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Toyota’s Avinash Balachandran talks automaker’s AI advancements during SAE International’s WCX

Posted: April 17, 2024

Questions abound surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on our shared future.  

At Toyota Research Institute, Avinash Balachandran, Ph.D., is working to help shape what that future looks like.

“My job is to look at the latest advancements in technology and discover what is next for Toyota—and as you can imaging, AI is a big part of that,” Dr. Balachandran told a packed room during SAE International’s WCX.

Balachandran provided a flyover look at the development of AI technology, beginning with its earliest forms in the 1980s to the iterations of generative AI we see today and its potential to synthesize and process information. 

With an uptick in use, though, the technology has also seen an increase in controversy, and opinions are divided on its application. This great crossroads presents a large responsibility for innovators across industries, Dr. Balachandran said.

“AI holds a lot of promise, but it’s got a lot of concerns stemming from people fearing it will be misused,” he said. “People will embrace it if we manage it well, so the question becomes how we use it.”

At Toyota, they’re doing that by employing the company’s principal value of jidoka, a concept of human centered automation that’s built around amplifying people rather than replacing them.

To demonstrate what jidoka looks like in real time, Dr. Balachandran showed a few videos of on-road tests of AI technology in the vehicle. These showcased a drift test in which AI took over navigating the vehicle through some challenging curves as well as the Driving Sensei product at work, which acts as a voice teacher for a driver to help them gain mastery of certain driving maneuvers.

Use in the vehicle also trains not only the driver, but the AI as well. Dr. Balachandran noted that through the ways people interact with people, the vehicle can also learn through the data it collects and power the next generation of AI. He likened the relationship between person and machine to one between two people.

“We can learn from human companionship, which is built on shared understanding and respect for each other’s capabilities,” Dr. Balachandran said. “We will improve AI with a shared understanding, built on its capabilities.”