While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global economy and technology research and development, the need for innovation continues to grow. Toyota AI Ventures LLC yesterday extended its “call for innovation” for smart and connected cities to June 30, 2020.
Silicon Valley-based Toyota AI Ventures is the investment unit of Toyota Research Institute (TRI), an R&D arm of Toyota Motor Corp. Even as automotive demand and manufacturing were falling before the novel coronavirus crisis, Toyota was supporting efforts to develop artificial intelligence, mobility systems, and robotics. Toyota AI Ventures launched a second $100 million fund a year ago, and it recently invested in smart furniture maker Bumblebee Spaces and “cognitive agent” startup Intuition Robotics.
At CES 2020, the company announced its Woven City concept, a “living laboratory” where autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things, and robots would be tested by 2,000 residents. Toyota AI Ventures showcased funding recipients Intuition Robotics, May Mobility, and Perceptive Automata at Toyota’s booth.
In addition, Toyota AI Ventures announced its search for entrepreneurs to receive up to $2 million for bringing technologies to market that improve the lives of people in cities. The original deadline was today.
Toyota call for innovation looks to solve cities’ challenges
It’s not yet clear how COVID-19 will affect urban migration, which has been happening for decades. In 2016, about 54.5% of the world’s population lived in urban areas, according to the United Nations. By 2030, cities will contain 60% of the global population, and one in three people will live in cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants, it projected.
In the U.S., about 84% of people live in urban areas, and that number could rise to 89% by 2050, said the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan. Cities provide job opportunities and economies of scale, but they pose unique problems, such as the faster spread of pandemics. Urban flight, as happened in the U.S. in the 1970s, leads to suburban sprawl and different environmental and economic pressures.
Toyota AI Ventures said it is still seeking innovative startups to fund, and it acknowledged that COVID-19 has renewed attention to challenges for modern life that AI and robotics could help solve.
“The focus of the call remains the same: to find and fund real-world solutions that improve the quality of life for urban communities, now and in the future,” wrote Toyota AI Ventures in a blog post. “Of course, the world around us has been transforming rapidly in response to coronavirus, causing everyone to rethink how we live, work, communicate, and care for ourselves and one another.”
“So when you imagine your ideal connected city, years into the future, what are the different technologies, products, and services that you see as part of it?” it asked. “How have challenges such as pollution and waste management been solved? How ubiquitous is touchless technology, and how has it been integrated into everyday living?”
Toyota AI Ventures said it is looking for applications of technologies including AI, big data, the cloud, autonomous and mobile systems, and robotics. They should solve “relevant problems,” such as improving construction, food supply, water management, or urban transportation.
Toyota AI Ventures partners, eligibility, and deadline
Toyota AI Ventures has partnered with TRI and Toyota Research Institute — Advanced Development (TRI-AD). It said that selected startups might get to collaborate with them for future projects. TRI-AD has collaborated with startups on safety and mapping for autonomous vehicles.
The company said it will evaluate startups based on their teams, technologies, business models, and go-to-market strategies, as well as their potential benefit to the quality of urban life. In addition, Toyota AI Ventures and its partners will assess each participant’s technical capabilities and approach.
To be eligible, companies must have raised less than $3 million so far, must have a working prototype, and must have a business model that serves “a market need and delivers value to customers.” The deadline is June 30.
The call for innovation Web page lists submission criteria, and Toyota said “applications will be evaluated on a rolling basis.”