Toyota has announced this week that it will join up with the University of Michigan to build artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for driverless cars. The initiative is the Japanese automaker’s third investment in a U.S. university collaboration.
With a total investment fund of just under $1 billion (approx. £710 million), the company has already established a research base in Cambridge, Massachusetts working with MIT scientists, and the entire staff of local autonomous vehicle company, Jaybridge Robotics. A further centre in Palo Alto, California was also set up in a partnership with Stanford University.
This week’s announcement was made by Toyota Research Institute (TRI) CEO Gill Pratt at Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference in San Jose, alongside a Michigan professor. According to the joint statement, the Ann Arbor campus will allow the teams to carry out extreme testing in a wide range of conditions.
Pratt explained that the new research lab, which is expected to launch this June, will focus on robotics, AI and materials science. The team of 50 staff will test the self-driving vehicles in a variety of environments, including rain, snow, pothole-ridden roads, and high-speed winds.
University of Michigan professors Edwin Olson and Ryan Eustice are also joining the project to specialise in mapping and perception technologies required for self-driving cars. Toyota has offered the researchers the opportunity to split their time between the university and the automaker over the course of the year.
This new approach to hiring academics is arguably a smarter move than other tech firms have recently taken. Over a year ago, ride-sharing giant Uber announced a ‘strategic partnership’ with Carnegie Mellon University. Today, the initiative has been accused of not bearing one single project and suggestions are circulating that the $5.5 million funding was actually an apology for Uber having pinched so many of the university’s staff to work on its own research programs.