Microsoft And Toyota Announce Cloud-Based Vehicle Platform

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Microsoft and Toyota today announced a joint $12 million (1 billion yen) investment in a new cloud computing platform for electric and hybrid vehicles. The first cars to use the service, powered by Windows Azure, will launch in 2012.

In a joint Webcast today, Toyota President Akio Toyoda and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced a strategic partnership between the two companies to build “a global platform for Toyota’s next-generation telematics services using the Windows Azure cloud computing platform. Telematics, by the way, is a new buzzword for the integration of information technology into vehicles including GPS, multimedia, and energy management.

The two companies plan to spend $12 million (1 billion yen) to develop the new cloud platform, which will be integrated into some of Toyota’s electric and hybrid vehicles in 2012. The platform will allow users to use smartphones or computers to connect to and monitor their car from anywhere. For example, you could turn on your air conditioning or heat remotely, check your battery power, learn about maintenance information, or charge your vehicle at times when the power is cheaper and more available (which will hopefully be possible using the smart power grid of the future). Microsoft and Toyota hope to have a global cloud platform finished by 2015.

“This new partnership between Microsoft and Toyota is an important step in developing greater future mobility and energy management for consumers around the world. Creating these more efficient, more environmentally advanced products will be our contribution to society,” said Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota. “To achieve this, it is important to develop a new link between vehicles, people and smart center energy-management systems.”

The Azure platform currently has no relation to InTune, the Microsoft Sync-like service that Toyota announced at CES.

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A fresh design and new features give Microsoft’s in-car platform new life as MyFord Touch.

Ready to fulfill your Knight Rider fantasy of owning a fully automated car with personality, like KITT?

Sorry, you’ll still need to cobble together a replica and sculpt your own Hasselhoff hair, for now. But Ford will bring the ordinary buying public a step closer this year with the introduction of MyFord Touch, the next generation of the longstanding Sync project with Microsoft. The company showed off live examples of the technology at the Microsoft Embedded booth at CES 2010.

Along with a central 8-inch LCD touch screen, the MyFord system offers two extra 4.2-inch LCDs that flank the speedometer, delivering information on everything from engine RPMs (on the left-side diagnostic panel) to the caller ID on an incoming call (on the right-hand entertainment panel).

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Like the original Sync system, MyFord can tether to Bluetooth-enabled devices like phones to serve as a speakerphone or play media, as well as tap USB devices like thumb drives or plugged-in iPods for additional access to media. Microsoft and Ford have also added some new controls – like adjusting ambient lighting – and will open the platform to select developers who will develop in-car apps. Pandora and Twitter were both shown at CES. (Before you panic at the thought of drivers tweeting from behind the wheel at 70 mph, the Twitter app merely reads back tweets from friends as you drive.)

In total, drivers have three ways to control the system: by touch, by voice, and by the five-way directional controller mounted on the steering wheel. Although Sync also had voice activation, Microsoft has refined both the quality of the voice recognition and the ease of use this time around. For instance, rather than telling it which source you want to play music from, you can just say, “Play Radiohead, Karma Police” and it will figure out the rest.

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At the moment, the MyFord Touch system is slated to appear in both the 2011 Ford Edge and 2012 Ford Focus, as well as select Lincoln and Mercury vehicles as MyLincoln and MyMercury, respectively. It will come standard, but appear in three different tiers, the lower two of which will reduce the size and number of screens.

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