Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Toyota and Microsoft Partner on Cloud-Based Telematics System for EVs and Plug-In Hybrids

Toyota and Microsoft Partner on Cloud-Based Telematics System for EVs and Plug-In Hybrids: "

Together, Toyota and Microsoft are investing $12 million in Toyota Media Service Co., a Toyota subsidiary. (If that sounds like an insignificant amount of money for two of the world’s largest companies to squander, that’s because it is.) The alliance will create a cloud-based platform for car-to-car, phone-to-car, and grid-to-car communication. As such, the first Toyotas to benefit from the tech will be electrics and plug-in hybrids, the first of which should arrive in the U.S. and Japan in 2012.

Besides a dash of money, Microsoft is applying its cloud-based Azure computing platform to the partnership. Its advantages, according to ever-animated Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, are its scalability and reach; the system will work in all 170 of Toyota’s markets, not just a select few.

The unnamed system promises to let drivers remotely control things like charging and climate control (helpful so that the car reaches the desired temperature while plugged into the grid, so that more of the car’s electrons can be used for locomotion), and feeds battery-level and maintenance information to a smart phone. Onboard GPS will dynamically monitor the distance to charging stations.

The idea is nothing new. Indeed, Nissan already has a simple system, called Carwings, that lets Leaf drivers monitor and control charge and climate-control status from an iPhone or through a web browser. The Chevy Volt’s OnStar Mobile app carries many of the same features. Ford will offer a more feature-rich app for the Focus Electric, which happens to use Microsoft-branded Value Charging to charge the battery during off-peak hours, something the Toyota system also promises.

As for how the cloud-based info will work with Toyota’s recently introduced Entune infotainment system, Toyota president Akio Toyoda basically said that the systems could work together. We think they’ll have to. A crazy-faced Ballmer added that the cloud-based system is more of the back end, while Entune is an interface.

While not groundbreaking, the Toyota-Microsoft tie-up certainly has some weight behind it. Today’s symbolic announcement and symbolic venture funding should evolve into a useful set of applications for EV and PHEV owners, something that we believe will soon be expected of any car that plugs into the grid.


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