Microsoft and Toyota are jointly investing $12 million in a bid to build a cloud-based platform that will connect cars, homes and electrical smart grids. The joint venture, announced today, will be run out of Toyota Media Services and will leverage Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud computing service, creating a platform for mobility apps that can encompass communication, GPS, power management and safety.
The companies see the partnership as a way to build next-generation telematics systems that can touch a wide array of end points and allow users to almost carry on conversations with their cars, their homes and the smart grid. It goes beyond current telematics efforts like the Microsoft-developed Sync and Toyota’s Entune, which are more in-car solutions.
“This is about a platform for applications that can be delivered from the cloud; it might be delivered to the in-car GPS system or through the phone with the car as an end point. But it’s a cloud platform,” said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
When fully realized, the platform could enable a range of use cases. Car owners could start their vehicles and air conditioning systems remotely through a smartphone and could also turn on their home heating system from their car using the same platform. The system could also help cars talk to smart grids to understand the best time to charge when network demand is low. The service could also help vehicles operate more efficiently, saving energy.
Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Media Services said the venture fits into Toyota’s larger goal of creating vehicles that provide greater utility, efficiency and delight for users. The platform will appear first on electric and hybrid cars next year in the U.S. and Japan and will take four years to reach maturity. Ultimately, the service could touch other non-electric cars.
While Toyota said it will consider similar partnerships with other companies, the deal is a good one for Microsoft. It highlights another major company building off the Windows Azure platform and gives it momentum in taking a similar approach to other car manufacturers. It will also be another way for Microsoft to push apps like Hohm, an energy management application that could be repurposed for vehicles. Toyoda said the car-maker chose Microsoft not only because of its more than 10-year relationship with the software giant but because Windows Azure allows Toyota to quickly ramp up services in the 170 countries where it operates.
It’ll be interesting to see if other car companies turn to Microsoft to build similar systems. Even if they don’t, Toyoda said the expectation from consumers is that telematics system will be able talk to each other regardless of their underpinnings.
To learn more about connected cars come to our Green:Net event on April 21 in San Francisco.