Seventeenth Business Advisory Board Meeting Discusses Self-Driving Cars with Dr. James Kuffner

The 17th U.S.-Japan Council Business Advisory Board (BAB) Meeting was held at the Tokyo American Club on June 24, welcoming Dr. James Kuffner, CEO of Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD), as the featured speaker.

USJC leaders and the speaker: (L-R) Scott Sato, Royanne Doi, Dr. James Kuffner, Masaaki Tanaka

The meeting opened with remarks from Member of the USJC Board of Directors, Scott Sato, and BAB Chairman Masaaki Tanaka, who is also Vice Chair of the USJC Board of Councilors. Three BAB members then introduced themselves, showcasing the diversity of USJC and BAB membership. Mr. Jason Hyland, Representative Officer and President, MGM Resorts Japan LLC; Mr. Grant Tanabe, Partner, Sonderhoff & Einsel Law and Patent Office; and Ms. Yasuko Yoshida, President, Shell Japan Ltd., discussed their careers and interests in strengthening U.S.-Japan relations.

Representative Director of the USJC Board of Directors Royanne Doi shared updates on upcoming USJC activities, including the 2019 USJC Annual Conference to be held in Los Angeles from November 4 to 5. She also welcomed three TOMODACHI participants and alumni in the audience, encouraging the BAB attendees to network with these next-generation leaders.

Dr. James Kuffner discussing the future of mobility

Dr. Kuffner then opened his keynote address by highlighting how modern human activity has been transformed by technology, especially with self-driving cars. As this industry expands, Toyota, too, is undergoing a revolution as it pivots to a “mobility company” developing driverless cars that will create a safer Japan as its population ages.

The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) was founded in 2016 with the goal of improving the quality of human life using AI. Developing self-driving cars that can perceive their surroundings and predict what other drivers will do, TRI aims to provide mobility for all.

Dr. Kuffner then discussed the formation of TRI-AD in 2018 to help cross the “Valley of Death,” where many companies fail to get from prototype to a final product. TRI-AD works to combine Japanese craftsmanship with Silicon Valley innovation, and is striving to create an innovative work culture that encourages productivity and new ideas, and facilitates cultural integration between the U.S. and Japan.

Following his talk, audience members, including TOMODACHI alumni, were eager to ask questions. They asked about cybersecurity, ethics, promoting diversity and inclusion in the industry, and ways to educate a public that may be fearful of driverless cars. After his speech, Dr. Kuffner met with attendees and answered individual questions, as the guests enjoyed networking over food and drinks.

Council Leaders Grant Tanabe, Yuhka Mera, and Christopher Kodama discussing after the speech

Click here for more photos from the event.