Toyota Investment Fund Will Back AI, Autonomous Driving Tech

Toyota AI Ventures launches with investments in three tech companies.

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A new Toyota venture-capital division will back companies that focus on emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous driving, and data- and cloud tech.

Toyota AI Ventures kicks off with a $100 million investment from the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which will be distributed among three tech companies. Through Toyota AI Ventures, TRI also plans to offer support services to startups. Toyota hopes this will help build relationships with companies developing technologies it views as important.

The unstable nature of the startup game will require quicker decision making, a company press release said, hence the need for an investment arm outside the normal Toyota corporate structure. However, Toyota AI Ventures will still choose its investments based on the automaker's research priorities. It will back companies that can solve certain "research challenges" identified by Toyota.

The first three companies backed by Toyota AI Ventures are Nauto, SLAMcore, and Intuition Robotics. 

Nauto is a Silicon Valley startup developing a windshield-mounted device that collects data on road conditions and driver behavior for use by fleet managers. British firm SLAMcore is developing algorithms to help self-driving cars, drones, and AR/VR devices map their environments. Intuition Robotics is an Israeli firm developing a robot that can act as a companion to older adults, dovetailing with Toyota's own robotics work.

Toyota isn't the first automaker to invest in technology startups. Ford has made similar investments as part of its sprawling tech initiative, and even purchased outright the Chariot shuttle service. Jaguar Land Rover runs an "incubator" for startups, and its InMotion tech subsidiary recently invested $25 million in Lyft. These investments underscore the value of the tech being developed by startups to carmakers.