Japanese automotive manufacturer Toyota Motor Corp’s first venture capital fund is investing in startups that will help the Japanese automaker refine daily operations by bringing sharper supply-chain management and robotics to the factory floor.
With $200 million under management, the Silicon Valley-based Toyota AI Ventures fund has so far invested in 36 early-stage startups, including self-driving car tech firm Nauto, factory video analytics firm Drishti, and air mobility firm Joby Aviation.
As market focus turns to self-driving vehicles, Toyota, the world’s largest automaker by vehicle sales, and several other automotive firms, including Volkswagen AG, are pouring capital into startups to help gain an edge in artificial intelligence.
Mr. Jim Alder the Founding Managing Director of the fund stated, for instance, that Toyota, which has hundreds of factories around the world, needs to be able to easily share lessons learned at one plant to other plants to maximize efficiencies.
Mr, Alder added, “If you look at cloud computing, for example, and cloud robotics, and fleet learning, when one robot learns something, the rest of the robots automatically learn that thing”.
While the fund and Toyota work closely together, Adler, a former Lockheed Martin rocket engineer and serial entrepreneur commented that the fund had a strong degree of independence from Toyota because bringing any investment opportunity to the carmaker’s management would be too much process.
“Being between the outside world and the inside world of Toyota, we are this sort of semi-permeable membrane that brings outside influence into the company”, he pointed out.
Woven Capital, an $800 million venture capital fund launched by Toyota this year, will make growth-stage investments in companies including those in the Toyota AI Ventures portfolio.