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Toyota AI Ventures Announces New $100 Million Fund for Autonomous Mobility and Robotics

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【Summary】​The Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Toyota AI Ventures announced this week a new $100 million fund dedicated to investing in early-stage startups developing new technologies such as autonomous mobility and robotics.

Eric Walz    May 03, 2019 12:33 PM PT
Toyota AI Ventures Announces New $100 Million Fund for Autonomous Mobility and Robotics
A self-driving test car built by the Toyota Research Institute (Photo: Autoweek)

The Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Toyota AI Ventures announced a new $100 million venture capital fund dedicated to investing in early-stage startups developing new technologies such as autonomous mobility and robotics.

Toyota AI Ventures (TAIV) invests in early-stage startups from around the world. The firm focuses on investments in artificial intelligence (AI), data, and cloud technologies, as applied to autonomous mobility and robotics.

TAIV looks for startups that are applying AI, data, and cloud technologies to tackle important problems and create new market opportunities for the automotive industry and beyond. Over the past two years, TAIV invested in 19 innovative startups.

The new investment follows a previous $100 million commitment, bringing the total investments to $200 million.

TAIV was founded in July 2017 as a subsidiary of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). The TRI focuses on autonomous driving and AI research for the Toyota Motor Corp. TRI is working on technology that may eventually be added to future Toyota models.

The new fund is another example of global automakers investing in and partnering with tech startups to jumpstart development of self-driving cars and related mobility technology, a sector historically slow moving automakers are trying rapidly to catch up with.

"Auto manufacturers must participate in the startup ecosystem to stay ahead of the rapid shift in the auto industry," said Jim Adler, Managing Director of Toyota AI Ventures. "Investing in startups creates long-term relationships that help Toyota explore the latest innovations in mobility."

Existing investments include companies working on robotics, a electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) passenger aircraft service, autonomous sea machines and navigation systems for the maritime industry.

"The growing interest in automated systems has created great opportunities to improve human lives using AI and next-generation mobility technology," said Dr. Gill Pratt, chief executive officer at TRI and Toyota AI Ventures investment committee member. "Under Jim's leadership, Toyota AI Ventures helps us find and invest in tomorrow's technology leaders by bridging the gap between technology startups and the emerging mobility industry."

Toyota AI Ventures will also use Fund II to continue to strengthen its portfolio services. In addition to offering capital, TAIV partners with portfolio companies to provide ongoing support and resources to enable their long-term success, including assistance with product-market fit, and an opportunity to connect with Toyota's deep technical expertise and its extensive global network.

"Our startups are our customers, and we strive for deep connections based on a shared vision, common values, and aligned incentives," said Jim Adler. "It's about building relationships that last. Today's announcement is a demonstration of our long-term commitment to supporting the best entrepreneurs who are creating the next generation of disruptive innovations and businesses."

Among the unique investments TAIV is making outside of the automotive industry is in Silicon Valley-based Joby Aviation, a stealthy startup working on an air taxi service using VTOL aircraft.

"Toyota AI Ventures has been a fantastic investor and partner for Joby as we work toward a future where air taxis redefine daily mobility with expanded horizons and more time to do what you love," said JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby Aviation. "They have been dedicated to doing whatever they can to help us succeed, and the guidance and connections they've provided us have been invaluable."

In addition to its financial support, Toyota is helping to advance the auto industry is by sharing its patents. In early April, the automaker announced a strategic policy shift that will encourage competitors to develop hybrid vehicles by sharing Toyota's expertise in hybrid powertrains.

Toyota's most recent patents are related to electric motors, power converters and EV batteries.

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