Toyota gives $50 million to MIT, Stanford for smart car tech

The MIT dome.
The MIT dome.

Toyota has committed $50 million to smart car research divided equally between groups at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, the company announced Friday.

The Toyota-CSAIL Joint Research Center at MIT will receive $25 million over five years and is led by an all-star cast of artificial intelligence and robotics experts at the institute. CSAIL stands for Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

The merry band on both coasts will be led by Gill Pratt, who until this summer was the program director at the US Defense Advanced Research Program Agency, leading an international robotics contest that wrapped up in June.

The MIT researchers include:

Daniela Rus, CSAIL director who previously has described her vision for an autonomous taxi fleet
* Russ Tedrake, who led MIT’s team at the DARPA Robotics Challenge
John Leonard, who has done something of a case study on Google’s self-driving car systems, and is developing mapping and navigation systems for robots

Safety is the preliminary target of the five-year program, with the goal of developing AI-assisted systems that could reduce accidents, according to a release from MIT.

Pratt told the New York Times that he aims to keep people “in the loop,” which means the assistive software will come to life and prevent accidents when humans err. In this way, he explained, his program differs from Google’s vision of an entirely autonomous, or self-driving vehicle.

Coincidentally, just this week Google identified human-robot interactions on the road as the very thing that muddies the safety record of their own self-driving cars. The automatons are sticklers for traffic rules, the company reported, confused by the caprice of human drivers in other vehicles. It seems the Toyota-Stanford-MIT partnership wants to make the two play nice.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at [email protected]
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