Toyota Partners with AI Startup PFN to Create Robots for Use in Everyday Life

Over the next three years, both companies will collaborate in research and development to design a service robot with "practical implementations."

08.08.2019 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by Toyota Global
Photo by Toyota Global

If you’ve ever wished that a robot could help out you around the house—like Rosie the Robot from “The Jetsons”—it looks like you may not have to wait much longer.

Toyota is partnering up with Preferred Networks (PFN)—a Japanese AI startup with a focus on deep learning, IoT (Internet of Things) and the fusion of hardware, software and computer networks—to design robots that can be used in our everyday lives.

The two companies will be engaging in joint research and development to advance the robotics platform for Toyota’s Human Support Robot (HSR).

Designed in 2012, the HSR was created to support independent living for the disabled and the elderly. Weighing 37 kg (about 81.5 pounds) and measuring between 100 to 130 cm (39 to 51 in) in height, the robots can manoeuvre around the house, keep watch over family members, pick up and carry objects and provide basic support.

The HSR uses cameras, an extendable arm, a screen display and a wheeled base. It can be controlled through voice commands and remotely with a tablet, giving distant family members the ability to act on their loved one’s behalf.

“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,” Toru Nishikawa, president and CEO of PFN, said in a statement.

“Our goal is to realize the practical implementation of service robots for the first time in the world.”

In 2017, HSR completed its first trial in North America by helping a quadriplegic war veteran carry out tasks such as opening and closing doors and fetching objects.

The AI startup has already worked with Toyota’s HSR. In 2018, PFN configured one to clean a room completely on its own at Japan’s Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies (CEATEC) robotics conference.

Toyota’s HSR at CEATEC 2018

According to TechCrunch, the robot could identify objects, develop a plan of operations, respond to spoken instructions and safely pick up and put down items that it didn’t recognise from its database.

As part of the collaboration with PFN, Toyota will loan dozens of robots to the AI startup. Over the next three years, both companies will work together in research and development, sharing the information and technology generated from this partnership as well as existing intellectual property.

While the companies can use the results of this collaboration as they would like, both Toyota and PFN currently wish to “accelerate development aimed at the practical realisation of service robots.”

“Up to now, HSR has been used in research and development at 49 organisations in 13 countries including Japan, and has been highly praised as a robotics platform,” said Nobuhiko Koga, chief officer of Toyota’s Frontier Research Center.

“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.”

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