Toyota Alliance with Robotics Foundation Behind Automaker’s Transition to Mobility Technology Company

Toyota’s research arm has forged an alliance with a robotics foundation to support both open source and proprietary tools to be used in the automaker’s robotics and automated vehicle initiatives.

Toyota Research Institute is working with the Open Source Robotics Foundation and its newly-formed for profit subsidiary Open Source Robotics Corporation. TRI is also awarding the foundation a $1 million charitable contribution in support of its mission to advance the development and adoption of open source robotics software.

Toyota said that the move will significantly expand TRI’s research and engineering capabilities. It also reflects what the automaker describes in its press release as shifting outside “the boundaries of the conventional automotive industry to become a broad-based mobility technology company.”

Since starting the research arm last year, Toyota has been investing in expanding the department. In June, TRI acquired two robotics divisions form Google’s parent company Alphabet.

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OSRF was founded years ago by members of the global robotics community to support development and adoption of open source software for use in robotics research and education. The group oversees the development of the Robot Operating System, which it calls a flexible framework for writing robot software, and Gazebo, a 3D multi-robot simulator.

Toyota wants to tap into the foundation’s years of expertise and industry-leading technical platforms, said TRI CEO Gill Pratt said in a Toyota press release. TRI also thinks the open source movement is important to support to “catalyze the development of the robotics industry,” Pratt said.

During the two-year agreement, TRI will tap into the expertise of OSCR’s engineering team, and will be “engaging them in a variety of initiatives.”

Toyota also sees the arrangement as part of its overall commitment to move past the confines of traditional corporate R&D – and the future role of automakers. Toyota sees its research arm fulfilling mandates including enhancing vehicle safety; increasing access to vehicles to those who can’t drive; taking its expertise making cars for outdoor mobility into products for indoor mobility; and integrating techniques from artificial intelligence and “machine learning.” TRI plans to employ about 250 employees at its three research centers tied to universities.

One of these research centers is located near the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Toyota has been one of the major corporate partners supporting the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center and its test track for autonomous vehicles.