Microsoft to car firms: Toyota's on board, so license our tech too. We won't compete with you

Microsoft drives deeper into connected car territory with Toyota patent deal and a new tech licensing program.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Microsoft's new patent program underlines its vast range of technologies essential for internet-connected vehicles.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has created a new patent licensing program for car manufacturers to use its technologies in connected vehicles.

Toyota is the first company to take up the new program, which Microsoft announced on Wednesday as an invite to other car manufacturers to join, too.

Google might be the first tech firm that comes to mind when discussing self-driving cars, but it's not alone. Intel just made a $15.3bn bet on its growth with Mobileye, while Qualcomm and SoftBank with ARM are also gearing up for growth.

Microsoft's new patent program is a reminder that it too has a vast range of technologies that will be essential for internet-connected vehicles and which are available to manufacturers to license. And, unlike Google, Microsoft stresses it doesn't build cars, but wants to partner with car manufacturers.

Connected car innovations that Microsoft lists in its new auto licensing page include Windows, its exFAT file storage system, Wi-Fi and mobile connectivity, sensors, Kinect for gesture computing, its Cortana voice-recognition system, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence.

In a new video promoting itself as a connected car partner, it even touts Outlook Calendar as an assistant for drivers and vehicle repairers.

Microsoft also boasts that since 1995 it's worked with Ford, BMW, Tesla, and Nissan to spur the development of connected cars. Tesla has even nabbed a few of Microsoft's HoloLens engineers, while the pair have teamed up on Elon Musk's OpenAI, which is using Azure N-Series virtual machines to target deep-learning applications.

All these technologies would help anticipate when cars need maintenance, connect drivers to roadside assistance, and power tomorrow's infotainment systems.

"When you look across telematics, infotainment, safety, and other systems in today's connected cars, you find Microsoft technologies and innovation," said Erich Andersen, corporate vice president and chief IP counsel of Microsoft's intellectual property group, highlighting that Microsoft spends $11.4bn a year on R&D.

Microsoft's executive vice president of business development, Peggy Johnson, said the connected car market is huge for the auto industry, and that software is the key to achieving it.

Analyst firm Gartner forecasts there will be 250 million connected cars on the road by 2020, which will need technologies for telematics, automated driving, infotainment, and mobility services. It expects connected car production to increase from 21 million per year in 2017, to 61 million per year by 2020.

As for Toyota, the licensing arrangement builds on a recent partnership with Microsoft to run Toyota's Connected Car data-science initiative on the Azure cloud platform.

The pair envisage future services such as a steering wheel with a built-in heart-rate monitor, a seat that doubles as weight scales, networking with other vehicles to predict traffic conditions, and automated calendar scheduling to lock in an appointment with the car maintenance service.

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