Toyota to open third U.S. research lab to advance self-driving cars

The logo of Toyota is seen on a Toyota Fortuner vehicle at a showroom in Jakarta, Indonesia February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Beawiharta/Files

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Co said on Thursday it would open its third U.S. research lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan in June for the study of artificial intelligence, robotics and materials science to spur the development of self-driving cars.

The Japanese automaker already has a research lab in the Silicon Valley technology hub of Palo Alto, where it works with Stanford University, and another in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it collaborates with MIT. Its new facility near the University of Michigan will have a staff of about 50 employees.

The world’s top-selling automaker announced in November that it would invest $1 billion in research and development over the next five years in artificial intelligence technologies, which are critical to the computer brains of self-driving cars.

Toyota’s investment in R&D comes as competition in the fast-moving field of autonomous vehicles expands beyond carmakers in Asia, Europe and the United States to non-traditional sources such as Alphabet’s Google and Apple.

The new Ann Arbor facility will focus primarily on fully autonomous driving, in which the car takes full control, the company said. The Palo Alto lab will concentrate on what Toyota calls “guardian angel” driving, in which the car assists for safety functions, but the driver is always engaged at the wheel. The Cambridge lab will focus on simulation and deep learning.

Some 30 projects are already underway with researchers at Stanford and MIT, Toyota said, adding that it would continue to collaborate with other automakers, suppliers, technology companies and universities to jointly develop autonomous technologies.

The CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, Gil Pratt, announced the move at the GPU Technology Conference in San Jose, California.

Reporting by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Andrew Hay