Toyota’s investment to pay off in robotics


The US robotics expert leading Toyota’s Silicon Valley research company says the $1 billion investment by the giant Japanese automaker will start showing results within five years.

Gill Pratt said that the Toyota Research Institute is also looking ahead into the distant future when there will be cars that anyone, including children and the elderly, can ride in on their own, as well as robots that help out in homes.

Pratt joined Toyota Motor Corp first as a technical adviser when it set up its artificial intelligence research effort at Stanford University and MIT.

He said safety features will be the first types of AI applications to appear in Toyota vehicles. Such features are already offered on some models now being sold, such as sensors that help cars brake or warn drivers before a possible crash, and cars that drive themselves automatically into parking spaces or on certain roads.

“I expect something to come out during those five years,” said Pratt.

“It is very important to understand that what we are doing has high risk and that some of our efforts will not be entirely successful but we expect some of them to be very successful. Someday, these cars will be safe enough that children could go from one place to the other without having a soccer mom having to drive or a soccer dad.”

Toyota has already shown an R2-D2-like robot designed to help the elderly, the sick and people in wheelchairs by picking up and carrying objects.

The automaker has also shown human-shaped entertainment robots that can converse and play musical instruments.

“Our job is to explore what is possible, what might work. We don’t actually know what’s going to work,” he said.