self-driving cars in 2017

Delphi Outfitted an Audi SQ5 with sensors and drove it coast-to-coast in the US Daimler Developing automated 18-wheel lorries, which were road-tested in Nevada in June

Ford Aims to adding semi-autonomous features to new cars over the next five years. Began Silicon Valley research in June Nissan Renault Expects self-driving car to be ready in 2020. Prototype Nissan LEAF unveiled in 2013

Uber Poached 40 engineers from robotics lab at Carnegie Mellon University to work on driverless cars

Volkswagen Has developed car that can navigate itself in a garage and park