Kuffner said Toyota's massive investment in AI and robotics research persuaded him that the company was serious about its work and the difference it could make to society.
So how long until some of this starts paying off?
To be sure, the goal of a completely self-driving car that handles any situation and cannot crash is some distance away, but Kuffner said a lot will be possible in the next few years.
"We're actually closer than people think to having self-driving cars on the road," he said. "It is an evolution. There is a continuous spectrum between full manual control and full autonomous control, and there's going to be phased deployments."
He cited some of the current technologies making their way into cars, such as lane assist and adaptive cruise control.
"These safety features are creeping into lots of cars you can buy today, and the pace is increasing, so I think people will be happily surprised in the next five years at how our vehicles have changed."
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