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Toyota AI Ventures, TRI launch call for innovation to fund robotics startups focused on mobile manipulation

Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Toyota AI Ventures launched a global “call for innovation” in partnership with the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). Designed to spur entrepreneurial innovation by identifying key technology gaps, the initiative uses a call-and-response approach to offer promising startups the opportunity to secure from $500,000 to $2 million in venture capital funding from Toyota AI Ventures, as well as the possibility of partnering on a proof of concept project with TRI.

The first call, developed in conjunction with TRI’s robotics group, focuses on improving mobile manipulation technology for assistive robots that can help people in and around the home. Future calls may address technology challenges in other areas that TRI is working on as part of its research in robotics and automated driving, such as perception, machine learning, or simulation.

Since launching an initial $100-million fund a year ago to invest in early-stage startups focused on artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, data, autonomous mobility, and robotics, Toyota AI Ventures has quickly grown its portfolio.

To date, the firm has announced 11 portfolio companies, including Blackmore, Boxbot, Connected Signals, Intuition Robotics, Joby Aviation, May Mobility, Metawave, Nauto, Realtime Robotics, and SLAMcore.

Its most recent investment is in Embodied.me, a robotics and AI company that is developing companion robots that aim to revolutionize care and wellness by enhancing the quality of human life.

This first call for innovation is open to hardware and software startups around the world that have:

  1. raised less than $3 million in funding;

  2. can demonstrate their solution via a working prototype; and

  3. have a strong business model to deliver value to customers.

Examples of mobile manipulation solutions in hardware include safe, lightweight arms; grippers designed for common daily tasks; and technologies for better tactile sensing. Software solutions could include ways to compensate for lower-precision, lower-fidelity hardware; algorithms to learn from or annotate data; and ways to apply lessons learned from simulation.

Robotics is starting to have a big impact in industrial automation, but we see a gap when it comes to assistive robotics in and around the home. There’s a need for innovative technologies and business models that will help us get to the ultimate goal of making robots that are safe, affordable, and useful for everyday people.

—Max Bajracharya, director of robotics at TRI and head of the Mobile Manipulation Technology team

Toyota AI Ventures is accepting applications for this call for innovation now through the end of October, and submissions will be reviewed on a rolling basis. Qualified startups will be evaluated on the basis of their team, technology, business model, and go-to-market strategy, and will be subject to standard diligence before any investment is made.

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