National Headquarters of Toyota motor sales. Image Credit: Motortrend
National Headquarters of Toyota motor sales. Image Credit: Motortrend

Japanese automotive manufacturer, Toyota Corp. is targeting developing driver assistance systems that integrate artificial intelligence (AI) to improve vehicle safety in the next five years, the head of its advanced research division said.

Gill Pratt, CEO at Toyota Research Institute said, “the Japanese automaker’s research and development company that focuses on AI, said it aims to improve car safety by enabling vehicles to anticipate and avoid potential accident situations.”

Toyota said the institute will spend 1 billion USD over the next five years, as competition to develop self-driving cars intensifies.

Earlier this month, home rival Honda Corp. said it was setting up a new research body which would focus on AI, joining other global automakers which are investing in robotics research, including Ford and Volkswagen AG.

“Some of the things that are in car safety, which is a near-term priority, I’m very confident that we will have some advances come out during the next five years,” Pratt told reporters late last week in comments embargoed for Monday.

The concept of allowing vehicles to think, act and take some control from drivers to perform evasive manoeuvres forms a key platform of Toyota’s efforts to produce a car which can drive automatically on highways by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

While currently driver assistance systems largely use image sensors to avoid obstacles including vehicles and pedestrians within the car’s lane, Pratt said Toyota Research Institute was looking at AI solutions to enable “the car to be evasive beyond the one lane”.

“The intelligence of the car would figure out a plan for evasive action. Essentially (it would) be like a guardian angel, pushing on the accelerators, pushing on the steering wheel, pushing on the brake in parallel with you.”

As Japanese automakers race against other tech companies to develop automated vehicles, they’re also grappling with a rapidly greying society, which puts future demand for private vehicle ownership at risk.

Pratt said he saw the possibility that Toyota may one day become a maker of robots to help the elderly.