Toyota has made the first appointments to its technical and advisory teams for artificial intelligence and robotics research, and officially began funding nearly 30 projects at two new facilities. The giant Japanese automaker used the Consumer Electronics Show to make the announcement, which followed a promise in September 2015 to invest $50 million over the next five years to fund projects at these two new research labs. The first is in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, and the second with Stanford in Palo Alto, CA. Last November, the automaker announced the creation of the US-based Toyota Research Institute (TRI) as the center of that collaboration, its near-term work being a $1-billion initiative over the next five years to work on artificial intelligence and robotics.

The technical team that will research academic and proprietary product advances includes a former Bell Labs department chief and DARPA program manager, the former head of Google Robotics, and MIT engineers. They are overseen by another former DARPA program manager, Gill Pratt, who was hired as the chief operating officer in November. The advisory board includes an ex-director of the MIT Computer Science and AI Lab, an ex-president of research and development at Walt Disney Imagineering, and the heads of Stanford's and MIT's AI laboratories.

Big money means lofty goals, the TRI aiming to create "a car that cannot be responsible for a collision," increase mobility options for people who can't drive, bring outdoor transport advances to indoor mobility, and speed up the pace of discovery with AI and machine learning. It's that last one that leads to homicidal red stares from robot masters with laser eyes who demand to know, "Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust or just fall apart where I'm standing?" The press release below has more.

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TOYOTA RESEARCH INSTITUTE ANNOUNCES ALL-STAR LEADERSHIP TEAM FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND ROBOTICS RESEARCH

Technical and advisory teams will guide and drive proprietary and academic research portfolio

Almost thirty new projects launched through collaborative research partnership with MIT and Stanford

New offices open in Palo Alto, CA and Cambridge, MA


Las Vegas, NV, January 5, 2016 ― The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) today announced the hiring of its technical leadership team, bringing together an all-star group of scientists and engineers to help drive research into artificial intelligence and robots. TRI CEO Gill Pratt introduced the technical team and initial TRI research programs in a press conference at the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show. In addition to the technical team, TRI work will be guided by an Advisory Board of corporate, scientific and public policy leaders from around the world.

First announced in November 2015, TRI is a research and development enterprise designed to bridge the gap between fundamental research and product development. Funded by an initial five-year, $1 billion investment, it has been launched with mandates to enhance the safety of automobiles, with the ultimate goal of creating a car that cannot be responsible for a collision; increase access to cars to those who otherwise cannot drive, including the handicapped and the elderly; help translate outdoor mobility technology into products for indoor mobility; and accelerate scientific discovery by applying techniques from artificial intelligence and machine learning.

"While the most important technology for enhancing human mobility has traditionally been hardware, today software and data are increasingly essential," said Gill Pratt, Toyota Executive Technical Advisor and CEO of TRI. "Our leadership team brings decades of experience in pushing the boundaries of human knowledge in computer science and robotics, but we are only getting started. The scale of Toyota's commitment reflects our belief in the importance of developing safe and reliable automated mobility systems. Simply put, we believe we can significantly improve the quality of life for all people, regardless of age, with mobility products in all aspects of life."

The initial technical team includes:
- Eric Krotkov, Former DARPA Program Manager – Chief Operating Officer
- Larry Jackel, Former Bell Labs Department Head and DARPA Program Manager – Machine Learning
- James Kuffner, Former head of Google Robotics – Cloud Computing
- John Leonard, Samuel C. Collins Professor of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering, MIT – Autonomous Driving
- Hiroshi Okajima, Project General Manager, R&D Management Division, Toyota Motor Corporation – Executive Liaison Officer
- Brian Storey, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Olin College of Engineering – Accelerating Scientific Discovery
- Russ Tedrake, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT – Simulation and Control

Professors Tedrake, Leonard and Storey will work part time with TRI and continue in their university roles.

The Advisory Board will be made up of a range of outside experts including:
- John Roos, former CEO of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati, and former US Ambassador to Japan – Chairman
- Rodney Brooks, former director of the MIT Computer Science and AI Lab, founder of iRobot and Founder, Chairman and CTO of Rethink Robotics – Deputy Chairman
- Richard Danzig, Former U.S. Navy Secretary
- Bran Ferren, former President of R & D at Walt Disney Imagineering and Chief Creative Officer of Applied Minds
- Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL)
- Daniela Rus, director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

The hiring announcement comes as TRI is moving quickly to launch its research and development programs. Two new facilities, one in Palo Alto, CA and the other in Cambridge, MA officially open in January. The two offices are located within ten-minute bike rides and walks to the Stanford and MIT campuses and will further accelerate TRI's partnership with both universities.

Toyota has already committed $50 million over the next five years to support collaborative research into artificial intelligence and robotics research at Stanford and MIT. The program has identified and funded almost thirty initial research projects and project teams.

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