- Toyota will invest $100 million in autonomous vehicle (AV) and robotics startups through a new fund from its Toyota AI Ventures arm, the automaker announced Thursday.
- Since its founding in 2017, Toyota AI Ventures — a subsidiary of the Toyota Research Institute — has invested in 19 startups, including autonomous shuttle company May Mobility and Joby Aviation, which is working on an electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft.
- The new fund, called Fund II, will focus on "unbundling mobility," according to a blog post from managing director Jim Adler. That could mean a shared focus on micromobility, ride-hailing and technology that could accelerate autonomous driving.
The fund — which will double Toyota AI Ventures’ investments — shows how seriously automakers are taking the AI and robotics space. The autonomous driving space has upended the traditional mobility powerhouses, with players including tech firms like Apple and startups as well as automakers. Facing an “unbundled” future that could de-emphasize car ownership, automakers have instead invested in sensor technology, artificial intelligence software and even other mobility services.
Although Toyota has been doing its own in-house research on autonomous vehicles, including opening a 60-acre test driving facility to replicated “edge case” driving scenarios that couldn’t be done on public roads. The Tokyo-based Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD) has also been working on AV components.
For example, last month, Toyota, Denso and SoftBank announced a joint $1 billion investment into Uber’s advanced technologies group. With SoftBank, Toyota has also formed a joint venture company to explore Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) technology, including business fleets and driverless shuttles. TRI-AD also recently announced a partnership with mapping platform CARMERA to work on maps for AVs.
Working with emerging companies, Adler wrote, could help Toyota adapt to the changing mobility world. “Startups are built to run fast, fail fast, pivot fast, and do anything to survive,” he said. “Toyota can learn a great deal from how startups approach speed and risk to develop disruptive businesses that are redefining mobility.” With automakers trying to solve new tech problems they haven’t encountered before, outside help that moves more nimbly could be the solution.