Stanford, Toyota launch artificial-intelligence research center

Toyota to invest $50 million in research into autonomous cars, intelligent robots at Stanford, MIT

Envisioning a world in which self-driving cars safely navigate streets and intelligent robots aid in the health care of seniors and others, Toyota Motor Corporation announced Friday that it will be investing approximately $50 million over the next five years to establish joint artificial-intelligence (AI) research centers at Stanford University and MIT.

"We will initially focus on the acceleration of intelligent-vehicle technology," said Kiyotaka Ise, Toyota senior managing officer and chief officer, R&D Group, "with the immediate goal of helping eliminate traffic casualties and the ultimate goal of helping improve quality of life through enhanced mobility and robotics."

Fei-Fei Li, associate professor of computer science and director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL), will direct the new SAIL-Toyota Center for AI Research.

Early on, the new effort will focus on AI-assisted driving. Researchers will work on teaching computers to see and make critical decisions about how to interact with the world.

"AI-assisted driving is a perfect platform for advancing fundamental human-centric artificial-intelligence research while also producing practical applications," Li stated in a Stanford press release. "Autonomous driving provides a scenario where AI can deliver smart tools for assistance in decision-making and planning to human drivers."

Li said that Stanford will address four main challenges in making a computer think like a person: perception, learning, reasoning and interaction.

Stanford's computer scientists hope to figure out how to enable computers to recognize objects and speech as well as data and then use machine learning and statistical modeling to extract the meaningful data points -- for instance, detecting a swerving car versus a parked one. Other researchers will teach the AI platform to look at this critical data set and plot the safest driving action.

The first cars with AI technology will work as partners with the driver to make safe decisions, Li said, so devising ways to carefully and comfortably share control between the human and the computer will be instrumental in this technology gaining the public's trust.

"These are fundamental issues in establishing human-centric AI," Juan Carlos Niebles, the associate director of research at the new Stanford center, told the Stanford News Service. "With the changes brought about by AI, the next generation of driving machines and driving experiences will be fundamentally different."

According to Toyota, the research will address looming challenges for the world's growing elderly population. As mobility becomes more difficult with age, greater numbers of people are unable to drive or move freely. In addition, demands on the health care systems to meet the needs of seniors are increasing.

The new collaboration builds on decades of leading-edge AI research conducted at Stanford, according to the university press release. In the 1960s, the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, built some of the first chess-playing computers, and by the 1970s, the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Language was one of the predominant tools for programming AI platforms. More recently, Stanford researchers have built systems that have aced several autonomous driving competitions.

In addition to the Stanford center, Toyota is also funding the Toyota-CSAIL Joint Research Center at MIT. The MIT center will be led by Daniela Rus, and will focus on developing advanced decision-making algorithms that allow autonomous vehicles to make safe driving decisions with and without human input.

Dr. Gill Pratt, former Program Manager at DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and leader of its recent Robotics Challenge, has joined Toyota to direct the academic collaboration.

Toyota has long researched autonomous vehicles and advanced driving support systems, the company stated, and has been developing robots for industrial use since the 1970s and for Partner and Human Support Robot applications since the 2000s.

Watch the press conference announcing the $50 million collaboration here.

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

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