Toyota to make networked cars standard in Japan, US
NAGOYA -- Internet-connected sensors to monitor performance and alert drivers to component defects soon will become standard in Toyota Motor's U.S. and Japanese models -- the latest and broadest effort by a major automaker to promote networked vehicles.
Toyota plans in 2016 to start rolling out standard models equipped with data transmission devices connected to engine, transmission and other sensors. Though buyers already can opt to have networked components installed -- some 700,000 such Toyota cars were on Japanese roads at the end of 2013 -- the transmitters eventually will come standard on all models, from compacts to high-end vehicles. With around 4 million Toyota vehicles sold in the U.S. and Japan yearly, the global fleet of networked cars will swell enormously.
U.S. electric-car maker Tesla Motors includes data transmitters in all of its vehicles. But Toyota is believed to be the first major automaker to make the devices standard. The company is seeking to secure a larger number of network connections from KDDI and other mobile data partners in Japan and is looking to team with major cellular service providers in the U.S. as well.
Network connectivity has been used mainly to automatically update digital maps and location information. But under the new service, information gathered by sensors affixed to cars' engines, transmissions and other key components can be sent wirelessly to Toyota for analysis. The company will be able to predict parts failures and advise drivers to bring in their vehicles for inspection before problems arise.
Users' driving habits also will be analyzed via artificial intelligence technology now in development. The system will be able to advise motorists on how to save energy while driving and allow the use of services that automatically call for emergency vehicles without user input when an accident occurs.
Toyota currently charges 12,960 yen ($107) annually for network connectivity. The company plans to continue charging fees when the feature is made standard, though the details have yet to be worked out.
Working toward automation
Communications features, precision mapping devices and other technology are also the basic components of self-driving vehicles. Collecting location and driving data from a large number of cars will let Toyota and other automakers develop more accurate maps. The spread of networked vehicles is thus an important step toward bringing automated cars to the road.
Attaching network technology to all manner of objects is becoming common among manufacturers worldwide. Around 50 billion objects -- roughly five times the 2013 level -- will be online by 2020, U.S. information technology giant Cisco Systems says. Autos will account for much of that figure.
Yet growing numbers of networked cars also open the door to new security threats, including information leaks and the hijacking of automated-driving systems. Such risks will need to be addressed as automotive IT advances.