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Trucks at Work

Connecting vehicles to … well, everything

Think on this for a minute: the self-driving vehicles we all keep hearing about, well, they need to be connected to each other as well as the infrastructure around them in order to function will optimal effect.

And, of course, those connected self-piloting vehicles will also be connected digitally to the humans within them – as folks will no doubt be tapping in to onboard systems to watch TV, talk with friends and family, and who knows what else, since (of course) they won’t be driving (well, at least not for much of the time).

Car maker Toyota hopes to turn that theoretical offering into reality in part via a new venture it’s calling Toyota Connected, ostensibly by leveraging what the company calls “the power of data science” through Microsoft’s Azure cloud technology – developing what Toyota dubs “predictive, contextual, and intuitive services” that help to “humanize” the driving experience; all while pushing the technology into the background.

“This will help free our customers from the tyranny of technology. It will make lives easier and help us to return to our humanity,” noted Zack Hicks, CEO of Toyota Connected and chief information officer for Toyota Motor North America. 

“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,” he explained.

I’ll admit flat out this seems awfully creepy to me, giving cars this much technological power.

[And, yes, I just cannot help recalling the plot line of The Terminator every time I read about stuff like this.]

To be based in Plano, TX, Toyota Connected is being launched with what Hicks called two mandates: delivering seamless and contextual services, and using cutting-edge data analytics to support product development for customers, dealers, distributors, and partners.

In support of these goals, the new company will consolidate Toyota initiatives in data center management, data analytics, and data driven services development, Hicks added.
On top of that, Toyota Connected will keep building on an existing partnership with Microsoft to accelerate research and development efforts aimed at delivering new “connected car solutions” such as:

  • In-car services and telematics;
  • Home/Internet of Things connectivity;
  • Vehicle “personalization;”
  • Smart city integration.

Down the line, though, how will driverless cars (when and if people start using them of course) affect the “daily transportation routines” taken almost for granted in our communities?

That’s a question being posed by Howard Jennings, managing director of the Mobility Lab, and he’s concerned there are far more unknowns to deal with than most folks think.

“There are so many unknowns about the market impact and the local community impact,” he stressed in recent comments. “I would suggest that there should be among the federal government and with the industry groups, a research and policy group looking at these impacts – just as there are groups looking at vehicle technologies, infrastructure technologies, vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, and safety, among other things.”

Jennings said that guidance being drafted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to state transportation officials doesn’t yet have any of this language in it; thus Jennings thinks transportation research and advocacy organizations should aid regions in building policy recommendations for now and down the line.

 “It certainly would be ideal to incorporate the decades of progress in creating walkable, livable, and multi-modal communities as systems for driverless cars begin to reshape our streets,” he stressed. “We don’t want to see policies arise in support of autonomous vehicles negate others that support livable communities.”

With ride sharing firms such as Uber and Lyft, plus, bike sharing, car sharing, carpooling, and many other now technology-enabled transportation types, Jennings believes the fabric of city transportation is “everywhere being radically disrupted.”

That’s so true. The concern is, will it end up being disrupted in ways we don’t like? We’ll see.

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