Autonomous cars? Toyota experimenting with an in-car robot

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Forget autonomous cars, perhaps having a little robot sit in the passenger seat next to you will help prevent causing an accident, according to Toyota.


Toyota, a company that spends approximately £8 billion a year on research, is currently experimenting in human/robot interaction and the effects this could have on a persons driving.


“Our approach probably is a little different,” acknowledged John Hanson, director of communications at the new Toyota Research Institute. “Autonomous cars are designed to drive you across town. Robots can help you up the stairs or into the shower. Both are about keeping people mobile.”


Much of the artificial intelligence and hardware needed for self-driving cars can also be applied to robots.


Dr. Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, said: “It is entirely possible that robots will become for today’s Toyota what the car industry was when Toyota made looms (in the 1930s). Home robots may be even more personally prized in our future than cars have been in our past.”


The robots name is Kirobo and features voice and facial recognition software above one of his eyes that can identify expressions, so if you’re frowning he’ll try to engage you in a bit of helium-voiced chat. Kirobo has a database of phrases and can also understand speech, however right now this is only useful if you speak Japanese.


Egil Juliussen, director of research and principle analyst for technology at HIS Automotive Markit, mentioned that the development of artificial intelligence is moving much more rapidly than many had expected.


“What are in the works now are chips that can accelerate deep learning, artificial intelligence,” he said.  “At one point, we were predicting that these vehicles would be available by 2025. What we’re seeing now is much more aggressive than that.”


With permission from their owners, Toyota Research Institute have collected information from vehicle computers in order to face the formidable task of making cars think and react like humans.


“If a pedestrian is getting ready to cross the street as one of our cars approaches, is he paying attention? Is he looking at you or is he looking at a cellphone?” noted Zach Hicks, CEO ad president of Toyota Connected. “Autonomous cars will need to be able to make that determination.”


Unfortunately, Kirobo will not be standard on the next Auris but he’s part of a serious experiment to test how your car could interact with you. There’s the possibility that he will be able to interact with your sat-nav as well as your music too. 

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