Toyota to Collaborate with MIT, Stanford to Develop “Intelligent” Car

October 19, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Toyota logo, hood of a car, condensation
Photo credit: Yohan Legrand/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you thought self-driving cars were the future, think again.

Instead of competing with the self-driving cars being developed by Google and Tesla, Toyota decided to create a league of its own. Rather than inventing cars that will replace humans, the company is using AI technologies to make humans better drivers.

The Toyota Motor Corporation will collaborate with Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in an ambitious $50 million robotics and artificial intelligence project to develop “intelligent” cars. Intelligent cars will do much more than self-driving cars — they will actually monitor the driver’s behavior and intervene to correct mistakes when needed.

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Gill Pratt, an American roboticist who left his position at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Pentagon to direct the new project, informs that the intelligent cars will operate with two approaches: parallel and serial. Parallel means the machine monitors your driving behaviors, and serial means it replaces you.

In an interview with the New York Times, Pratt explained, “In parallel autonomy, there is a guardian angel or driver’s education teacher. It usually does nothing unless you are about to do something dumb.”

Pratt says the main goal of developing the intelligent cars is to keep humans in the loop. While self-driving cars are certainly impressive, they take the fun out of driving by replacing human intervention completely.

Certain driver assistance technologies already exist, like pedestrian and bicyclist detection as well as “lane keeping” systems to warn drivers if they’re driving outside of their lane. But the intelligent car aims to take these systems to the next level by doing more than just warning a driver. For example, if you’re getting drowsy or starting to swerve a bit, the AI technology will actually step in and intervene, correcting all kinds of driver errors.

The AI driving technology also intends to help with an issue that every driver has complained about once or twice: elderly drivers. The new technologies could permit aging drivers to continue to drive by aiding them with certain things like vision and reaction time.

On top of the efforts to develop intelligent cars, Toyota will be financing researchers in the MIT and Stanford Artificial Intelligence labs to undertake a five-year project on indoor mobile robotics. These robots would help the elderly maintain their independence by aiding them with simple, useful tasks, like opening doors. Pratt is confident that both the intelligent driving technologies and the indoor mobile robots will provide the elderly with a more independent future.

Most AI research is working toward developing systems and machines to replace humans, but this AI project is unique in that it intends to do just the opposite. Fei Fei Li, a computer scientist who leads the Stanford laboratory, said, “I see why Toyota wants to do this. It is the biggest carmaker in the world, and it wants to influence the next generation.”  

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