Toyota to Spend $2.8B Developing Software for Self-Driving Cars

The automaker, in partnership with two suppliers, is creating a new company to accelerate autonomous vehicle development.

By Murray Slovick, Contributing Editor

Toyota Motor Corp. will spend $2.8 billion to build software for autonomous cars, creating a new Tokyo-based company, called Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development. The firm will start with around 300 employees and aim to grow to around 1,000.

The new venture will be 90% held by Toyota with group suppliers Denso Corp. and Aisin Seiki Co each taking 5%.The company will be led by James Kuffner, a former Google engineer who is now the chief technology officer at the Toyota Research Institute in California.

“This company’s mission is to accelerate software development in a more effective and disruptive way, by augmenting the Toyota Group’s capability through the hiring of world-class software engineers,” Kuffner said in a statement. English will be the main business language of the new venture.

Figure 1: Shown is Toyota’s self-driving Lexus LS 600hL test car. The company is investing $2.8 billion to accelerate development of reliable software for autonomous vehicles. (Source: Toyota Research Institute)

The announcement follows Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda’s launching of a new mobility service business alliance and e-Palette Concept Vehicle at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. The e-Palette Alliance will leverage Toyota’s Mobility Services Platform (MSPF) to develop a suite of connected mobility solutions and a flexible, purpose-built vehicle. The new alliance aims to create a broad-based ecosystem of hardware and software support designed to help companies utilize advanced mobility technology to better serve customers. Launch partners include Amazon, DiDi, Mazda, Pizza Hut, and Uber, who will collaborate on vehicle planning, application concepts, and vehicle verification activities.

Figure 2: Toyota’s e-Palette concept vehicle has a number of possible applications, from pizza delivery to ride sharing to mobile retail stores. (Source: Toyota Motor Corp.)

In the near term, the Alliance will focus on the development of the e-Palette Concept Vehicle, a fully-automated, battery electric vehicle (BEV) designed to be scalable and customizable for a range of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) businesses. The e-Palette Concept Vehicle’s open vehicle-control interface and a set of software tools allows partner companies to install their own automated driving system and vehicle-management technology.

When a partner company’s automated driving system is installed, Toyota’s Guardian technology will act as a safety net to help ensure appropriate operation. Toyota envisions that the e-Palette Concept will be made available in three sizes, allowing not just need-specific applications, but also right-sized and right-place mobile solutions.

Toyota plans to conduct feasibility testing of the e-Palette Concept in various regions, including the United States, in the early 2020s. The company has a self-imposed deadline of 2020 for selling cars that can drive themselves on freeways; autonomous city street driving will be added a few years later.

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