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Microsoft and Toyota form new telematics company

Consumer Reports News: April 06, 2011 02:30 PM

Two titans in their respective industries, Microsoft and Toyota, have announced a partnership to develop digital information services for Toyota owners. Together, the companies are forming Toyota Media Service, a Toyota Motor Corporation subsidiary, that will develop telematics applications using the Windows Azure platform. The first vehicles to benefit from this venture are as-yet-unnamed electric and plug-in hybrids in 2012, likely the previously announced Toyota RAV4 EV and plug-in Prius.

Through the science of telematics, the intention is to improve energy efficiency through communication with the driver, home, and infrastructure. No doubt, the new company will also seek to add a few bells and whistles to drive showroom traffic. As seen on other, current telematics systems, there are innovative ways to connect drivers and cars, such as controlling recharging and notifying of problems. (See our guide to mobile electronics.)

Where Toyota Media Service seeks to distinguish itself is by focusing on a "connected lifestyle experience," enabling the driver to interact with the car and synchronize electronic information. For example, the car may know your schedule (via Microsoft Outlook) and be able to provide information, even route guidance, as appropriate.

Car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication is a planned part of the vision, though Toyota admits communicating with vehicles from other automakers presents challenges.

Microsoft has previously partnered with Ford Motor Company on its Sync and MyFord Touch infotainment systems. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer describes this new partnership as being about a platform and delivering applications from the "cloud" (via cell phone), whereas Sync is considered an in-car device.

Toyota Media Service is a worldwide technology initiative, but it is expected to roll out in Japan and the United States first, as those will be the launch markets for the targeted electrified vehicles that will first use this system.

Upated: 4/6/11 5 p.m.

Jeff Bartlett

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