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Microsoft and Toyota to have E.V.’s running on the cloud by 2012

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Microsoft Corporation and Toyota Motors Corporation are jointly investing 1 billion yen ($12 million) in one of Toyota’s subsidiaries to develop a service that can connect its electric and plug-in hybrid cars to homes and smart grids by 2012 using cloud computing.

The world’s biggest software company and the biggest automaker made the investment in Toyota Media Service, a subsidiary that handles the automaker’s digital information services for its customers. Microsoft and Toyota did not disclose the breakdown of how that investment would be split between the two companies.

The pair is planning to provide data services to Toyota car owners worldwide using Microsoft’s Azure, its cloud computing system that can deliver and collect data and software delivered over the Internet.

Aside from offering telematics services such as navigation, in-car entertainment and multimedia, thesystem might also manage energy use of the vehicle and houses connected to the smart grid, the companies said. 

Toyota’s electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will be the first cars to take advantage of the cloud-based telematics starting in 2012. It will initially hit the United States and Japanese markets and will take four years to reach maturity, Toyota President Akio Toyoda said at a press conference today, which was a webcast.

The application could be released along with its plug-in version of its Prius hybrid vehicle and a rechargeable RAV4 sports utility vehicle powered with a battery system from Tesla Motors which will both debut in 2012.

“We’ll boost the value of today’s vehicles by making them information terminals… moving beyond today’s G.P.S. navigation and wireless safety communications, while at the same time enhancing driver and traffic safety.” Mr. Toyoda said.

Linking the vehicle with a local utility to schedule charging when rates are

lowest will be one of the most practical applications for the service, Mr. Toyoda said. Toyota customers could also schedule the charging themselves from a mobile device, look for a map online for the drive home and even program the car to turn on the air conditioning, heating, appliances, and lighting at home before arrival.

Toyota is currently conducting the service in Japan through its Toyota Smart Center, a pilot program designed to link people, automobiles and homes using the smart grid.

Toyota believes that “as electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles become more popular, such systems will rely more on telematics services for achieving efficient energy management,” the company said in its statement.

“As a result, I view this alliance as vital to Toyota’s future…and we are open to pursuing similar partnerships in the future”, Mr. Toyoda said.

‘Ultimate mobile device’

The advantage for Toyota in using Microsoft’s cloud platform is having the applications and data moved through the internet, rather than having to set up networks and data centers in each of the 170 countries it sells in. The Japanese car maker’s said it plans to provide telematics services to all its customers globally at affordable prices by 2015 using cloud computing.

Mr. Toyoda also expects that it will work in concert with the Entune service, which Toyota unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. It connects the automobile to the Internet using smart phones and voice commands to allow users to do anything from buying movie tickets, restaurant reservations, and listening to music.

Mr. Toyoda said the technology created by the Microsoft partnership will help the company “to offer much broader applications for Entune,” but would remain a separate product.

For Microsoft, the deal moves the company further into the automotive business. The software giant has already partnered with Ford for its Sync in-car connectivity system t which was introduced in 2007 and allows drivers to make phone calls, listen to text messages and use GPS.

“Our partnership with Toyota 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,” Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said.

Microsoft already has a home energy monitoring system called Hohm, which was planned to work together Ford Motors’ electric vehicles. Like the Toyota-Microsoft venture, Hohm can also determine the most efficient time to recharge electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, the companies said at the time of the announcement.

“As the car increasingly becomes the ultimate mobile device for consumers,” said Microsoft in a statement for the Toyota partnership, “telematics technologies can allow drivers to start their cars remotely, turn on their AC from a cell phone, check systems within the car and much more.”

So far, the best-known telematics service is OnStar, a General Motors subsidiary, which allows customers to make calls, remotely unlock their vehicles and receive navigation via GPS.

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