A new Toyota subsidiary aims to provide drivers with autonomous contextual help via the assistance of software bot technology just announced by Microsoft. Skynet isn’t here just yet, but Toyota Connected Inc. represents just the beginning of where transportation is heading in the coming decades as we transition from personally owned vehicles to mobility as a service.
Bots, as they have become known in recent years, are basically just a relatively new type of app that usually runs on a server somewhere in the cloud. What makes bots special is their ability to tap into huge databases and take advantage of sophisticated machine learning to understand the meaning of a query. Those queries can come from either a human or another bot. One bot may collect information from any number of other bots, merging and presenting it to a human or vehicle interface at the edge of the cloud.
Cascade of Queries
A contemporary example might be a driver telling their car that they are hungry. This could trigger a cascade of queries that take your current location, stored data about your favorite kinds of food, finds a restaurant with an available table at a time based on how long it will take to arrive there, and returns a response of “Would you like a reservation at restaurant X at 6:45 p.m.?” All of this could stem automatically from that one original question with no further input from the driver.
Now imagine extending this concept 20 years into the future when we will have fleets of on-demand autonomous vehicles moving around cities, as projected in Navigant Research’s Transportation Outlook: 2025-2050 white paper. Today, if you are leaving one appointment and heading to another, you pull out a phone, open the Uber or Lyft app, and request a ride.
In 2035, the mobile communicator that has replaced your phone reads your calendar, sees you have an appointment 20 minutes away, knows your current meeting will end in 5 minutes, and automatically summons a vehicle to your location so that it pulls up as you step out onto the sidewalk with no intervention. Several bots have contributed to this function, including one that provides weather data, another with real-time and historical traffic information, one to monitor your calendar, and another to handle billing for the mobility service of your choice, all without any direct input from the rider.
At its Build 2016 developer conference on March 30, Microsoft announced the release of bot software development framework to simplify the task of creating bots. Toyota Connected plans to utilize the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to provide services to its customers utilizing data from telematics and vehicle-to-external (V2X) communications systems. These communications pathways can provide drivers with real-time alerts about slippery roads when a vehicle ahead triggers an automated braking system or stability control, and can also enable automatic re-routing to avoid congestion or reduce energy consumption.
Navigant Research’s Connected Vehicles report projects that more than 80 million vehicles will be sold with V2X capability in 2025. Contextual data moving through the air between bots in vehicles and in the cloud is expected to reduce energy use, improve road safety, and generally make life more convenient for everyone.