Toyota seeks to overcome ‘market failure’

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

YARMOUTH, Maine – The Toyota Mobility Foundation has made a splash in the mobility market recently—with research that shows that current technology is outdated (and sometimes painful), and with a Mobility Unlimited Challenge that will help spur innovation.

Here’s what Julie Ann Burandt, global strategy and communications manager for TMF, had to say about how the foundation plans to reach its lofty goal of a “future where mobility is open to all.”

HME News: What’s Toyota’s interest in mobility and independence of paralyzed people? Why is the company investing in and making this area a priority?

Julie Ann Burandt: First, Toyota, as a company, believes mobility goes beyond cars. Toyota’s commitment to mobility takes many forms in helping people getting them wherever they need to go— whether it’s across the country, across town, or across the room. This is why they created the Toyota Mobility Foundation in 2014. 

The Toyota Mobility Foundation (TMF) is built on the belief that mobility is a fundamental human desire. When people are free to move, they can broaden their horizons and fully realize their potential. We believe that mobility is critical to societal progress. However, many people have limited mobility, and we aim to find solutions to the issues they face. 

HME: Where are you in the challenge process?

Burandt: Challenges like Mobility Unlimited are an excellent way to spur innovation by giving people a real incentive to focus their attention on a specific issue. They help to overcome market failure and draw in new innovators from other fields, while also helping to raise awareness of the issue. Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre has successfully tested the challenge methods in a number of different fields and we felt it was a great way to drive innovation into the area of mobility. We received entries from all over the world for the Discovery Award part of the challenge and have seen a huge range of different technologies—not just wheelchairs but also exoskeletons and hoverboards.

HME: Is Toyota looking to enter the mobility market at some point, with plans to use the technology developed through the challenge and the research to help steer it in the right direction?

Burandt: As mentioned, this challenge is supported by the Toyota Mobility Foundation, not Toyota as a company. The challenge is designed to support inventors and engineers of all types develop life-changing technology. Already, 10 Discovery Award winners have received $50,000 to develop their ideas. The five finalists will each receive a $500,000 development grant and mentorship over the following 1.5 years to help them create their device. The winner will then receive $1million to allow them to bring their product to market. The designs remain the intellectual property of the entrants, but the challenge will have given them the support they need to create a solution to change the lives of millions of people. 

HME: How is it that mobility technology is so outdated in today’s world? What are the obstacles to there being more appropriate technology?

Burandt: One of the primary reasons that assistive technologies have not seen much innovation is due to market failure. There is not enough of a financial incentive for people to focus their attention on this issue. This is why we launched the challenge—to overcome this market failure and bring in new innovators with fresh and original ideas. We are excited about the possibilities created by this challenge and look forward to a more inclusive future where mobility is open to all.