Toyota funds AI, robotics research at Michigan campus – USA TODAY
DETROIT — The Toyota Research Institute is giving $22 million to advance research on artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous driving at the University of Michigan.
The money will be spent over four years, and the work will be directed by robotics professors Ryan Eustice and Ed Olson, who will retain their part-time faculty positions.
This is the latest step in the emerging private-public effort to establish southeast Michigan and Ann Arbor as a major hub for development of new modes of mobility and in-home robotics designed to help older citizens.
A year ago, Mcity, a 32-acre simulated city and facility, opened on U-M’s North Campus where a variety of automakers, suppliers and telecommunications companies are testing many autonomous vehicle systems in a controlled environment.
Toyota, along with General Motors, Ford, Nissan and Honda, is a founding partner in U-M’s Mobility Transformation Center, which oversees Mcity.
Last month, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. approved the $1.2-million purchase of 311 acres in Ypsilanti for the American Center for Mobility, or ACM. Located at the former World War II Willow Run bomber plant, the center will be a larger space for testing vehicles that can talk to each other and drive on their own.
The ACM and Mcity are separate from U-M’s partnership with Toyota.
“We look forward to collaborating with the University of Michigan’s research faculty and students to develop new intelligent technologies that will help drivers travel more safely, securely and efficiently,” said Gill Pratt, Toyota Research Institute CEO.
The Japanese automaker, which employs about 1,300 people in Washtenaw County, most of them at a technical center just south of Ann Arbor, has budgeted $1 billion for the institute also known as TRI. TRI also has established partnerships with Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
The Ann Arbor site was added in April when Toyota announced that Eustice and Olson would join the project. Both were involved with the competitive robotics challenge sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Many of the breakthroughs behind development of the earliest autonomous cars have come from the robotics challenge.
“Our labs at U-M push the envelope of what robots can sense and understand about the world,” Eustice said in a statement. “The challenges TRI faces with autonomous cars will leverage our labs’ research into complex behaviors such as merging and understanding the intention of other vehicles.”
The university will seek proposals from faculty across departments to learn more about autonomous mobility, safety and home robotics.