On Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft announced four partnerships that will usher the next generation of cars into the cloud. “The industry is going through a digital transformation,” said Sanjay Ravi, Microsoft Worldwide Managing Director of Manufacturing. “The automotive companies want to be digital companies.”
In other words, say “connect to conference call,” and your car will connect you to your officemates. Say “Skype with Mom,” and the line will soon be ringing. Say “find a gas station,” and you won’t have to worry about running on empty.
“Think of the car of the future as your living room on wheels,” Ravi said. “Or your office on wheels.”
Nissan, for example, will use the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform to allow the all-electric Leaf and certain vehicles from its luxury Infiniti brand to tap into the benefits of cloud-based connectivity. Moving telematics information from Nissan’s own global data center to the cloud will increase the network’s storage space, which means drivers can perform functions such as finding places of interest and monitoring the car’s battery capacity faster.
Harman, which provides electronics and audio equipment to the automotive industry, will fold Microsoft Office 365 into its infotainment systems, allowing drivers to access email and schedule meetings, among other tasks, when in park or in an autonomous vehicle.
But that’s not all the cloud can do. In certain markets come spring, if you have a Volvo and a Microsoft Band 2 activity tracker and happen to forget where you parked, it’s not a problem. Just ask your wearable to honk your car’s horn or flash its lights, and you can follow the fuss to your car. Using the Volvo on Call mobile app, the Band can also start the car’s heater, lock its doors and set the navigation.
Meanwhile, the Germany-based automotive engineering firm IAV is focusing on increasing traffic safety, using vehicle-to-infrastructure technology to avoid collisions with pedestrians. Using Microsoft’s Cortana Analytics suite and sensors that transmit data from the car’s surroundings, the car can anticipate and help avoid potential hazards.
Of course, the industry must develop security measures as quickly as it introduces new connective capabilities. “It’s always going to be a catch-up game,” said Celso Guiotoko, Nissan’s chief information officer. “Cyber hackers are going to find different ways to penetrate networks.”