Toyota Now Owns 20% Of Subaru

My wife drives a Subaru Crosstrek, which she loves. I too, appreciate Subaru’s dependability, particularly in snow. All Subarus are all-wheel drive, so the brand is a go-to choice for people who like to head to the mountains, as I do.

I also admire Subaru’s Eyesight driver assistance system. The stock adaptive cruise control works perfectly. The lane departure warning system works fine for what it does, although I wish it had improved more over the last few years. And it would be great if Subaru supported over-the-air updates to improve the system over time.

Toyota obviously sees something in Subaru, as well, since the larger manufacturer just increased its ownership stake in Subaru to 20%.

The logic is apparently to provide Subaru access to Toyota’s hybrid technology. In fact, Subaru already uses this technology for its new plug-in hybrid Crosstrek. Supposedly there is a parallel plug-in hybrid Impreza that is available only in Japan.

Meanwhile, Subaru will provide Toyota with insight into both all-wheel drive and driver assistance systems.

In more personal news, on Monday I’m supposed to receive the Subaru giraffe for use with the Comma EON. If OpenPilot works on the Crosstrek as well as it has on the Toyota’s I’ve tested, I’ll be tempted to buy my own Crosstrek plug-in hybrid 🙂

Toyota Research Institute — Advanced Development

The Silicon Valley office of Toyota Research Institute is within a long walk of Udacity’s headquarters in Mountain View, but they’ve been pretty quite about what they’re up to.

News today is that Toyota is creating a sister organization, based in Japan, called Toyota Research Institute — Advanced Development. TRI-AD will be headquartered in Tokyo as a partnership between Toyota and suppliers Aisin and Denso. Although Toyota is putting up 90% of the money.

Although the business will be located in Tokyo, it’s CEO will be current TRI CTO and former CMU professor James Kuffner, the chairman will be current TRI CEO Gil Pratt and former MIT professor Gil Pratt. And the language of TRI-AD is going to be English.

“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,” [says Kuffner].

It appears Toyota is setting up TRI as the pure research division and TRI-AD as the bridge to production, since TRI-AD will be in Japan and closer to Toyota’s main production facilities.

Oh, and did I mention they’re committing an additional $3 billion dollars to this?

Flying Cars

Recently I got to talk with Raffaello D’andrea about flying cars.

Raff is a co-founder of Amazon Robotics and a professor at ETH Zurich. Most importantly, though, he is one of the experts behind Udacity’s upcoming Flying Cars and Autonomous Flight Nanodegree Program.

Our discussion ranged from whether flying cars are just self-driving cars that get up in the air, to what a world with self-driving cars will look like.


Toyota Goes Public

A year and a half ago, Toyota announced that it would invest $1 billion into a new entity called the Toyota Research Institute (TRI).

And then…nothing else, really.

TRI has been pretty quiet for 18 months.

A few days ago, though, they broke their silence with a private track demonstration in Sonoma.

The platform is the second generation of the advanced safety research vehicle revealed to the public by Toyota at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. It is built on a current generation Lexus LS 600hL, which features a robust drive-by-wire interface. The 2.0 is designed to be a flexible, plug-and-play test platform that can be upgraded continuously and often. Its technology stack will be used to develop both of TRI’s core research paths: Chauffeur and Guardian systems. 
 Chauffeur refers to the always deployed, fully autonomous system classified by SAE as unrestricted Level 5 autonomy and Level 4 restricted and geo-fenced operation. 
 Guardian is a high-level driver assist system, constantly monitoring the driving environment inside and outside the vehicle, ready to alert the driver of potential dangers and stepping in when needed to assist in crash avoidance.

I’m excited to see Toyota share more of what they’re doing.

This is the world’s largest auto manufacturer, and I assume they will bring their A-game to the table.

Toyota’s Guardian Angel

The head of the new Toyota Research Institute, Gil Pratt, recently discussed the manufacturer’s Guardian Angel system, which will take over from the human driver in the moments prior to a crash.

This is an interesting digression from the standard industry trends in Level 3 and Level 4 autonomy.

“Our plan is to see how humans will respond when the car temporarily takes control because it knows better,” said Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, during his keynote address Thursday. “So far the steering wheel always points in the direction the wheels go; that’s always been true up until now.”

Toyota Ramps Up

I mentioned previously that Toyota is coming into the autonomous vehicle game a little bit late, even if they do have more self-driving patents than any other company.

However, they are getting into the field in a big way, with offices in Silicon Valley and Boston, and a host of heavy hitters in the lineup:

  • Eric Krotkov, Former DARPA Program Manager — Chief Operating Officer
  • Larry Jackel, Former Bell Labs Department Head and DARPA Program Manager — Machine Learning
  • James Kuffner, CMU Professor and former head of Google Robotics — Cloud Computing
  • John Leonard, Samuel C. Collins Professor of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering, MIT — Autonomous Driving
  • Hiroshi Okajima, Project General Manager, R&D Management Division, Toyota Motor Corporation — Executive Liaison Officer
  • Brian Storey, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Olin College of Engineering — Accelerating Scientific Discovery
  • Russ Tedrake, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT — Simulation and Control

In particular, I am somewhat familiar with Russ Tedrake, having taken his edX course on Underactuated Robotics. He is a fast-rising start in the robotics world, although thus far his specialty has been walking robots, not driving robots.

It looks like Toyota has a lot of leaders on the team. Now the question is whether they can stock up worker bees.

Originally published at on January 9, 2016.

Toyota’s Plan for Mapping the World

Toyota is taking a page out of the Waze playbook.

Using “designated user vehicles”, USA Today reports that Toyota will send camera and geolocation data from customers cars back to Toyota’s servers, allowing Toyota to map the world.

This is an interesting strategy, and suggests a reason that cars will go from being a relatively fragmented industry, to a relatively consolidated, network-effects-driven industry.

Originally published at on January 3, 2016.