The car of the future needs partners right now, says Toyota innovation leader.

The future of cars is captured in ACES, an acronym for: Automated, Connected, Electric and Shared. It presents traditional car makers with a problem, according to Kelly Kay of Toyota Research Institute (TRI).

“Whereas before the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) just made cars, now they are all going to have to do all these things, and they suck at it,” said Kay. “They don’t have the skills to do it, nor the engineers, nor the tech people. They can’t solve all these problems by themselves. They need technology partners.”

Kay, who is chief safety officer and executive vice president of TRI, gave the keynote address at Connected Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility, an event organised by Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency.

TRI was founded in Silicon Valley in 2015, backed by a US $1 billion investment into artificial intelligence with a focus on autonomous vehicles and robotics. Its work focuses on both the future of the auto industry and of Toyota’s role in it, with a US $100 million corporate venture capital fund, which invests in companies focused on mobility issues of the future.

The car of the future will make driving safer

Autonomous vehicle development is being driven by a number of factors, she said, including the fact that it could make driving more fun, give people more time in their lives and improve traffic congestion.

At its core, however, is the opportunity to save lives, a fact that has perhaps not yet been made sufficiently clear to the wider public, she suggested.

There are an estimated 6.1 million traffic accidents in the US alone each year, leading to 34,000 deaths a year. The fatality rate is equivalent to a jet airliner crashing every three days but 90% of it is caused by human error. “That’s where we can stop it,” she said.

Toyota’s Guardian system is being developed to step in and assist a driver who has made a mistake.  Accidents are most likely to happen when poor driving conditions, or hazards, meet with a tired or distracted driver.

The future of the auto industry

There are five levels of autonomous driving, ranging from none, to assistive technologies, to partial and then full autonomy. When will the industry reach the top level, is the question Kay is most often asked, she said. Not in the short term is the answer. Part of this is attributable to the challenges facing legacy auto makers.

“It used to be that only OEMs made cars. At TRI, our competitors aren’t just the Fords, but the Waymos and the Ubers of the world, who are out there trying to create the technology that is the future of the auto industry.”

Toyota is an investor in Uber and is collaborating with it to bring autonomous ride-sharing as a mobility service to market at scale. To accomplish this, technology from each company is being integrated into purpose-built Toyota vehicles to be deployed on Uber’s ride-sharing network.

“The car nowadays doesn’t have much technology in it. In the future, however, it will be a really big robot. But the sector is moving much faster than an OEM can move. TRI exists to get Toyota to see how it can move as fast as a Roadstar.”

In 2018, China’s artificial intelligence start-up announced plans to produce more than 1,000 self-driving electric vehicles by 2020. Less than a week after Kelly addressed the conference, Alphabet subsidiary Waymo announced it would launch the world’s first commercial driverless car service.

Why OEMs want technology partners

Who is going to buy the cars that manufacturers like Toyota build in the future? Companies like Uber, Kay said. The risk, however, is that the car becomes a commodity, playing second fiddle to the mobility service provider’s brand.

“OEMs don’t want to be the Foxconn of the automotive industry,” she said. “That is, the maker of the case, while everyone else makes the guts. No one in the automotive industry is setting itself up for that.”

This is driving demand from OEMs for technology partners. “We are going to find technology partners to help us, whether chip manufacturers or for automation. We are doing a lot ourselves, but partnering with companies that are further along than we are allows the OEMs to catch up.”

Toyota is also partnering with battery companies such as Tesla, important given that 50% of the current cost of an electric vehicle is accounted for by its battery.

Part of the challenge facing OEMs is the pace of development in this space. Advances in technology are happening more quickly than those for car makers, for whom a three-year production lead time is the norm.

“How do we figure out how to make those changes quicker? Using young creative and innovative thinkers and companies will help. OEMS by themselves can’t solve these problems. Car sharing, ride sharing, that’s not our domain. We need partners all over the world.”

It also needs help with particularly thorny aspects of autonomous driving, including how to develop AI systems that recognise the “social ballet” of driving, the facial gestures, waves and nods that drivers are used to interpreting.

How to cope with bad drivers is difficult too. “People are going to do things we don’t expect them to do, but autonomous cars work on the basis that everyone is going to follow the rules. If others don’t go around a junction in the right order, an AV will just sit there, waiting.”

Ensuring a global standard is also challenging, requiring alignment between multiple OEMs, technology players, regulators and even insurers. All of this work provides opportunities for Ireland’s leading edge automotive, software and electronics suppliers.

“This is why I’m here – to meet companies,” Kay said.


Last week, Enterprise Ireland, hosted the 2018 edition of West Coast Week, in Dublin, Ireland. This prestigious event connects senior executives from the USA’s Silicon Valley with Ireland’s leading entrepreneurs and technology companies from a host of key growth-driven markets. This year’s West Coast Week focused on the connected and autonomous vehicle market, the creative and digital entertainment industry, and featured a special event titled “Startup to Scale” where business leaders shared inspiration and best practices to help new organizations scale their business.

Unique “Startup to Scale” event for aspiring start-ups

The first event of the week, Startup to Scale, brought together Silicon Valley executives from across a range of industries and roles to share best practices to help organizations scale their business. This invitation-only event included various presentations, panel discussions and one-on-one meetings between Irish entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley executives.

Key executives shared strategies and tactics for driving growth based on their expertise and discussed the ability to scale from initial idea to IPO. They also discussed ways to engage customers and accelerate growth as well as how to recognize and invest in promising new businesses.

“West Coast Week is an exciting opportunity to connect global thought leaders from some of the world’s most advanced technology ecosystems with Ireland’s best and brightest aspiring entrepreneurs and early-stage technology companies,” stated Paul Burfield, SVP West & Southern United States, Enterprise Ireland.

Startup to Scale

The Startup to Scale seminar focused on three major themes:

  • Funding for Growth: The process of obtaining VC funding
  • Growth Marketing: Focusing on the entire funnel and the importance of strategic partnerships
  • Crossing the Chasm: Succeeding from early adoption to mainstream market

Featured speakers included executives from Crux Capital, Microsoft, Box, Stitch Fix, Asana, Shell, Silicon Valley Bank, Uber, and Draper Espirit.

Today, over 140 Irish companies have a physical presence on the US west coast, and close to 100 of those are in the San Francisco Bay Area. West Coast Week serves to strengthen the level of engagement between Irish technology companies and potential partners in the region.

Connected and autonomous opportunities

As the globally connected car market is expected to grow in the next five years to $180 billion, this growth will be driven by comprehensive software and hardware platforms driving new advanced vehicle solutions. Intel predicts the economic opportunities tied back to autonomous vehicles could grow to as much as $7 trillion (USD) by 2050.

CAV & Mobility Seminar

Tom Kelly, Divisional Manager of Innovation and Competitiveness

This year’s event featured a special, invitation-only, day-long seminar focused on the future of connected and autonomous vehicles, bringing together industry experts and leading Irish companies to explore the intricacies of data collection, and the dynamic challenges of privacy and security. Today, Ireland is home to some of the leading names in autonomous and connected vehicle technology including IBM, Intel, Analog Devices, Valeo, Magna, Uber, and Jaguar Land Rover.

Enterprise Ireland is a major source of strategic venture capital in the European connected and automated vehicle (CAV) sectors. The organization also co-funds pure research in these sectors and facilitates strategic partnerships between Irish firms and global brands operating in these markets.

“We don’t make the network or the car but we’re enabling connectivity, autonomy, and exciting applications and experiences,” noted Sara Hill, Senior Vice President of Advanced Technologies, Enterprise Ireland. “Our pioneering client companies are key partners to leading brands at the intersection of automotive, IT and hardware and are now critical to the ecosystems that these brands operate on and the value that they provide.”

Sara Hill at West Coast Week

Sara Hill, Senior Vice President – Advanced Technologies

Creative and digital entertainment

Ireland has a rich heritage in animation and has developed a global reputation for combining storytelling, visual artistry and digital innovation to produce award-winning entertainment for the world’s biggest networks. Over 2,000 people are now employed in the industry, and award-winning Irish companies are globally recognized for creating innovative creative content for TV, film and gaming industries.

“We are currently witnessing a rapid growth in the Irish animation industry and West Coast Week presents an opportunity to expand the number of productive partnerships between Irish animation companies and U.S. studios on a range of collaboration opportunities,” said Hannah Dobson, VP Entertainment & Media, Enterprise Ireland. “More often than ever, Irish creative organizations are being tapped by international studios to deliver exciting creative that will ultimately be seen and consumed in multiple countries by unique and diverse audiences.”

This year’s participants included executives from the Jim Henson Company, JAKKS Pacific, Warner Bros, Sony, Universal Pictures and the Walt Disney Company. With a strong focus on R&D, innovation, upskilling and new talent development – much of which is supported by Enterprise Ireland – Irish visual entertainment is set to continue enchanting international audiences for decades to come.


Ryan Shaughnessy describes how he helps US companies to source innovative solutions for their challenges in his work as a market advisor for the industrial technology sector, based in Enterprise Ireland’s Chicago office.

What are the main trends shaping industrial technology in your region?

Manufacturing output is up 4% in the US this year, which is driving general growth in the area. More specifically, we are seeing a lot of IT-related growth, as a result of widespread demand for innovative solutions that address major challenges.

As a result of the trend towards autonomous driving in the automotive sector, for example, manufacturing is moving away from more traditional methods and incorporating technologies from the IT area.

In farming, we are seeing the development of new agritech solutions, as technology is used to increase yield and help those in the area to maximise efficiencies and be more productive.

How do you work with Irish and US companies?

Advisors use regional and local expertise to help Irish companies to adapt solutions for partners in markets like the US. We also hold events to introduce potential US partners to Irish companies that can help them with their specific challenges – which is really a form of matchmaking!

Who are you working with at the moment?

I am working with a number of great Irish companies, including Ventac, a noise specialist who sells into the automotive sector. Another Irish company is Cubic Telecom, who are very strong in the Internet of Things (IoT) and connectivity solutions. They are are strong examples of what innovative Irish companies offer the US car manufacturing industry.

Why should US companies want to work with Enterprise Ireland?

We offer in-market and international experience, knowledge and networks.

As someone from an Irish business said to me recently, we are essentially an extension of the companies we back. We support and develop the most innovative Irish companies with funding and mentoring to become a well-resourced extra arm of the company. We work with them through their entire journey, from starting out to scaling up, and our resources help them to deliver the best solutions for clients in international markets.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I can honestly say that there is no typical day. For example, yesterday I had a meeting with an Irish company who has a business plan for the North American market. Earlier in the week, I was in the Carolinas helping a client who is in the process of setting up an office, which is due to open next year. During that week, we met local developmental associations, attended a trade fair, and also met potential customers to discuss their needs.

What I love most about my job is being able to use my past experience in distribution, sales and marketing, and business development to help the companies I support. It’s really rewarding when a client comes to me with a plan for the US market and asks me to analyse it. After a period of time, their plan is underway and they are growing sales while solving problems for US customers.

I love the travel element too and feel very lucky to work with some of the most cutting-edge technologies from Ireland and helping to introduce it to the US.