In late March, Microsoft announced an exciting patent licensing agreement with Toyota in the creation of their new joint collaboration, Toyota Connected. Intended to introduce new internet-connected services into a vehicle without overwhelming the driver with technology, the platform looks to continuously collect data from Connect-fitted vehicles. Then utilizing these findings to create new products for drivers, car fleets, and car dealers themselves.
Toyota Connected builds on the existing partnership between Toyota and Microsoft, the initial focus of which was the research and development of connected car services. Their strategic partnership began back in 2011, when the companies joined together in pursuit of next-generation telematics services, aiming to fuse telecommunications and information technologies in vehicles.
Microsoft’s Historical Presence in Vehicles
Prior to their venture with Toyota, Microsoft had an exclusive partnership with Ford until 2008, the result of which was the Ford SYNC system. The SYNC system integrated in-vehicle communications and entertainment systems into twelve Ford group vehicles, released to the retail market in 2007. This system was much less complex than what we can expect from Toyota Connect, focusing on hands-free communication and the ability to connect digital music players via Bluetooth or a USB connection.
Historically, Microsoft has also partnered with Kia, BMW, Nissan and Fiat to provide specialized versions of Windows tailored for the auto industry, but recent patents would indicate that their current focus is more largely based on licensing out research and software for existing smart-cars.
While the current partnership with Toyota is the first of its kind, it is by no means exclusive. Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to have every manufacturer implementing their system in future vehicle releases. Some may think that it’s a ramp up to the release of a standalone Microsoft vehicle, but the tech giant has gone on record to state that they have no desire to build self-driving cars, but rather would like to help power innovation within the existing industry.
Toyota’s Other Tech Plans
Toyota has committed to devoting $1 billion over five years to their Silicon Valley-based research institute in the hopes that a car embedded with technology will drive sales and increase brand loyalty. In the time since their initial announcement, Toyota has also bought a 3% stake in Preferred Networks in Japan, and Jaybridge Robotics in Massachusetts, both of which are focused on the creation of artificial intelligence software. The auto manufacturer intends to put self-driving cars on the road by 2020, so the next 3 years should certainly be interesting to watch, as the race for smart car market dominance gets into full swing.
What Does Toyota Connected Mean for Vehicle Technologies?
Technological innovation within the auto industry has mostly been about bells and whistles in the past, with implementation focused on providing something that is simply cool to have or makes road trips a bit more comfortable. Toyota Connected is looking to shake that up by monitoring driver metrics, analyzing the collected data, and implementing it into the way your vehicle operates. These measurements include monitoring the driver’s heartbeat, converting the seat into a scale, and vehicle-to-vehicle technology that allows cars to communicate with each other to relay road hazards ahead, in addition to predictive analytics that helps the driver pick the best route to avoid traffic, or pointing out favorite restaurants/stores along the way.
Connected aims to become the central hub for data science, driving research in the realms of robotics and artificial intelligence. Though there is no set date as to when we may see Toyota Connected implemented into vehicles on the road, American drivers will be excited to hear that the initial rollout will occur in the North American market first, and expand from there. This step into unchartered territories is symbolic of an ideological shift that has been occurring throughout the industry for many years, in the auto industry’s’ attempt to catch up to the functionality and ease of use that we see in the latest smartphones.
What makes this partnership so exciting isn’t necessarily the partnership itself, but what it represents for the industry as a whole. So much of the discussion in the past centered around rumors and hearsay, but we have finally reached a point in the auto industry where the concepts that excited us a few years back are finally coming to fruition. Moving forward, this moment will be considered the beginning of a new era for automotive manufacturers, where innovation is king and our vehicles do the heavy lifting for us, leaving driver and passenger alike to experience the joys of carefree travel.
What are your thoughts on Microsoft and Toyota partnering to bring better-connected cars to the industry? Let us know in the comments!