Weekly Brief: Toyota invests billions to build new self-driving car company

With Waymo set to deploy a commercial self-driving car service in Arizona in the coming months, the pressure is on for automakers to respond. Toyota answered the call last week by creating a new company, Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD), that will build autonomous software and help translate the research underway at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) into integrated products on the ground. Toyota will invest $2.8 billion to get the company up and running.


Part of the thinking here is that Toyota wants to create a dynamic start-up environment that will attract top engineers and coders, who are in short supply in the high-paced world of autonomous tech. A former Google engineer, James Kuffner, will lead TRI-AD, which will start with 300 employees and aim to grow to 1000. One thing that might assist the company in drawing top talent: TRI-AD will build software for consumer-facing electric vehicles, rather than commercial robot-taxi services like many competitors. The company has promised to trial self-driving electric cars for the consumer market by 2020. Toyota suppliers Denso and Aisin Seiki are investing in TRI-AD as well.  


In other news, Ford’s self-driving cars have touched down in the Sunshine State. The automaker is testing two versions of its self-driving vehicles in Miami. The first batch is fully autonomous and outfitted with technology by Argo AI; the second is in partnership with Domino’s Pizza and has an engineer manually driving behind the wheel like a new age delivery man. Ford didn’t reveal how many total vehicles are on the road.


Daimler will soon own 100% of the carsharing service car2go Europe. The company already owns 75% of the service and has agreed to purchase the remaining 25% stake from joint venture partner Europcar Group. car2go Group has more than 3 million users worldwide spread across Europe, North America and China. 


The venture capital arms of both BMW and Toyota invested in May Mobility, a start-up that aims to replace existing transportation systems with its fleets of self-driving micro-shuttles. BMW i Ventures and Toyota AI Ventures co-led May Mobility’s seed round of $11.5 million. May Mobility plans to use the funding for new deployments across the country beyond its initial launch in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) approved new rules that will allow carmakers and tech companies to test self-driving cars without engineers behind the wheel. Fifty manufacturers currently have permits to test self-driving vehicles with drivers in California. They will have to apply for a new testing and/or deployment permit from the DMV and comply with the permit requirements if they wish to either test an autonomous vehicle without a driver or allow the public to use their autonomous technology. The new rules take effect April 2, 2018.


Finally, it’s easy to deliver connectivity to cars in urban settings. As for rural regions where lower bandwidths and high latency abound? Not so much. Enter Continental’s Predictive Connectivity Manager that “looks” into the future to determine network availability and reception quality along the route so that it can then take appropriate action. The manager crowdsources data from other vehicles on the road to get insights about upcoming network conditions. It then works in tandem with a Smart Telematics solution that aggregates available communication channels to get more bandwidth or to seamlessly switch between the channels once the reception quality becomes poor.


The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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