Toyota invests $50 million in intelligent vehicle technology at Stanford, MIT AI research centers

September 4, 2015

MIT’s iconic Stata Center, which houses the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (credit: MIT)

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) announced today (Fri. Sept. 4) that it will be investing approximately $50 million over the next five years to establish joint research centers at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) and MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

Toyota also said Dr. Gill Pratt, former Program Manager at DARPA and leader of its recent Robotics Challenge, has joined Toyota to direct and accelerate these research activities and their application to intelligent vehicles and robotics.

Rather than fully autonomous vehicles (as in Google’s research), the program will initially focus on the acceleration of intelligent vehicle technology to help eliminate traffic casualties*, with the ultimate goal of helping improve quality of life through enhanced mobility and robotics, according to Kiyotaka Ise, who heads R&D at Toyota.

Specific research areas will include “improving the ability of intelligent vehicle technologies to recognize objects around the vehicle in diverse environments, provide elevated judgment of surrounding conditions, and safely collaborate with vehicle occupants, other vehicles, and pedestrians,” Pratt added. “The joint research will also look at applications of the same technology to human-interactive robotics and information service.”

“[The car] must ensure that it does no harm, not only some of the time, but almost all of the time,” said Pratt.

MIT research

Research at MIT, led by CSAIL director Professor Daniela Rus, will “develop advanced architectures that allow cars to better perceive and navigate their surroundings,” eventually developing a vehicle “incapable of getting into a collision.”

CSAIL researchers plan to explore an approach in which the human driver pays attention at all times, with an autonomous system that is there to jump in to save the driver in the event of an unavoidable accident. That will involve areas from computer vision and perception to planning and control to decision-making.

Rus envisions creating a system that could “prevent collisions and also provide drivers with assistance navigating tricky situations; support a tired driver by watching for unexpected dangers and diversions; and even offer helpful tips such as letting the driver know she is out of milk at home and planning a new route home that allows the driver to swing by the grocery store.”

Research at the new center will also include building new tools for collecting and analyzing navigation data, with the goal of learning from human driving; creating perception and decision-making systems for safe navigation; developing predictive models that can anticipate the behavior of humans, vehicles, and the larger environment; inventing state-of-the-art tools to handle congestion and high-speed driving in challenging situations including adverse weather; improving machine-vision algorithms used to detect and classify objects; and creating more intelligent user interfaces.

Stanford research

Led by Associate Professor Fei-Fei Li, the new SAIL-Toyota Center for AI Research will focus on teaching computers to see and make critical decisions about how to interact with the world.

Early on, the new effort will focus on AI-assisted driving to avoid automobile-related accidents. Li, a world-renowned expert in computer vision, said that Stanford will tackle the problem by addressing four main challenges of making a computer think like a person: perception, learning, reasoning, and interaction.

Stanford’s computer scientists will train computers to recognize objects and speech as well as data, and then use machine learning and statistical modeling to extract the meaningful data points — for instance, a swerving car versus a parked one. Other researchers will teach the AI platform to look at this critical data set and plot the safest driving action.

The first cars with AI technology will work as partners with the driver to make safe decisions, Li said, so devising ways to carefully and comfortably share control between the human and the computer will be instrumental in this technology gaining the public’s trust.

* The World Health Organization estimates that 3,400 people die each day from traffic-related accidents.