Toyota's $100 million fund will back AI, robotics startups

The venture capital fund will also provide mentorship and support.

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Today, Toyota announced the launch of Toyota AI Ventures, a new venture capital subsidiary focused on startup tech companies working on artificial intelligence. The fund has received an initial $100 million from the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), an AI-, robotics- and autonomous car-focused initiative created in 2015.

AI Ventures will direct its investments towards AI, robotics, autonomous vehicles and data and cloud technology. Along with funding, it will also offer companies it invests in both mentorship and support at its Silicon Valley headquarters. "One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face is knowing if they're building the right product for the right market. We can help them navigate that uncertainty, and we're committed to doing so in a founder-friendly way because their success is our success," said TRI VP Jim Adler in a statement. AI Ventures says it will also be proactive in how it tracks down companies to invest in. Rather than only considering pitches from those seeking investors, it will also seek out and support new companies aiming to solve key research challenges the fund is interested in.

So far, the fund has invested in three startups. Silicon Valley-based Nauto designs systems for companies that monitor their drivers and road environments in order to prevent accidents and curtail bad driving. SLAMcore is a UK company that develops algorithms for smart tech, like drones and self-driving vehicles, that allow them to create a map of their surroundings and position themselves within it. And the third company, Intuition Robotics, is a social companion technology startup located in Israel.

Toyota joins a number of other companies forming AI-focused venture capital funds including Baidu, which established theirs last year, and Google's Gradient Ventures, which was announced today. In a statement TRI CEO Gill Pratt said, "TRI is growing quickly, and we recognize the critical importance of expanding our collaboration with the world's brightest entrepreneurial talent. This venture is a major step towards our mission to empower talented entrepreneurs who share Toyota's commitment to enhancing the quality of human life."

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