Toyota announced the six-man tech team that will head up the company’s new Toyota Research Institute (TRI).
“The institute was created to be the leading edge explorers for Toyota in new areas,” TRI CEO Dr. Gil Pratt told Business Insider.
“To make sure that as the automobile industry changes and as the world changes, Toyota will have the opportunity to do well in a rapidly changing environment,” Pratt said.
According to Toyota, TRI was launched with a mandate to make cars safer, and with the ultimate goal of producing a car that’s incapable of causing a crash.
In addition, the automaker has tasked the Institute with increasing access to cars and forms of mobility as well as fast-tracking research in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Pratt, who is a former MIT professor and Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project manager, says in order for Toyota to achieve these goals, the automaker has given TRI team great autonomy and ample funding.
TRI is being being bankrolled by a five-year, $1 billion investment.
Joining Pratt on the leadership team are fellow DARPA alums, Eric Krotkov and Larry Jackel along with the former head of Google Robotics, James Kuffner. The leadership team will include Toyota project manager Hiroshi Okajima, Olin College professor Brian Storey, as well as John Leonard and Russ Tedrake — both of whom are professors at MIT.
“Companies have done this before,” Pratt said. “Bell telephone company had Bell Labs to discover ways to make telephone switch boards work better while Lockheed Martin has its Skunk Works to build secret high performance jets.”
“We are Toyota’s Skunk Works.”
However, don’t expect to see TRI’s work in Toyota’s showrooms just yet. “We have a tentative timeline for internal R&D products that we will work hard to deliver to Toyota in Japan,”Pratt said. “Probably the public will not see the products we come out with, but the company will be able to utilise the work we do.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean people won’t see the fruits of TRI’s work. Although Bell Labs was tasked with creating a better phone system, along the way it wound up being responsible for such innovations as the transistor and the laser.