Cars on the Cloud: Microsoft and Toyota Join Hands in Cloud Computing Space
“What fools indeed we morals are
To lavish care upon a Car,
With ne’er a bit of time to see
About our own machinery!”
- John Kendrick Bangs (1862-1922), American author, editor and satirist.
Cars define America. For decades, Americans have lavished care on their four-wheeled friends, to some, family members even. Now, Toyota and Microsoft, the largest auto manufacturer and software manufacturer respectively, have joined hands to deliver the next big thing in in-car technology.
If the allusion to “cars on the cloud” had given wings to your imagination, pun intended, and set you thinking about flying cars, I apologize; I was merely alluding to the introduction of cloud computing in Toyota cars via Microsoft’s Azure platform.
Unless you are driving a 20-year old Civic, you will be aware of the increasing level of computerization in cars over the years. From controlling fuel injection in the engine to reminding you to maintain your lane while driving, computers, like almost every human endeavor and enterprise, have become an integral part of the modern automobile. And with computing’s latest trend being to go on the cloud, is it any surprise that this emerging technology has found its way in cars as well?
Japanese automaker Toyota has teamed up with Seattle-based Microsoft to develop a new content delivery network to be built on the latter’s Azure cloud computing platform. This will be used to deliver content and usage information to and from the car to computers and mobile devices, unlike existing systems like Ford’s Sync which require the use of car controls. Interestingly, Sync had been developed by Microsoft.
As part of this collaboration, the two companies will invest 1 billion yen (about $12 million) in Toyota Media Service, a Toyota subsidiary. According to Toyota, this is the initial step towards building complete global cloud computing platform by 2015, which will provide services to its customers around the world.
Some possible features of this proposed innovation, expected to be introduced in the 2012 Prius plug-in hybrid, are:
- Drivers will be able to turn on their home heating and air conditioning remotely from the car
- Drivers will be able to use a smartphone to schedule when to charge a plug-in Toyota hybrid car, such as when energy costs are minimum
- Drivers will be able to use a smartphone to check the car’s battery level and monitor how many miles they can drive before recharging
Microsoft CEO said that the “partnership with TMC [Toyota Motor Co.] is a great example of how we continue to invest in the automotive industry and of our commitment to power the services that are important to consumers.” He added that this collaboration “validates the power of the cloud, as the Windows Azure platform will provide the enterprise-grade, scalable platform that TMC needs to deliver telematics in its automobiles worldwide.”
Telematics, as defined by the two companies, is the fusing of telecommunications and information technologies in vehicles, including GPS systems, energy management and other multimedia technologies.
In my opinion, moving to the cloud will allow increasing computerization of vehicles, since processing power will no longer be restricted to what can be accommodated within the chassis. This can lead to an enhanced user experience, which if taken to the limit, can lead to fully autonomous cars. Even before that, it will be possible to convert the car into a mobile office with full functionality while at the same time controlling household equipment from the driving seat. The possibilities are endless.
By Sourya Biswas