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Toyota to open third research facility at U of M

University of Michigan

Toyota announced Thursday it will open a third research facility at the University of Michigan. 

Researchers will continue their work on driverless cars, but will now also explore other developments. The new facility will also work on artificial intelligence and in-home mobility aids for senior citizens.

Toyota is spending $1 billion on the new venture. 

Jeff Makarewicz, senior vice president at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, said the company has made great strides in automated vehicles, and there is more to come. 

"We already have vehicles on the road but you're going to see more and more of them and it's really exciting to see what type of capability is out there," he said. "You'd be surprised."

Makarewicz also praised the state of Michigan, and the university, as a great place for this type of research and development. Last summer, the university unveiled Mcity, a 32-acre "ghost-town" designed to resemble an actual urban setting for researchers to test driverless cars. Researchers from Toyota, Ford, and elsewhere have been using the facility for their various work.

Ryan Eustice is one of the two university researchers Toyota hired for the new facility. Eustice said right now automated car developers are working on solving problems like unexpected weather and crossing-guards directing traffic at broken street lights.

He said it's likely use of driverless cars will take different forms in different settings: Urban areas will likely use them for chauffeuring services, and rural areas will use them for safety.

"There's a notion out there, I think, in the public's mind's eye that autonomous cars are just around the corner and I think they are – under certain assumptions," Eustice said.

Eustice's counterpart, another university professor named Edwin Olson, will lead the robotics and artificial intelligence research. Eustice said these projects aim to help the elderly inside their home, and make Toyota a leader in machine development. 

He said there are parallels between the project's two goals: "The technologies that we use to make self-driving cars smart we also use inside the home to make robots smart."

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