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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Toyota and Microsoft team up on telematics

Next-generation software will appear on vehicles next year

Toyota Motor Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are teaming-up to deploy a next-generation telematics software platform that the automaker expects will debut on Toyota electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles next year.

The first applications developed for the platform will let drivers monitor and manage charging and energy use of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles equipped with the technology, the companies said.

The companies plan to invest 1 billion yen, or about $12 million, into Toyota Media Service Co., a Toyota subsidiary, to support the partnership, the companies said in a joint statement today.

Toyota's telematics applications will run on Microsoft's Windows Azure platform, a so-called "cloud" computing platform, the companies said.

In essence, a cloud platform essentially allows software applications to operate remotely, using data and running on infrastructure stored over the internet, rather than on local software and hardware.

Behind the scenes

The deal stands in contrast to the Ford's Sync infotainment system developed by Microsoft. Ford's Sync system is an infotainment technology system installed in the car. Microsoft's deal with Toyota affects the behind-the-scenes IT infrastructure Toyota uses to operate its telematics applications. From that platform, a variety of applications can be developed.

"Utilizing Windows Azure and Microsoft's vast information infrastructure will boost the value of automobiles by making them information terminals, moving beyond today's GPS navigation and wireless safety communications while reducing driver distraction," Toyota president Akio Toyoda said today in an online press conference about the deal.

For example, the new system will include applications to manage vehicle charging to reduce stress on the electricity grid, remote control of home appliances connected to the grid, and applications using voice activation, Toyoda said in the press conference.

"Users will be able to turn on the heat or air conditioning in their car while their vehicle is plugged into the grid, or dynamically monitor miles until the next charging station right from their GPS system, or somebody could use a smart phone to check battery power or maintenance information remotely from their vehicle," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in the press conference with Toyoda.

"Imagine being able to tell a car to charge at the time of day when demand for energy is low and therefore the least expensive time available," Ballmer said.

More applications

The new platform could also allow for more applications to be developed for Toyota's "Entune" infotainment suite that debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show last January, Toyoda said.

On another note, Toyoda said he was at first doubtful about leaving Japan today as the company struggles to get operations back to normal after last month's earthquake, but he said working on future business opportunities was the best way to help Japan's recovery.

Microsoft has worked with Toyota for more than a decade, but today's announcement signals an escalation of their co-operation.

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