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Toyota Research Institute Hosts Inaugural Open House

by Edward Sanchez | Feb 17, 2023

Toyota Research InstituteToyota Research Institute (TRI) opened its doors for the first time to technology media and analysts to showcase the Silicon Valley-based division's research taking place in the areas of human-centered artificial intelligence (AI), energy and materials research, machine learning and robotics. Toyota Motor Corporation Chief Scientist and TRI CEO Gill Pratt, shared the institute's objective of researching and developing new approaches to tackling the societal challenges of climate change, aging society, and human understanding.  

Toyota Research Institute Core Objectives
Pratt cited Toyota's start as a loom manufacturer in the 1930s, and the innovation that allowed an individual to monitor multiple looms by means of a mechanism that detected a broken thread and would stop the machine automatically rather than requiring manual intervention. This was an early example of the company's people-first approach of technology that augments or improves the dignity of human work, rather than the objective of outright labor displacement.  

Toyota Research Institute EV Tech Mule
Automotive-specific initiatives included a demonstration of its driving simulator, a video demonstration of its autonomous drift Supra, and a Lexus LC equipped with a data logging computer to gather feedback from real-world driving scenarios and driver feedback. Although Toyota and the Institute is working on advanced autonomous solutions, in the near-term, the focus is on augmentation of and feedback for human drivers to make ADAS applications more intuitive and reassuring rather than intrusive or disruptive. Avinash Balachandran, Director of Human Interactive Driving, cited the potential for driver augmentation because of the objective, analytical approach machines take to driving scenarios. "Computers don’t panic, they plan," Balachandran said.  

Toyota Research Institute Driving Simulator
In terms of the Toyota's electrification efforts, Pratt cited Toyota's goal of manufacturing 3.5 million battery-electric vehicles globally by 2035, and its investment in a battery manufacturing facility in North Carolina. Pratt said the company and institute take a holistic approach to considering their environmental impact, citing the large secondary market for its vehicles in emerging economies, and its global fleet of approximately 100 million vehicles. The Institute works with approximately a dozen universities across the country and globally on its environmental research initiatives. 

The Institute's research in the area of assistive technology for the elderly and disabled was demonstrated through robots that went through the "challenge tasks" of grocery shopping and sorting and organizing bins in the scenario of a manufacturing plant. Max Bajracharya, Senior Vice President of Robotics, said his team's primary objective is to amplify human ability rather than replace it, reflecting the Institute's over-arching goal of "Human Happiness."
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