Innovation

Can AI keep you from getting in a car wreck? Toyota is betting on it

Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, said that the automaker will be investing $1 billion over five years to improve car safety with artificial intelligence.

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The Toyota C-HR concept unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show.
Image: Wayne Cunningham/CNET

A car accident is one of the most frightening experiences a driver can have. But, how would you feel about an artificial intelligence (AI) system taking over to keep you safe?

That's just what Japanese automaker Toyota is planning. Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), said that the manufacturer is working on driver assistance systems with built-in AI to improve safety, as originally reported by Reuters.

SEE: Quick glossary: Artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)

Pratt said that the new system will "improve car safety by enabling vehicles to anticipate and avoid potential accident situations."

Essentially, the AI system would be able to take evasive action to better protect the driver in the case of a dangerous event—pressing the brake or accelerator, or steering the car as needed. Technology like automatic brakes, lane assist, and self-park have been slowly moving from premium upgrades to standard features among a host of carmakers, but most of these systems rely on radar, lasers, or cameras, and might not have an AI element. IBM Watson recently made its foray into autonomous vehicles, but more as a tour guide than an actual safety or driving feature.

The news of an AI system for safety comes in light of a few major investments Toyota has made in AI recently. In November 2015, Pratt announced a five-year, $1 billion investment in the technology by building a research compound in Silicon Valley. Then, in April, the company opened its third research facility dedicated to AI and robotics in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The annual CES in January set the stage for 2016 as the year of the self-driving, driverless, or autonomous (whatever your preferred nomenclature) vehicles. Companies like Volvo, Ford, and Google have made major, public strides in the space, but many Japanese firms have been absent from the discussion.

SEE: Toyota partners with Microsoft on new data science company, Toyota Connected (TechRepublic)

However, Toyota has made it clear that its plans for a fully autonomous vehicle are coming along at a much more steady pace. The automaker has set a goal of 2020 for its first self-driving vehicle to hit the road.

Consumer demand has been proven for self-driving vehicles, and industries like trucking are continuing to investigate the technology, meaning the market is ripe. Right now, it's just a race to see who gets there first.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. 1. Toyota is building a driver assistance feature that uses artificial intelligence to predict and respond to potential accidents on the driver's behalf, in an effort to improve safety.
  2. 2. The company continues to make strong investments in AI and robotics, including a $1 billion investment over five years to build a research compound in Silicon Valley.
  3. 3. Toyota has been seen by some as late to the autonomous car race, but the recent investments in AI could signal a shift in the company's approach to the technology.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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