Toyota Motor Corp. is to set up a research institute to develop cars which override driver errors and reduce crashes.

The institute will focus on artificial intelligence and robotics technology, and the automaker is ready to invest $1 billion. Toyota Research Institute Inc. will work on safety systems designed to reduce the number of fatalities caused by car accidents, write Craig Trudell and Yuki Hagiwara for Bloomberg.

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Toyota aims to develop self-driving cars that save lives

It is amazing that car accidents cause the deaths of 1.25 million people per year around the world given advances in technology. Now Toyota wants to reduce that number, while also developing technology that will allow elderly drivers to safely stay on the road for longer.

Aging populations in the U.S. and Japan, Toyota’s two biggest markets, mean that more people are having their car keys taken away for safety reasons. The development of autonomous vehicles will mean that elderly drivers can maintain their freedom.

Japanese automakers have been lagging behind in the race to develop fully autonomous cars, currently led by Google Inc. and Tesla Motors Inc., but now Toyota is making a bid to get ahead of its peers. Company executives believe that it is an endurance race, rather than a sprint, to develop the technology.

Toyota playing the long game in the race towards autonomous vehicles

“It’s possible at the beginning of a car race that you may not be in the best position,” said Gill Pratt, CEO of the institute and Toyota’s executive technical adviser. “It may be that other drivers are saying a whole lot about what their position is, and everyone may expect that a particular car will win. But of course, if the race is very long, who knows who will win? We’re going to work extremely hard.”

The Institute will open in January, with an initial $1 billion to be invested over 5 years setting up laboratories near Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Pratt will be responsible for around 200 staff.

Last month Toyota unveiled its “highway teammate” concept car, a modified Lexus GS sedan which boasts assisted driving features. By around 2020 Toyota hopes to introduce production cars which feature automated highway driving.

The year 2020 is particularly significant for Japanese automakers who are keen to show off their technological advances when Tokyo hosts the Olympics that year.