TOMODACHI Participants and Alumni Meet with Dr. James Kuffner at the 17th U.S.-Japan Council Business Advisory Board Meeting
On June 24, 2019, three alumni from various TOMODACHI programs were invited to attend the 17th U.S.-Japan Council Business Advisory Board Meeting in Tokyo, attended by over 70 prominent business executives and featuring special guest Dr. James Kuffner, CEO of Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD).
Dr. Kuffner opened his keynote address by highlighting how modern human activity has been transformed by technology, nowhere more evident than self-driving car technology. As this industry expands enormously, Toyota, too, is undergoing a revolution as it pivots to a “mobility company.”
The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) was founded to develop self-driving cars that have the ability to perceive their surroundings and predict what other drivers will do, working to realize a future with widespread use of these driverless cars and mobility for all. Dr. Kuffner then discussed the formation of TRI-AD 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, the TOMODACHI participants and alumni were eager to ask questions. Sam Gilden-Weiner, a current TOMODACHI Internship Program participant, asked Dr. Kuffner about ways to educate a public that may be fearful of driverless cars. Dr. Kuffner responded that it is important to consider country and cultural differences, and remember that while some countries may be wary of self-driving cars, others remain excited by the idea.
After the speech, a TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership alumna, Chihiro Tabata, commented, “I was excited to attend the BAB because I am a science major, and hearing Dr. Kuffner’s speech gave me a chance to learn about a different field and something I do not know much about.”
In addition to hearing Dr. Kuffner’s thought-provoking speech, the alumni appreciated the opportunity to network with USJC leadership and business leaders with experience in Japan and the United States. This was the seventh time TOMODACHI alumni were invited to this exclusive meeting as representatives of the next generation of leaders in U.S.-Japan relations.