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Toyota and Microsoft Have Their Heads in the Cloud

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author photo by Autotrader April 2011

Toyota and Microsoft are working together on a new system to bring information and control into cars. Just like General Motors has OnStar and Ford has Sync (also developed in partnership with Microsoft), this will be Toyota’s method of connecting its vehicles to the wider world of information technology. But there’s a big difference between this system and Sync – and it’s all about clouds.

Traditionally, if you wanted to use a software program, you had to have it installed on your own computer. “Cloud computing” is basically using the Internet to access software or files stored on a distant computer. Ford’s Sync follows the traditional model – everything you need is installed in the car. Toyota’s system (it doesn’t have a name yet) is “cloud”-based.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, said his products would become “information terminals.” The idea is for content to be shared between cars, computers and mobile devices like smartphones, “moving beyond today’s GPS navigation and wireless safety communications, while at the same time enhancing driver and traffic safety,” said Toyoda. By being cloud-based, not installed into any one particular vehicle, it means services and applications can be introduced or updated without the driver having to do anything.

Another advantage will come to light as more drivers move toward electrification. The system will manage recharging processes for plug-in hybrids (like the PHV Prius, due in 2012) and all-electric vehicles (like the upcoming RAV4 EV), to avoid overextending the grid’s supply, and select times when electricity is at its cheapest. An owner could be in another country and check up on their car’s charging status. Or get up in the morning and turn on the car’s air conditioning (or heating) while the coffee is brewing, all from their smartphone.

A lot of these functions are around already. We can get real-time traffic updates, stream Internet radio into our cars or control EV recharging with our iPhones. But the Toyota/Microsoft system represents the next generation, with a greater degree of interaction. There’s even a plan to control things like household appliances, heating and lighting from the voice-activated functions of this system.

The two companies have been collaborating on projects for more than 10 years, and they have invested $12 million in this new venture. We should see the first features come online in 2012.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Toyota and Microsoft Have Their Heads in the Cloud - Autotrader