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Toyota woos tech start-ups

Future proof: Toyota has embraced tech start-ups by offering venture capital financing and potential collaboration on technologies to drive cars of the future such as the Toyota Concept-i.

Entrepreneurs offered venture capital and support as Toyota disrupts the disruptors

Toyota logo12 Jul 2017

By RON HAMMERTON

TOYOTA has set out to lure the next generation of tech entrepreneurs into its corner by proffering a $US100 million ($A130m) pot of honey at a new Silicon Valley-based venture capital subsidiary, Toyota AI Ventures.

The move is designed to help the Japanese giant make the running on break-through technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous mobility and cloud technology by forming collaborations with promising start-ups.

The new subsidiary – a division of the California-based Toyota Research Institute (TRI) – will offer early stage financing to successful candidates, presumably with a pay-off to Toyota of access to the technology if and when it comes to fruition.

Three such start-ups have already signed on for Toyota support that, apart from seed money, includes mentorship and support at TRI’s headquarters.

These include Nauto, a Silicon Valley tech start-up that has developed a system that employs artificial intelligence to monitor drivers and the road environment to prevent collisions and improve driver behaviour.

Another is British-based SLAMcore which develops advanced algorithms to help technology platforms such as autonomous cars, drones and augmented reality and virtual reality systems to simultaneously build a map of their surroundings and position themselves within it.

Lastly, Israel’s Intuition Robotics has signed up for Toyota help with its development of social companion technology, including its ElliQ active-ageing robotic companion.

TRI CEO Gill Pratt said Toyota had a history of disruptive innovation, from textile machinery on 1930s to the electrification of the car with Prius in the 1990s, to autonomous mobility and human-assist robots.

“TRI is growing quickly, and we recognise the critical importance of expanding our collaboration with the world’s brightest entrepreneurial talent,” he said.

“This venture is a major step towards our mission to empower talented entrepreneurs who share Toyota’s commitment to enhancing the quality of human life.”

Apart from offering start-up help to entrepreneurs, the Toyota subsidiary will also initiate new ventures by identifying technology challenges and then supporting the creation of new companies offering to solve them.

Toyota has a history of collaboration with disruptors, having partnered with a fledgling Tesla for a time, even selling its California factory to the electric vehicle company headed by Elon Musk.

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