Honda Motor picks Tokyo for new AI research site

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Honda Motor picks Tokyo for new AI research site

Honda Motor Co. will spearhead its artificial intelligence efforts out of a new lab in Tokyo so that researchers can work closely with its engineers to commercialize the technology.

Honda, based in Tokyo, will start the R&D center next year and combine existing AI teams in Silicon Valley, Europe and Japan downtown, according to Yoshiyuki Matsumoto, president of the automaker’s largely independent research arm. In choosing Tokyo over Silicon Valley, the carmaker is betting closer interaction between its scientists and developers will lead to AI-enabled products consumers want, he said.

Advances in AI are sprouting like “bamboo shoots after rain,” so it’s time to find commercial uses for the technology by marrying research with Japan’s traditional strength in hardware, Matsumoto said. “We won’t make much difference if we did the same things as everyone else in Silicon Valley. And not everyone has succeeded there.”

Matsumoto sees AI as the brains that will combine robotics, sensing, navigation and connectivity technologies to enable autonomous driving. Honda’s choice of Tokyo as a home base for its efforts in the space differs from automakers including Toyota Motor Corp., which hired former U.S. defense scientist Gill Pratt to set up and lead a U.S. research institute.

Underpinning Honda’s decision is its belief that Japan has the necessary talent to compete with Silicon Valley, home to the likes of Alphabet Inc., Facebook Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. Also implicit is the desire for the research dollars spent to translate into products with real-world demand and value.

Artificial intelligence research has for years failed to find large-scale commercial applications until the recent advent of products and services such as Apple Inc.’s Siri. Recent progress has prompted carmakers including Toyota to join tech giants like Google and Facebook in Silicon Valley to adapt deep-learning capabilities to cars and mobility services.

Honda began its robotics research in 1986. The company’s latest Asimo humanoid robot can interpret postures, gestures and facial expressions.

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