Toyota plunks down $100M to invest in early-stage autonomy startups


Even though TRI is hard at work on its own AV development, it’s always on the lookout for that next big thing.


Automakers aren’t the only ones out there working on the next generation of automotive technology. Startups are out there, too, and getting big investment money from an automaker can easily propel that company to the forefront of a specific technology. Toyota’s hoping it can find that next big thing with another injection of cash into its venture fund.

Toyota AI Ventures, a subsidiary of the Toyota Research Institute established in 2017, announced on Thursday that it has created a new $100 million fund for future investments. The money will go toward startups working to develop technology and business models for future autonomous vehicles.

“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, in a statement. “Investing in startups creates long-term relationships that help Toyota explore the latest innovations in mobility.”

With this new cash injection, Toyota AI Ventures is managing more than $200 million in investment assets. It’s already invested in 19 different companies, including Joby Aviation (electric VTOL aircraft), May Mobility (Level 4 autonomous shuttles) and Sea Machines (maritime autonomy), proving that its investments need not be related to cars specifically. If it involves anything tangentially related to transportation, Toyota AI Ventures might have an interest in it.

That doesn’t mean Toyota isn’t doing its own work, too. In fact, Toyota Research Institute brought the latest version of its autonomous development vehicle to CES 2019. Called the TRI-P4, it’s based on a Lexus LS 500h. Development is focused on two AV systems: Guardian seeks to enhance a driver by adding extra layers of safety, while Chauffeur is dedicated to full autonomy that removes the human driver from the equation.


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