Two giants of their respective industries are joining forces to develop a new cloud-based telematics system for future Toyota products aimed at adding a new level of control and convenience to the driving experience while reducing the potential for distraction. Toyota Motor Corporation and Microsoft Corporation have committed to invest about $12 million in the Toyota Media Service Company, a TMC Subisdiary, to create this next-gen system which will be built around Microsoft's Window Azure platform.

While the first dedicated applications of this new cloud-based technology are set to debut in TMC's upcoming hybrid and plug-in electric models that will arrive in 2012, the goal is to establish a complete global platform by 2015 that can deliver a new range of advanced telematics services in a cost-effective and easily upgradeable manner to Toyota automotive customers around the world.

Unlike Ford's SYNC -- which also uses a Microsoft-provided architecture that's basically in-car resident -- this new Toyota telematics alternative will be fully cloud-based and permit even greater functionality as well as the ability to deliver single-point interactive communication on a global scale -- including all 170 countries where Toyota products are now sold. Toyota currently uses a number of different and non-integrated software systems in various markets and vehicles.

Initially, the system will focus on the spectrum of functions most critical to EV/Plug-in owners, including remote control and monitoring of the charging and preconditioning processes from the car or other "smart" device. However, things like virtual operators with advanced voice recognition skills and the ability to control various functions in the car as well as appliances in the home in an attempt to help reduce stress on the overall grid system are in the cards. So too are a variety of other innovative touches that will be developed to provide additional value to owners of both alternative and conventionally-powered vehicles.

In commenting on the agreement, Toyota president Akio Toyoda said: "Utilizing Windows Azure and Microsoft's vast information infrastructure will boost the value of automobiles by making them information terminals, moving beyond today's GPS navigation and wireless safety communications while reducing driver distraction. Our cars will play a big role in the global expansion of what we call 'smart centers, on-board systems capable of better managing overall energy consumption of cars, driving trips and homes."

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