Toyota will create a new global data science hub called Toyota Connect that aims to bring a new level of smart technology to cars.
The hub will harness Microsoft Azure cloud technologies in its quest, but these will very much remain in the background, secondary to the experiences they power.
“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,” the two firms said.
“[However, Toyota] aims to ‘dampen down’ technology so it doesn’t overwhelm people, leaving them hunched over their smartphones or car screens in bewilderment.”
Toyota’s North American chief information officer Zack Hicks will lead the new Toyota Connected hub.
This seems to make sense in part because the hub folds in existing Toyota data initiatives around “data centre management, data analytics, and data driven services development”, the carmarker said.
Hicks said that an overarching goal for establishing a global data science hub is to “make lives easier and help us to return to our humanity”.
“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,” Hicks said.
“From telematics services that learn from your habits and preferences, to use-based insurance pricing models that respond to actual driving patterns, to connected vehicle networks that can share road condition and traffic information, our goal is to deliver services that make lives easier.”
The hub is expected to turn its “cutting-edge data analytics to support product development for customers, dealers, distributors, and partners.”
One early example of the type of technology the hub might pursue is “a steering wheel [which] could monitor a driver’s heartbeat and respiration, while the seat turns into a scale, offering continuous health monitoring” of the driver.
Aside from in-car services and telematics, the hub is also expected to focus some of its attention on areas including “home/IoT connectivity, personalisation, safety, smart city integration and fleet services.
Toyota Connected is the latest initiative by the Japanese carmarker to reinvent itself for the digital age.
Late last year, it committed to invest $1 billion over five years in an aggressive scale-out of its artificial intelligence and robotics capabilities.
That initiative also sees the establishment of an R&D operation that is being run by Dr Gill Pratt, who is best known for his former role as program manager of the DARPA robotics challenge, which aims to develop semi-autonomous robots for use in disaster response.
While data from the Connected hub could be used to enhance safety while a car is in motion, Toyota ultimately wants artificial intelligence to take over some of these functions.
“Our safety goal is to make driving much safer by preventing cars from being involved in an accident regardless of a driver's actions,” the company said last year.