Toyota plans to spend a lot of money on cutting-edge technology in the near future.
The auto giant debuted Tuesday a $100 million venture capital unit, Toyota AI Ventures, that will invest in startups specializing in artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, robotics, data analytics, and cloud computing technology.
The VC arm will be a subsidiary of Toyota Research Institute, the auto giant’s research center that opened in September 2015 and is led by former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program manager Gill Pratt.
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At the time, Toyota said it would spend $50 million over a five-year period to help the center, which involves both Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, research ways to use AI to create self-driving automobiles.
Unlike other similar investment funds Toyota has debuted over the years, including a $111 million fund jointly created in 2015 with two Asian investment funds Sparx Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Toyota is pitching the new VC fund as its “first venture capital company,” according to Toyota Research Institute vice president of data and business development Jim Adler.
Adler wrote in a statement that Toyota is “casting a wide net” with the VC unit by not specifically focusing on automobile-related technology. He did not elaborate on the types of non-auto-related products Toyota is hoping the VC arm will eventually help create, but it’s likely to include robots that can potentially aid people with disabilities or the elderly.
The auto company said in early July that it successfully completed a two-day trial in which one of its robots was able to help a disabled war veteran perform rudimentary tasks around his home like bringing him water when he was thirsty.