Toyota Research Institute provides $22M to University of Michigan for AI studies

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), a Toyota R&D organization headquartered in Silicon Valley, is providing $22 million over four years in an initial research grant with the University of Michigan. The funding follows Toyota’s opening of a third research facility for TRI at the U of M campus, which it officially announced in April this year.

The funding is earmarked for artificial intelligence research specifically, and follows similar investments and facilities at Stanford near the Institute’s Palo Alto HQ, and in Cambridge, where Toyota has a similar research agreement with MIT.

Toyota isn’t new to U of M; the car-maker has two Toyota Technical Centers near the academic institution, and it has worked with faculty there on connected cars and research into advanced safety measures. Toyota is also a founding member of the university’s Mobility Transformation Center, which is a multi-departmental effort focused on building future transportation systems that incorporate shared autonomous vehicle networks.

This new investment from Toyota is yet another clear sign that the automaker is looking to drive R&D advances in robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence through close relationships with top academics in the field. The University of Michigan is one of the top graduate schools in the country for AI studies, according to many top schools listings, and it’s also a key North American research center for automotive tech.

The money isn’t just going towards car research, however; the University also says it’ll be used in studies related to “partner robotics,” “indoor mobility” and “student learning and diversity,” in addition to car tech.

Interest from car companies in academic research to spur innovation is coming from all the major manufacturers, including Ford, U of M’s nearby neighbor. The increased pace of development, aided by new entrants to the market including Google and potentially, Apple, means we’ll likely see more research partnership and further extensions of exiting ones for at least the next few years.