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UC Berkeley gets funds from automakers for Artificial Intelligence research

Published: March 24, 2016 | Berkeley, CA

Ford, Toyota, and Volkswagen along with NVIDIA, Samsung, Qualcomm and Panasonic, are each giving $300,000 to the University of California at Berkeley to fund artificial intelligence research.

The alliance, called DeepDrive, is a rare moment of AI cooperation among car companies, which are racing one another to create the kind of brains that propel Google’s prototype gumdrop-shaped vehicles around Mountain View. It also highlights the new position universities find themselves in. Their AI lab work is in high demand– and corporations don’t want to wait months or years to get their hands on it.

Trevor_Darrell_UC_Berkeley
Trevor Darrell

Trevor Darrell, a professor at the university who also leads DeepDrive says, “These companies, they all have experts in the same topics but might not have the time to do research. But they understand everything we’re doing and can translate it very nicely into their own projects and we can see it in action.”

Through the project, UC-Berkeley researchers could also get access to driving data from the companies, and be able to run their software on the automakers’ vehicle simulators, letting them test out new approaches without risking crashing real cars, he said.

Car companies have been investing a lot of money and resources at artificial intelligence lately.  In September, Toyota hired Gill Pratt, the U.S. military’s top robotics engineer, as part of a $1 billion investment into developing smarter cars.

The automakers are starting to worry that if they let Silicon Valley win the AI race, they’ll be sidelined as contract manufacturers of sheet metal– a future they’d like to avoid. So, as with past research pushes like hydrogen fuel cells, the competitors are coming together.

That’s likely galling to the auto companies which have been developing self-driving, or ADAS services  for years, but haven’t been so public with their zanier research efforts. After all, the team that won a government self-driving challenge in 2007 (with the then director Chris Urmson) was sponsored by General Motors, Caterpillar, and Continental.

The money will go to projects selected by UC Berkeley. In return, the automakers get to give feedback on research proposals; meet the academics toiling away on the tech; and, thanks to the upfront payment, can commercialize any of the research without having to go through the headache of an additional licensing stage.

Source: UC Berkeley

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