Toyota names three CSAIL PIs to consult for AI initiative

John Leonard, Russ Tedrake and Daniela Rus (second from left) - plus former director Rodney Brooks - to help Toyota Research Institute solve major challenges in artificial intelligence and robotics.

The new Toyota Research Institute (TRI) - a $1 billion investment in artificial intelligence - aims to reduce traffic casualties, develop cars capable of navigating without human input, and advance the field of autonomous systems.

This week TRI announced the advisory board and initial technical team, which includes CSAIL researchers John Leonard, Russ Tedrake and Daniela Rus, as well as former lab director Rodney Brooks, who co-founded iRobot and now heads up Rethink Robotics.

Leonard and Tedrake were named to the technical team with a focus on autonomous driving and simulation/control, respectively. Leonard has pioneered algorithms that allow robots to navigate unknown environments, while Tedrake is an associate professor of computer science and engineering who oversaw MIT’s DARPA Robotics Challenge team.

Rus, who is director of CSAIL and the Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will serve on the advisory board alongside Brooks, who has been appointed deputy chairman.

“Solving these challenges will require combining our knowledge of data-driven and model-based approaches to decision making and perception,” Rus says. “Developing a vehicle that’s incapable of having an accident is an ambitious goal, but at CSAIL we’ve always focused on the moonshots.”

Former MIT professor and DARPA executive Gill Pratt is leading TRI. Through developing automated mobility systems, Pratt wants to eliminate highway collisions without eliminating the "fun of driving."

In an interview with IEEE Spectrum, Pratt said he hopes the organization will make a vehicle that is "never responsible for a crash, regardless of the skill of the driver, will allow older people to be able to drive, and will help prevent the one and a half million deaths that occur as a result of cars every single year around the world.”

The initiative follows Toyota’s announcement of an autonomous-vehicle collaboration involving new research centers at CSAIL and Stanford.