Commentary

Toyota, SoftBank Combine Their Respective Autonomous And AI Forces

Toyota and SoftBank yesterday announced a joint venture called Monet -- which stands for “mobility network” -- that it expects will have autonomous vehicles transporting seniors and others, as well as delivering packages and foods to homes and businesses, by the mid-2020s. 

“The objective of Monet is to help realize a safer and more comfortable mobility society by combining SoftBank's corporate philosophy, ‘Information Revolution -- Happiness for Everyone,’ with Toyota's vision of ‘Mobility for All,’” the companies announced at a joint press conference in Toyota City, Japan.

“Both Toyota president Akio Toyoda and SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son painted the partnership as part of a broader vision to embrace new business ideas in an age of artificial intelligence,” reports Cory Baird for The Japan Times. “Speaking before a throng of reporters, SoftBank founder Son said that the partnership will be able to harness the synergy and strengths offered by each company.”

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“AI will redefine all industries. Under such circumstances, the No. 1 mobility company Toyota and SoftBank, who focuses on AI, are partnering together,” said Son. “We believe we will be able to drive a new mobility in the world that is totally different and totally new.”

Here’s an example of how that could be applied, as cited by Akito Tanaka in the Nikkei Asian Review: “Cars produce huge volumes of widely varied data. For instance, China's leading ride-hailing service, Didi Chuxing, has 10 billion annual riders' worth of information on who went from where to where and how much they paid. With the help of AI analysis, ‘Didi will be able to predict how many cars will be lacking in a 100-square-meter area 15 minutes from now, even before a passenger raises their hand,’ Son said.

“The ability to amass more data than competitors and use it to create new services will greatly sway the battle in future,” Tanaka adds.

“The joint venture is starting in April 2019 with an investment of around $17.5 million with a further $87.8 million planned for the near future. With the founding of the Monet Technologies, SoftBank owns a slight majority share of 50.25% while Toyota will act as the minority stakeholder with 49.75% held,” writes CNET’s Kyle Hyatt.

“Monet Technologies will begin its operation in Japan, with plans to eventually expand to other countries. The first phase of its plans will start next year, with the second phase going into action sometime around 2025,” Hyatt adds.

“Initially the joint venture will focus on offering ‘on-demand’ transport services for the elderly and residents of depopulated areas of Japan,” writes Kana Inagaki for Financial Times.

“Monet will eventually build on Toyota’s plan to develop a driverless shuttle, called e-Palette, for both passengers and deliveries in partnership with Uber, as well as other companies including Amazon, Didi and Pizza Hut. Toyota will aim to develop e-Palette in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and commercialize the service by 2023,” Inagaki continues.

“‘Many people must be wondering why SoftBank and Toyota are partnering,’ Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda said [during the press conference], noting that the automotive giant and the technology investor have long been seen as incompatible,” report Mayumi Negishi and Sean Mclain for the Wall Street Journal.

“But the automotive industry is at a once-in-a-century transformation, he said, adding that working with SoftBank will be important to unlocking new partnerships in a self-driving, connected era. He cited SoftBank’s growing number of investments in self-driving technologies, which include General Motors Co.’s self-driving car unit Cruise. Toyota and SoftBank are also investors in ride-hailing pioneer Uber Technologies Inc.,” they add.

General Motors chairman and CEO Mary Barra, meanwhile, maintains that “federal legislation is essential to enabling” a smooth transition to a world of driverless cars in a short piece for Axios’ “Expert Voices” section this morning.

“Federal legislation would provide a path for manufacturers to put self-driving vehicles on the roads safely, while allowing continued innovation. Current federal law prohibits deployment of self-driving vehicles without steering wheels and other conventional driver controls. And other regulations for self-driving cars vary from state to state,” she writes.

The payback for this oversight? “Zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion -- this is General Motors’ vision. These potential benefits of self-driving technology can only be fully realized when self-driving cars are deployed in large numbers, and when riders feel comfortable and secure.”

Or, as SoftBank would have it, “Happiness for Everyone!”

 
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