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Toyota Using AI, 3D Printing as Tools

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

SALINE, Mich. – Toyota Motor Corp. is using artificial intelligence and 3D printing to help it navigate the biggest changes the auto industry has seen in more than a century.

Toyota is deploying AI to speed up progress in reducing CO2 emissions and improving safety in its vehicles. All of this is occurring amid the auto industry’s shift to electric vehicles and the adoption of new technology.

The company’s AI efforts are collecting “data from experiments,” Gill Pratt, Toyota’s chief scientist and CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, said during a presentation this week at Toyota’s research and development facility in Saline, Mich.

With safety efforts, Toyota is using AI to “bring the best driver” data into the development of safety systems, he said.

Pratt said AI development reached the point six years ago where it “can recognize patterns in any kind of experiment.”

Toyota is using AI to develop new materials for vehicles that can reduce CO2 emissions.

“We had a way to research over millions and hundreds of missions of materials,” he said.

Prior to AI, much research would rely on the intuition of researchers. “Before, we would use gut feel,” Pratt said.

“Now we have a way to amplify intuition,” he added. “We can search much more quickly.”

Toyota and Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., said earlier in August they were collaborating “to help accelerate the discovery, design and development of new materials” to help reduce emissions.

The automaker and university said they wanted to develop a “data factory.”

The company’s Toyota Research Institute and Northwestern have come up with an algorithm “capable of synthesizing materials at record speeds,” they said in an Aug. 17 statement.

The idea is “to create and mine large sets of high-quality, complex data,” according to the statement. Toyota and Northwestern are “using this new approach to find catalysts that can be used instead of expensive, rare materials the world currently depends on, such as platinum and iridium.”

The R&D center also is deploying 3D printing to produce parts for prototype vehicles.

The center includes an innovation lab that includes 3D printers, mostly for resin parts. The company has acquired printers from various companies including 3D Systems, Stratasys Ltd., Carbon3D and EOS.

All of this was discussed and demonstrated at an event where Toyota described the role its R&D center played for the automaker.

The Saline facility develops some vehicle models for the North American market.

“You know we believe in investing for the future,” said Monte Kaehr, group vice president, advanced mobility and development.

The automaker also discussed other future efforts.

For example, Toyota, working with the University of Michigan Medical School, is trying to come up with an algorithm which can warn a driver if they are at risk of suffering a heart attack and being incapacitated.

The research is in its early stages. Such a system would involve sensors in a seat.

The center also includes a crash test facility. Toyota conducted a crash of a truck running at 50 kilometers an hour.

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