Toyota made an announcement Friday about artificial intelligence--and no, the company is not yet releasing a self-driving car for consumers. In fact, speakers at the press conference in Palo Alto implied that a fully autonomous self-driving car wouldn’t necessarily be appealing at this time.
Instead, Toyota has partnered with researchers from MIT and Stanford to commence what the company framed as an unprecedented prioritization of AI at the company.
“Just imagine if cars could learn--learn how we drive, learn how to never be responsible for an accident, learn what we need when we’re in a car,” said Daniela Rus, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and director of the university’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).
Toyota Senior Managing Officer Kiyotaka Ise said during his opening remarks that the company understands the growing competition in developing AI for cars, but later evaded a question about whether the company was performing on par with competitors when it comes to the arms race to release a self-driving car to consumers.
Gill Pratt, who left his position as a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to lead Toyota's new $50 million AI effort, said that it is unclear when a fully autonomous vehicle will be realized by any company or organization.
“I don’t think you’ll find a person on Earth who has a legitimate prediction for when it will be done,” he said.
Pratt said Toyota’s goal would be to release technology that keeps drivers safe without sacrificing the joy of driving. Ise at one point compared driverless cars to trains without operators.
Toyota in 2013 announced it had built a research vehicle designed to use AI to take over for the driver in the event of an imminent accident.
In addition to increasing car safety, Rus said Toyota was looking into using AI to help cars detect the emotions of drivers and remind them of tasks and errands. She spoke of cars that communicate with your refrigerator and can suggest you pick up milk when you run out, and cars that know you need to call your parents.
Allowing people to continue driving into old age is a key goal of the planned research, according to Ise.