By Vlad Vidaeff
As humans, we have always had a fascination with robots and the technological wonders that the future will provide. The popular children’s television show The Jetsons had flying cars. An artificially intelligent robot, Data, was a popular character on Star Trek. Battlestar Galactica took a look at what happens when advanced robots revolt. The Terminator franchise covers a similar theme. Last week, on November 6, 2015, Toyota announced that it’s investing $1 billion in artificial intelligence research. Toyota is creating a new company, Toyota Research Institute, to focus on the initiative with headquarters at Stanford and a second laboratory at MIT. The company will begin operations in January 2016, just a few short months away.
The company will have three goals in the areas of safety, accessibility, and robotics. In safety, Toyota will conduct research to prevent accidents and make driving safer. In accessibility, Toyota will make efforts to allow everyone to benefit from the mobility of cars. Lastly, in robotics, it will research ways that robots can improve the quality of life of people, especially seniors.
Probably most exciting to consumers is the prospect of self-driving cars. A recent episode of 60 Minutes showcased the efforts Google is making in this area. Other well-known companies such as Facebook, Uber, GE, and Tesla are making advances as well. No one is sure who will emerge as the leader in the race to develop driverless cars but Toyota plans to have them on the road by 2020. IHS, a company that provides information and analysis to support the decision-making process of companies in various industries, predicts that one in ten automobiles will be capable of autonomous driving in 2035, 20 years from today.
While critics of self-driving cars have legitimate points, particularly in the areas of safety and terrorism/national security, this technology is incredibly exciting. With great frustration I admit that I waste an average of eight hours stuck in rush hour traffic a week. With five of the top ten most congested roadways in Texas being located in Houston, I know I am not alone. How great would it be if instead of being stuck in stop and go traffic and being cut off by aggressive drivers we could do something productive on our commute to work? What if we could read a book, browse the web on our phones, or even do work on the way to work? The possibilities are endless and I for one know that I cannot wait until this day arrives. A brave new world.