Toyota and University announce driverless car project details

Wednesday, September 7, 2016 - 6:42pm

In a continued partnership with the University of Michigan, Toyota announced it will invest $22 million to fund research on driverless cars and methods of artificial intelligence. This is an expansion of the Toyota Research Institute’s April announcement, which revealed TRI will be opening a new facility in Ann Arbor.

The Ann Arbor location is the third facility TRI has established in the United States, the first in Massachusetts near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the second in California near Stanford University.

The most recent announcement about the newly established relationship between the company and the University stated TRI’s funding will be used to continue the University’s commitment to research on autonomous driving and artificial intelligence. The research will take place over the span of four years. Toyota is also a founding partner of the University’s Mobility Transformation Center, which operates MCity.

Two University faculty members — Ryan Eustice, associate professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and Edwin Olson, associate professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science — were hired by TRI to collaborate on the new research. Both professors will maintain part-time faculty positions at the University during the course of their research with TRI.

In the announcement, Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, emphasized Toyota’s continued relationship with the University.

“Toyota has long enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the University of Michigan, and we are excited to expand our collective efforts to address complex mobility challenges through artificial intelligence,” he said.

Olson, who, along with Eustice, is a co-director of autonomous driving development at the TRI facility, said their role is to help coordinate the technical approaches that research teams working at the TRI facility take to address aspects of autonomous vehicle technology including machine perception, mapping and human interfaces.

“As co-directors, we are able to help ‘steer the ship’ in terms of the approaches used to solve these problems, and critically, to make sure that the sub-teams’ work all fits together,” he said.

There are a wide range of technical disciplines and skills required to complete the full picture of autonomous driving, according to Olson, and simultaneously approaching all angles and sewing them together is very challenging. He said he thinks Toyota is interested in working with the University for this reason, in the same way it works with Stanford and MIT, to make use of the expertise and talent present at the institutions.

“The problems that we are working to solve are the best kind: really hard,” he said. “Fundamental research is needed to solve these problems and so TRI is investing in both internal research and university partnerships like the one at UM.”