Toyota steers millions into U. Michigan AI project

Toyota has pledged $22 million to a four year artificial intelligence, robotics, and autonomous driving project led by the University of Michigan.

The investment will be spread throughout the four years and go towards all sorts of tech projects, including stair climbing wheelchairs, cameras for blind people, and autonomous cars.

See Also: Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, and Honda lead the autonomous car race

“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,” said Toyota Research Institute CEO Gill Pratt.

“We look forward to collaborating with U-M’s research faculty and students to develop new intelligent technologies that will help drivers travel more safely, securely and efficiently. We will also focus on expanding the benefit of mobility technology to in-home support of older persons and those with special needs,” she added.

Earlier this year, Toyota announced a $1 billion research facility for autonomous vehicles in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That is also in collaboration with the University of Michigan.

This is Toyota’s third self-driving campus

The facility is Toyota’s third in the U.S., after Palo Alto, CA and Cambridge, MA. All three are connected to the local university, in Palo Alto that’s Stanford, in Cambridge its MIT.

Toyota clearly sees America’s universities as a way to advance its self-driving technology without being too active in the industry. Others, like General Motors, have followed a similar model.

The Japanese automaker still seems hesitant to make a large play in the autonomous market, despite the investments in research centers. In 2014, it said it had no interest in autonomous cars, and since then has pushed testing to its luxury car brand Lexus and research to universities.

That might be a smart strategy to avoid public scrutiny and lower the costs. The tech centers will retain their value in a few years, while General Motors $1 billion acquisition of Cruise Automation or Tesla’s large expenditures on AutoPilot will not have any value if they don’t win.

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