Toyota Motor Corp. and Preferred Networks Inc. today announced an agreement to engage in joint research and development on Toyota’s Human Support Robot robotics platform. The two companies said they “aim to develop service robots that cater to market needs at the earliest opportunity.”
While robots have expanded from industrial use to logistics and medical care, many technological challenges remain before service robots are smart enough to integrate into users’ daily lives, said Toyota. Staffing shortages of caregivers in Japan and other developed countries are driving interest in humanoid and service robots.
“Since around 2004, Toyota has engaged in the development of partner robots that support both people with disabilities and the elderly, based on the concept of ‘coexisting with humans and assisting them in their daily lives,’” stated Nobuhiko Koga, chief officer of Toyota’s Frontier Research Center. “In 2012, we developed the HSR, which has a basic robotics platform for supporting independent living.”
In addition to autonomous vehicles, Toyota has been investing in robotics and artificial intelligence through the Toyota Research Institute and Toyota AI Ventures. It recently unveiled several robots to be used around the 2020 Olympic Games, following its “Mobility for All” goal and including a telepresence model.
Preferred Networks was founded in 2014 and has raised a total of $129.9 in funding. The Tokyo-based company has been working on software for self-driving and connected cars, industrial automation, and healthcare imaging.
By combining their respective technologies and know-how, Toyota and Preferred said they intend to develop service robots capable of learning in typical living environments and executing a variety of tasks.
Preferred Networks to borrow HSRs for R&D
First, Toyota will loan several dozen Human Support Robots to PFN. Over the next three years, the two companies will then collaborate in research and development. Toyota and PFN will share their respective development information and technologies, including existing intellectual property.
The two companies will also be free to use the results of their joint research as they see fit. In this way, Toyota and PFN seek to accelerate development aimed at the practical realization of service robots.
“Up to now, HSR has been used in research and development at 49 organizations in 13 countries including Japan, and [it] has been highly praised as a robotics platform,” said Nobuhiko Koga. “Going forward toward our goal to develop service robots that better cater to the needs of our customers, we are excited by the prospect of collaborating in research and development with PFN, which boasts world-class intelligence technologies.”
“Since our establishment in 2014, at PFN, we have used deep-learning to develop intelligent hardware for automobiles and industrial robots,” said Toru Nishikawa, president and CEO of Preferred Networks. “At CEATEC Japan 2018, we demonstrated a robot capable of cleaning a room in a fully automated manner. We applied deep-learning technologies to create an HSR that could pick up and put down undefined objects, draw up its own operation plans, and respond to human instructions.”
“HSR is an outstanding robotic platform,” he added. “By engaging in joint research and development with Toyota, who created the HSR, we hope to accelerate development of the functions necessary for robots to work in human living environments. Our goal is to realize the practical implementation of service robots for the first time in the world.”
“Going forward, Toyota and PFN will work on joint development of service robots that have the intelligence to respond to various needs so that we can contribute to enhancing the quality of life for more people,” said the companies.