The Next Frontier

Toyota Connected steers our vehicles in new, more personal directions

May 02, 2017
Impactful Work -- Toyota Connected's work on global projects is a big draw for the technologists who work
there. Photos by Michelle Litvin/Perkins+Will

Imagine a day when, instead of driving to the dealership for service, you locate a car-sharing vehicle, use a digital key on your cell phone loaded with all of your preferences — including your favorite radio stations and temperature controls — and drive off. The dealership picks up your car and takes care of the rest.

Or what if your car could “remember” your restaurant preferences, help you find the nearest location, scan your social media to locate nearby friends and book a table without using an app.

That’s the kind of driver experience Toyota Connected is developing for Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

And it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Since Toyota Connected launched a year ago, it’s been stealthily hiring data technologists, running pilot programs with Uber and Getaround, and partnering with the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) and Toyota Technical Center (TTC) on critical mobility projects.

At the root of its work is big data, gleaned from social media, the internet, transactions and even our cars. This year our universe will generate an estimated 16 zettabytes. A zettabyte is 1 sextillion bytes. You get the idea, it’s huge.

Toyota Connected is tasked with analyzing that data to create products and services to make our lives easier and the driving experience more personal.

“At the core of what we’re doing at Toyota Connected is unleashing the consumer’s data to benefit the customer and significantly impact the way they interact with their cars,” says Zack Hicks, chief executive officer at Toyota Connected and chief information officer for Toyota Motor North America.

Paving the Way -- Toyota Connected CEO Zack Hicks says the connected vehicle is "the new great frontier."

That Startup Vibe
Toyota Connected is working on global projects and reports directly to Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) in Japan. It has its own office space, adjacent to Toyota’s new North American headquarters in Plano. And with about 55 team members, it has its own startup-y vibe.  
Hicks says the plan is to employ 100 data scientists, engineers and software developers by the end of the year and 200 within two years. That’s double the growth initially forecasted.
“A lot of the folks we’re bringing on are so excited to be working on these global platforms and on something that’s going to show up in future Toyota and Lexus vehicles,” he says. “They see it as an amazing opportunity.”

So far, most of the hires are from the Dallas area. Toyota Connected also is partnering with the University of Texas at Austin and recently hired its first intern.
Under development is a mobility services platform — a global, cloud-based digital ecosystem that will enable a host of mobility services such as ride sharing, car sharing, remote delivery and much more.

Working closely with affiliate Toyota/Lexus Financial Services, Toyota Connected is also conducting trials with Uber for flexible leasing and innovative payment features that will enable new uses for vehicles as the burgeoning sharing economy takes shape.
Toyota Connected also is working with Getaround, which Hicks calls Airbnb for cars, where people can securely rent, locate and drive Toyota and Lexus vehicles without a physical key.
“We’re exploring services to manage fleets, expand ride-sharing capabilities and leverage big data to contextually and intuitively improve services for our customers to deliver an amazing experience with our brands,” he says.
These wireless services are being delivered using Microsoft's cloud-based Azure platform.

Driving Change -- Mobilty is undergoing a transformation and Toyota Connected is at the forefront by leveraging big data to develop new products and services.

The Future of Mobility
Another area of focus is managing data for TRI’s autonomous vehicle development.
“TRI needs lots of data from vehicles to understand how people use them and how they interact with other vehicles,” Hicks says. “We’re helping them manage that data and turn it into human language.”

Toyota Connected also is working with TRI and TTC on an advanced driver automation system (ADAS) in the cloud that anonymously shares vehicle data with other cars to alert them to hazardous road conditions. If there’s treacherous ice on a particular stretch of highway, for example, the system could also notify government agencies that it’s an issue.

Toyota Connected continues to challenge what’s possible. Expect mobility as we know it to look dramatically different in the future as car sharing and ride sharing become widespread.

“Today we’re seeing many households that have more than one car, but in the future there may be a model where you own a car but maybe also own rights to different cars,” Hick says. “So maybe during the week you want an SUV, but on the weekend you want to drive a sports car. You could have that. We’re building out those platforms that allow people to own vehicles in a new way and interact with vehicles in a different way. The connected vehicle is the next great frontier.”

By Karen Nielsen

Click here for other news coverage on Toyota Connected.

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