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Toyota AI Ventures & BMW Invest in Self-Driving Startup May Mobility

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【Summary】Toyota AI, the Silicon Valley based venture arm of Toyota Motor Corp, is broadening its investments in self-driving cars and related technology with its investment in a Michigan based autonomous shuttle startup.

Eric Walz    Feb 26, 2018 11:38 AM PT
Toyota AI Ventures & BMW Invest in Self-Driving Startup May Mobility

LOS ALTOS, Calif., — Toyota AI, the Silicon Valley based venture arm of Toyota Motor Corp, is broadening its investments in self-driving cars and related technology with its investment in a Michigan based autonomous shuttle startup.

Toyota AI Ventures said on Monday it is co-leading an $11.5-million seed investment along with BMW i Ventures in May Mobility, an Ann Arbor-based startup that is developing self-driving, battery powered shuttles for college campuses and central business districts.  BMW i Ventures is a co-investor in the autonomous shuttle company.

Toyota AI which is based in Los Altos, was formed one year ago and works with entrepreneurs working on autonomous mobility robotics, data, and artificial intelligence.

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With a budget of $100 million, the company now has disclosed investments in seven early-stage startups, including electric aircraft startup Joby Aviation and Nauto, which is working on smart camera technology for autonomous vehicles to prevent collisions.

"Part of our mission is to understand where innovation is happening, tap into disruption in the market and acquire firsthand knowledge of those disruptive signals," said Jim Adler, managing director of Toyota AI Ventures. Most of this disruption is in the automotive industry, with autonomous mobility and other related technology.

With rapid advances in technology and new mobility applications, "the auto industry is under siege," Adler said in an interview. Toyota AI is adapting to this trend with its investments.

The largest automakers, including Toyota, which is developing its own self-driving technology, "could be more fragile and more at risk if we don't adapt to this changing environment," Adler said.

"We recognize that full autonomy is going to take many years," Adler said. "The road will be trailblazed by these kinds of services," he added, noting May Mobility's narrower focus on deploying self-driving electric micro-shuttles in pre-mapped areas with fewer variables, such as construction zones and urban traffic.

Edwin Olson, chief executive and co-founder of May Mobility said the company plans to launch a commercial ride-sharing service later this year.

Alphabet Inc's Waymo self-driving unit has said it will begin a similar service in late 2018, followed by General Motors, who is working with San Francisco-based autonomous driving startup Cruise Automation on a commercial ride-hailing service.

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