Toyota Motor Corp. wants to smooth the oft-bumpy ride for startup companies by forming a new venture capital business.
Armed with an initial $100 million to invest, Toyota AI Ventures will seek companies that are taking on challenging research also being pursued by Toyota Research Institute, the carmaker’s artificial intelligence and robotics R&D unit.
The first three companies to receive financing are a maker of cameras that monitor drivers and roads, a creator of autonomous car-mapping algorithms and a developer of robotic companions for the elderly.
In starting the venture fund, Toyota Research Institute is answering President Akio Toyoda’s call “to be attacking and defending at the same time” in an age where automakers that used to compete for decades by bending metal now have to contend with the likes of Google and Tesla Inc. in programming cars capable of driving themselves.
Toyoda told shareholders last month that the almost 80-year-old company would consider options including partnerships, mergers and acquisitions to improve its competitiveness.
“Can TRI and Toyota do this alone? The answer is no,” Gill Pratt, the chief executive officer of the automaker’s research institute, said on July 11 at an automated vehicles conference in San Francisco. “The number of startups in this field is incredible. No matter how hard I try to hire people, we are still missing out on a lot of the innovation.”
By John Lippert, Gabrielle Coppola and Dana Hull