Microsoft gets friendly with Toyota’s hybrid & electric cars

Microsoft gets friendly with Toyota’s hybrid & electric cars When it comes to hybrid and electric cars, cool technology features can be a real selling point in the age of gadget obsession. Mini replaced a standard key with a smartphone on their concept scooter and Chevy developed an app that will tell Volt owners the cheapest time to charge up their car. Toyota is looking to get in on the game by partnering with Microsoft to add similar technologies in their hybrid and electric cars.

Toyota and Microsoft are set to sink $12m into a venture that will stuff the Japanese automaker’s plug-in and hybrid cars with some nifty features known as telematics, a term which is a mash up of telecom based services and IT. It can refer to everything from energy management to in-car multimedia features.

What’s so interesting about the deal is that the data used by Toyota drivers will come from Microsoft’s Windows Azure, a cloud-based platform. Toyota won’t have to buy data centers wherever they sell their green cars, Microsoft will handle that chore with their centralized data centers. The cloud computing aspect of the arrangement will also reduce the amount of hardware or junk you need in the car just to find your way back to the Interstate. Data could be sent to your in-dash navigation, your laptop, or even your smartphone.

Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda, said that their partnership with the software giant will transform their cars into “‘information terminals,’ moving beyond today’s GPS navigation and wireless safety communications, while at the same time enhancing driver and traffic safety.” They plan on rolling out the telelmatics in the 2012 hybrids and new entries like the plug-in version of the Prius. The duo hope to have a worldwide could-based network up and running by 2015.

Besides stuffing your car with technology, Toyota also wants to lend you a hand at home. The company believes that as more and more people adopt green cars, home energy management with become a daily aspect of their lives. They’re started a trial run of their Smart Center pilot program which will link residents, their green cars and their homes together for better energy consumption. 

Both Ford and GM have beaten Toyota with similar systems such as OnStar and Sync, which was ironically also a Microsoft product. However, the cloud-based aspect of Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform makes it easy to roll out new cars in 170 different countries without having to build multiple data centers. Microsoft should learn a lesson from the Facebook and Greenpeace spat and do their best to keep their internet based servers as green as possible.