Google’s James Kuffner Leaves to Pursue Robotics and A.I. at Toyota

Kuffner and other initial team members to enhance Toyota's self-driving car offerings


James Kuffner, a CES Robotics Conference speaker, announced today that he has left Google’s robotics division to take a key position at Toyota’s new $1 billion research facility in Silicon Valley.

Kuffner will speak on the future of personal robotics, especially related to the development of cloud computing and AI, during the Robotics Conference at CES on Friday, January 8 organized by yours truly, Robotics Trends. Be sure to get a pass if you’re attending CES.

The robotics veteran helped to establish Google’s self-driving car program and coined the term “cloud robotics,” which is now one of the key emerging fields driving the consumer robotics movement. Kuffner was also appointed leader of Google’s robotics division for a time following the departure of Andy Rubin in 2014.

Former DARPA leader turned Toyota Research Institute (TRI) CEO, Gill Pratt, announced Kuffner as a member of the TRI initial technical team at a press conference during the Consumer Electronics Show taking place in Las Vegas today through Saturday. Kuffner along with 6 other team members and an esteemed Advisory Board will focus on bringing artificial intelligence and robotics to Toyota’s future vehicle offerings.

“It’s becoming clear that in the next phase of machine learning, access to lots of data to find and fix corner cases and to make a robust system is going to be very important, and I think Toyota is very well positioned to do that with its resources and its data,” Kuffner told PC World following the press conference.

Since Toyota unveiled the goals of the Research Institute in November they have opened for business in two locations: one at the Stanford Research Park in Palo Alto and one in Kendall Square in Cambridge. The company has already committed $50 million over the next five years to support collaborative research into artificial intelligence and robotics research at nearby Stanford and MIT universities.

Here’s the complete list of initial technical team members and Advisory Board members:

The initial technical team includes:

  • Eric Krotkov, Former DARPA Program Manager – Chief Operating Officer
  • Larry Jackel, Former Bell Labs Department Head and DARPA Program Manager –  Machine Learning
  • James Kuffner, CMU Professor and former head of Google Robotics – Cloud Computing
  • John Leonard, Samuel C. Collins Professor of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering, MIT –  Autonomous Driving
  • Hiroshi Okajima, Project General Manager, R&D Management Division, Toyota Motor Corporation – Executive Liaison Officer
  • Brian Storey, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Olin College of Engineering –  Accelerating Scientific Discovery
  • Russ Tedrake, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT – Simulation and Control


Professors Tedrake, Leonard and Storey will work part time with TRI and continue in their university roles.

The Advisory Board will be made up of a range of outside experts, including:

  • John Roos, former CEO of Wilson Sonsini and former US Ambassador to Japan. Currently, General Partner at Geodesic Capital, a late stage venture capital firm and Senior Advisor at Centerview Partners, a preeminent mergers and acquisitions advisory firm – Chairman
  • Rodney Brooks, former director of the MIT Computer Science and AI Lab, founder of iRobot and Founder, Chairman and CTO of Rethink Robotics – Deputy Chairman
  • Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com
  • Richard Danzig, Former U.S. Navy Secretary
  • Bran Ferren, former President of R & D at Walt Disney Imagineering and Chief Creative Officer of Applied Minds
  • Noboru Kikuchi (planned), Emeritus University of Michigan Professor, head of Toyota Central Research and Development Lab and the Toyota Research Institute of North America
  • Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL)
  • Daniela Rus, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

 



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