Toyota partners with University of Michigan in AI, robotics and self-driving research


Research focused on artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and autonomous driving at the University of Michigan (U-M) will get a major boost with an initial US$22m funding commitment from the Toyota Research Institute (TRI).

Under the agreement, TRI will provide an initial US$22m over four years for research collaborations with the U-M faculty in the areas of enhanced driving safety, partner robotics and indoor mobility, autonomous driving, and student learning and diversity. The partnership builds on Toyota’s strong and active presence in the Ann Arbor community.

The two offices of the Toyota Technical Center have long worked with U-M on connected vehicles and safety research. Toyota is also a founding partner of U-M’s Mobility Transformation Center (MTC), an interdisciplinary public-private research and development initiative that is developing the foundation for a commercially viable ecosystem of connected and automated vehicles.

MTC operates Mcity (above), a unique ‘mini-city’ on a 32-acre site on campus that allows researchers to test emerging vehicle technologies rapidly and rigorously in a safe, controlled environment. In addition, Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center is a major sponsor of research at the U-M Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), which is focused on advanced safety technologies.

Recently, TRI announced the establishment of its new Ann Arbor research facility (TRI-ANN) and the hiring of two U-M robotics professors, Ryan Eustice and Edwin Olson, to support autonomous vehicle research. Both will retain U-M faculty positions part-time. TRI-ANN is the third TRI facility and joins TRI offices in Palo Alto near Stanford in California (TRI-PAL), and in Cambridge, Massachusetts (TRI-CAM), near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

TRI was drawn to Ann Arbor because of the broad strengths of the university and the region, particularly in areas related to the emergence of high-level driver-assist systems, eventually leading to fully autonomous vehicles. TRI will also be near two well-established Toyota Technical Center campuses.

“We have 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 TRI’s CEO, Gill Pratt (above), in an address to the U-M faculty.

“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.”

“The challenges that TRI faces with autonomous cars will leverage our labs’ research into complex behaviors, like merging and understanding the intention of other vehicles from their actions,” commented, associate professor at U-M and TRI. “This collaboration is an effort to leverage robotics to improve quality of life in a variety of ways.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).