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Toyota and Microsoft connect drivers to the future

Toyota and Microsoft are teaming up to create a world where cars are giant smartphones that you ride in, with a virtual assistant that knows the best route to take, whom to notify if traffic will make you late for a meeting, what your blood pressure is doing during stop-and-go, and what restaurants at the next exit might be most to your liking.

Toyota announced today that it’s creating a new company called Toyota Connected to serve as the carmaker’s data science hub as it seeks to connect cars to people’s daily lives. Microsoft’s Azure will be the cloud computing platform, providing a hybrid solution for everything Toyota Connected creates as it works to make driving more personal, more intuitive and safer.

“We’ve all been talking about big data for a long time, but we are at a unique point in history where the technology is catching up with what we hope to achieve by delivering new services and capabilities into the vehicle,” said Zack Hicks, president and chief executive officer of Toyota Connected.

Technology is becoming as important to carmakers as engines and steel, so Toyota’s goal with the new company – based in Plano, Texas – is to significantly expand its capabilities by building on an existing partnership with Microsoft. The new venture will consolidate Toyota’s initiatives in data center management, data analytics and data-driven services development under Hicks, who also will keep his current role as chief information officer at Toyota Motor North America.

“The automotive industry is undergoing a massive transformation as drivers increasingly see their cars as mobile devices that extend their digital lifestyle,” said Kurt DelBene, Microsoft’s executive vice president of corporate strategy and planning. “That means people now care as much about their car’s computing power as its horsepower. So we’re working closely with carmakers, including this deep partnership with Toyota, to make automobiles more intelligent with sensors, screens, connectivity and vast networks of data that will help improve the whole driving experience.”

Toyota Connected will be evaluating and developing a myriad of technologies, Hicks said.

For example, a steering wheel could monitor a driver’s heartbeat and respiration while the seat turns into a scale, offering continuous health monitoring much like wearable tracking devices do now, he said. The car’s system might connect with other cars to learn that there’s traffic ahead, and then email the organizer of a driver’s intended meeting to let them know of the delay. And a check-engine warning could prompt the system to scan the customer’s and dealer’s schedules to suggest a good appointment time, and then book it, with the touch of a screen.

The company aims to “dampen down” technology so it doesn’t overwhelm people, leaving them hunched over their smartphones or car screens in bewilderment, but is immersive and intuitive instead – and less distracting to drivers, to improve safety.

“We’ll be able to bring you services that make your life easier, and push the technology into the background and give you those things you really want, which isn’t a blaring screen, it’s really letting people know that you’re running late for a meeting,” Hicks said.

Microsoft, which recently shared other news on connected-car partnerships, said it will work with Toyota Connected in the new facility in Texas, providing continuous engineering support across a broad range of data analytics and mobile programs. The new company will initially offer products and services in North America and then will expand into other Toyota markets.

“As we look for the future, Toyota can’t go there alone, and I don’t think any company can go there alone,” Hicks said. “This is a great partnership between Toyota and Microsoft to be able to deliver new, contextual, immersive and innovative experiences in the car that you couldn’t get on your own without that relationship.”