Japanese auto giant Toyota wants to put driverless cars on the streets of Boston.
The Toyota Research Institute has held talks with officials in Boston and Cambridge to discuss putting autonomous cars on their roads as an extension of the testing that the marque is already doing in the area with the self-driving Prius.
Japanese marque is the biggest in the world
Toyota is the world’s largest car manufacturer and has facilities throughout the United States, so this could be a coup for the city.
The Toyota Research Institute is the robotics and AI division of the Japanese marque and it has 50 employees based in Cambridge. Clearly the manufacturer will have to hire locally if it wants to boost its operations.
Is this enough to turn the city into a cornerstone of the autonomous industry?
Combined with some other factors, it could well be.
Phoenix is rising right now
Phoenix, Arizona has emerged as one of the capitals of the self-driving car industry of late. Local regulators made it as simple as possible for the manufacturers to obtain permits and put their cars on the road.
Lyft has applied for permits and Waymo wants to put hundreds of cars on the road of the Arizona city in the near future to provide ride hailing services for local residents.
That has put Phoenix in pole position to become the ‘new Silicon Valley’ of the autonomous car industry, but other cities want a piece of the action.
East Coast appeal in Boston
Boston has its own appeal, as it comes with unpredictable and traffic patterns that will test the systems to the limit.
“Boston requires significant skill to drive well,” said Gill Pratt, Chief Executive Officer of the Toyota Research Institute.
The city also has top drawer research facilities, equipment and talented people at the universities, which is a major draw.
Harvard University is in Cambridge and it has some of the finest technical minds and labs in the world on site.
The University of Massachusetts is also on hand and there are a number of other schools in the area that could prove invaluable technical partners for the Japanese marque.
Delphi, Optimus Rides and nuTonomy are already testing in Fort Point and Boston’s Seaport. So, there’s a growing community that could turn this East Coast city into a hub of the autonomous car industry.
Testing has already begun, in a way
Toyota already has cars equipped with autonomous hardware on the roads of Boston, but each one has a human driver at the controls.
The company takes the vast amount of data generated and effectively runs it through a computer simulation that can help train the car’s self-driving system.
Clearly Toyota is modelling its autonomous processes on these experienced, human drivers. That’s a solid place to start, but eventually an AI system will process billions of miles of driving data and the computers should eventually prove more efficient and effective.
“We’re using those cars to record human driving, to record traffic, and build maps, and to record the actions of drivers in our cars,” Pratt said.
A serious step for self-driving community
Soon, though, the people will give way to the computers and driverless Toyotas will hit the streets of downtown Boston. It’s a huge step for the world’s biggest car manufacturer and it’s another massive step forward for the self-driving car industry.
Toyota hasn’t got the full green light for the deal, but the city regulators are making all the right noises and we expect to see a fleet of self-driving Priii, which really is the plural of Prius according to Toyota, in action before too long.