“It is entirely possible that robots will become for today’s Toyota what the car industry was when Toyota made looms,” said Dr. Gill Pratt, the company’s Executive Technical Advisor and CEO of Toyota Research Institute, at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show.

Toyota, like Ford, Tesla and Faraday Future, are convinced that cars will become more of an autonomous extension of your smartphone than the archaic manually-steered mechanized beasts we drive today.

To this end the company is investing heavily in self-driving technology and taking that a step further; artificial intelligence.

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“Up to now, our industry has measured on-road reliability of autonomous vehicles, in the millions of miles, which is impressive.” Dr. Pratt posited at Toyota’s CES presentation. “But to achieve full autonomy we actually need reliability that is a million times better. We need trillion-mile reliability.”

I’m not sure millions times a million is a trillion, but I don’t feel qualified to question the math of a former project manager in artificial intelligence and robotics at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). That’s basically the military’s brand of building whatever the real-life equivalent of Iron Man is.

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Toyota has announced that they’re hiring an all-star team team of brainiacs to figure out how to make cars drive and think for us at new Toyota Research Institute offices in Palo Alto, California and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Institute was set up in November 2015, chartered with the lofty goal of “creating a car that cannot crash.” While the company’s focus has been on developing hardware to this end, the next move is to dial in software.

This means capturing and utilizing big data, Dr. Pratt explained in a statement from Toyota.

“People have reasonable fears about whether technology will work in their best interest, or if it is competent to do the jobs we assign. We need to be sure that the autonomous agents given the power to make decisions are capable of being audited. We can’t trust what we don’t understand, so we must build cars that can explain their actions.”

For those of you freaked out that your car might kill you to save a cute puppy, I’m with you, and so is Toyota. It sounds like they want a car that can stand trial which would really take the idea of an autonomous car to another level.

A “completion date” for this project is still not set in stone, but the Toyota Research Institute has promised to partner up with OEMs, suppliers, educational institutions and other outfits to accomplish their goal. This will be an interesting one to watch, even if Bender doesn’t show up at Toyota dealerships any time soon.

Image via Toyota/Futurama screengrab


Contact the author at andrew@jalopnik.com.