Toyota buys stake in Japanese AI specialist to boost autonomous driving capabilities
Japan-based Toyota has taken a stake in data analytics firm ALBERT, also from Japan, to bring new artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies in house, and develop its own autonomous driving capabilities.
Toyota said the pair have struck a “business alliance” that will see the car maker invest around 400 million yen ($3.6 million) in new shares in the Tokyo-based analytics firm. The new shares will be issued and the deal closed at the end of May.
AI is essential for managing the high volumes of data that will be increasingly generated by connected vehicles as they interact with advanced transport systems. ALBERT, founded in 2005, has been expanding into the field of imagery analysis in the development of automated driving technologies, said Toyota.
Toyota executive general manager Ken Koibuchi said: “We believe AI technologies are indispensable for achieving our vision of safe and smooth mobility for all people. To bring out the full performance of AI technologies, it is necessary to skilfully manage large volumes of data. I look forward to this business alliance accelerating Toyota’s development of automated driving technologies.”
ALBERT president Takeshi Matsumoto said: “For technological innovation such as in the development of automated driving technologies to be fully implemented in society, advanced analytical capacity centered on AI and machine learning… [is] essential. Going forward, our company intends to support safe technological innovation through… a distinguished group of data scientists.”
Toyota has been busy in the AI space. Its Toyota Research Institute (TRI), opened in Michigan in the US at the start of 2016 to develop AI and robotics technologies, filed construction permits this month to develop a new test facility for autonomous driving at the Michigan Technical Resource Park (MITRP) in Ottawa Lake.
The site, pegged to open in October, will be used exclusively by Toyota to replicate demanding “edge case driving scenarios”, considered to be too dangerous to perform on public roads. The TRI facility will be constructed inside MITRP’s 1.75-mile oval test track, and will include congested urban environments, slick surfaces and a four-lane divided highway with entrance and exit ramps.
Toyota is also testing autonomous cars behind closed doors at the GoMentum Station, the former naval weapons station in Concord in California, the Mcity and American Center for Mobility test facilities in Ann Arbor in Michigan.
In March, the company launched the Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD) in Tokyo with automotive companies Aisin Seiki and Denso to develop software for autonomous driving. The trio said they have earmarked investment of 300 billion yen (about $2.8 billion), and room for 1,000 engineering staff.
James Kuffnerwill, TRI chief technology officer new TRI-AD chief executive, said Toyota will recruit globally. “This company’s mission is to accelerate software development in a more effective and disruptive way, by augmenting the group’s capability through the hiring of world-class software engineers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Toyota will invest $170 million to swap-out production lines at its assembly plant in Blue Springs, Mississippi to create a smarter factory set-up to produce vehicles, including the new Corolla, more efficiently and quickly.
Toyota is implementing its Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) in Mississippi, which provides more flexible production and shorter development, it said. The investment, part of Toyota’s scheduled $10 injection into US facilities over the next five years, will create 400 new jobs in 12 months.
Last month, Toyota also launched a European branch of its Toyota Connected mobility start-up, called Toyota Connected Europe (TCEU) in London to take advantage of the city’s “high concentration” of data scientists, engineers and software developers.
“The adoption of new approaches to mobility is moving very fast in Europe, and we’re excited to develop and scale the power of Toyota’s mobility services technologies for customers across the region,” said Agustin Martin, new chief executive at TCEU.