Toyota, the largest automaker in the world, announced today a new $35 million initiative to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop new advanced materials with a focus on creating the next generation battery for electric vehicles.

The project is led by the US-based Toyota Research Institute (TRI) and they will work with “research entities, universities, and companies on materials science research.”

TRI was launched in 2015 and it has been primarily known for its effort in autonomous driving, but materials science is one of its four core focus areas.

Here are the goals for the new materials science effort:

  • The development of new models and materials for batteries and fuel cells;
  • Broader programs to pursue novel uses of machine learning, artificial intelligence and materials informatics approaches for the design and development new materials; and,
  • New automated materials discovery systems that integrate simulation, machine learning, artificial intelligence and/or robotics.

Material science has been a core focus in battery research since the very beginning. Battery companies have been looking to engineer new material to increase the life-cycle and energy density of existing batteries, like li-ion, and for a future generation of batteries, like solid state batteries. Last year, Elon Musk hired Apple’s alloy expert to lead materials engineering at both Tesla and SpaceX.

TRI Chief Science Officer Eric Krotkov said about the announcement:

“Toyota recognizes that artificial intelligence is a vital basic technology that can be leveraged across a range of industries, and we are proud to use it to expand the boundaries of materials science. Accelerating the pace of materials discovery will help lay the groundwork for the future of clean energy and bring us even closer to achieving Toyota’s vision of reducing global average new-vehicle CO2 emissions by 90 percent by 2050.”

They announced the first few partners for the research projects: “Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, the University at Buffalo, the University of Connecticut, and the U.K.-based materials science company Ilika.”

Jens Norskov, Professor at Stanford University and director of the SUNCAT center, also commented on the announcement:

“This represents a fantastic opportunity to drastically advance the use of databases and machine learning methods in materials discovery. The partnership combines theory, computation and experiment in an unprecedented, concerted effort. We are particularly excited by prospects for an avant-garde approach to catalyst development for fuel cells.”

Historically, Toyota has been betting on fuel cells for its zero-emission effort, but they launched a new division for electric vehicles last year and put Akio Toyoda, the company’s CEO and grandson of founder Kiichiro Toyoda, in charge of it. They have yet to announce any all-electric vehicle to come out of the new effort, but they have recently hinted that they are working on it.