Toyota to spend $22M at UM for autonomous car research

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Toyota Motor Corp.’s Ann Arbor-based research hub will invest an initial $22 million to work with the University of Michigan on artificial intelligence, robotics and self-driving cars.

The Japanese automaker this year invested $1 billion to create the Toyota Research Institute, a research subsidiary with locations in California, Massachusetts and Ann Arbor. The latest investment, announced Wednesday after a meeting with UM faculty, will be spread over four years for research collaborations in the areas of enhanced driving safety, partner robotics and indoor mobility, autonomous driving and student learning and diversity.

“We look forward to collaborating with UM’s research faculty and students to develop new intelligent technologies that will help drivers travel more safely, securely and efficiently,” Toyota Research Institute CEO Gill Pratt said in a statement. “We will also focus on expanding the benefit of mobility technology to in-home support of older persons and those with special needs.”

John Hanson, national manager for advanced technology and new business at Toyota, said the automaker likely will invest more than the initial $22 million.

“We’re looking for a long-term relationship,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is create a very intelligent car that is incapable of causing a crash. It means we have to be perfect, and getting perfect is going to take awhile.”

Toyota in April announced the creation of the TRI Ann Arbor location. The company hired UM engineering associate professors Ryan Eustice and Edwin Olson to staff the site. The duo still maintain their roles at UM in addition to their research institute roles.

“The challenges that TRI faces with autonomous cars will leverage our labs’ research into complex behaviors, like merging and understanding the intention of other vehicles from their actions,” Olson said in a statement.

The automaker and university have partnered on a number of initiatives. Toyota was one of the original partners in UM’s Mobility Transformation Center, which runs the MCity autonomous vehicle test site.

The university will issue a broad call for proposals for research projects.

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