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Most entries in the autonomous driving space are coming from the tech sector. But recently, a new contender that is no stranger to the highly competitive automobile industry wants to change that formula and shake things up. Toyota, the global car brand that brought you the iconic Prius and Land Cruiser, announced its presence in the race to build the first self-driving vehicle.

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New Project, New Goals

The company is coming out with guns blazing after it revealed a monumental $1 billion injection into a research facility called the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). In the five-year plan, the investment will slowly trickle in to provide support for a wide range of projects. First on the agenda is settling in a new establishment near Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. A secondary office is currently being setup at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts. From these two locations, the group plans on hiring over 200 employees and begin operations by 2016.

“The density of people doing this kind of work in Silicon Valley is higher than any other place in the world,” highlighted Gill Pratt, a roboticist and former official at the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency. “We want to create cars that are both safer and incredibly fun to drive.”

Pratt is also the CEO of the institute. In a press release, he revealed the company’s primary objectives: preventing road and traffic accidents, boosting driving accessibility for the impaired and applying Toyota’s exclusive outdoor mobility technology to new environments. The experienced chief executive sparsely noted during the event that the car brand wants to make driving more fun (hopefully not in a way Nissan is developing its ideas with out of this world concepts).

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Toyota 2020 and Beyond

Toyota wants to have a self-driving vehicle ready in four years. Coincidentally, this is also the same time frame set by other key players in the nascent field. Should all of the companies meet their research and production deadlines, consumers will have a field day of choices readily available by 2020. The company has set its sights on building a semiautonomous car before a fully automated one. Its initial offering should be able to change lanes, drive to a destination and safely pass other vehicles on the road without human assistance.

Unlike its competitors, the group is looking beyond the development of its first self-driving car. The technology behind the car of the future is applicable to other smart devices in the IoT ecosystem. For Toyota, these aren’t just empty promises. Recently, it unveiled several robotic concepts designed to help the elderly, as well as a droid that is capable of playing several musical instruments.

“There are some people who are looking at autonomous driving as the end goal,” said John Hanson, a Toyota spokesperson. “It is definitely off in the future. What we want to do is we want to start saving lives immediately. What this model, we hope, will accomplish is to bridge the gap between pure research and product development.”

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