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TOYOTA FINALLY GETS SERIOUS ABOUT SELF-DRIVING CARS

Toyota has joined the race to build a self-driving car. The Japanese automaker announced it’s dropping $50 million in the next five years to establish research centers with both Stanford and MIT, to work on artificial intelligence and autonomous driving technology. “We will initially focus on the acceleration of intelligent vehicle technology, with the immediate goal of helping eliminate traffic casualties and the ultimate goal of helping improve the quality of life through enhanced mobility and robotics,” says Kiyotaka Ise, Toyota’s head of R&D.

Toyota’s new projects will be directed by Dr. Gill Pratt, who formerly ran Darpa’s Robotics Challenge, a contest to create robot systems to help emergency responders during disaster situations. Research at MIT will focus on “advanced architectures” that will let cars perceive, understand, and interpret their surroundings. That will be led by Daniela Rus, who recently worked on self-driving golf carts and the laser, or LIDAR, sensors autonomous vehicles typically use to map the world around them.

The folks at Stanford will concentrate on computer vision and machine learning. That technology is key to teaching cars to navigate the outside world, where just about anything can happen. It will also work on human behavior analysis, both for pedestrians outside the car and the people “at the wheel.” Before today’s announcement, Toyota talked little about autonomous research. A year ago, its deputy chief safety technology officer publicly rejected the idea, saying “Toyota’s main objective is safety, so it will not be developing a driverless car.”

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