Microsoft moving to be 'ultimate platform for all intelligent cars'

Several announcements coming from CES 2016 make it seem like Microsoft’s plan to take over the world of intelligent cars is not so far-fetched.

Microsoft as ultimate platform for smart cars
Credit: Microsoft

While Microsoft may not be building its own smart, connected vehicles, can you imagine a world in which Microsoft provides the “ultimate platform for all intelligent cars?” Microsoft certainly can and the company has previously claimed that it invented or invisibly runs nearly everything. Yet several announcements coming from CES 2016 make it seem like Microsoft’s plan to take over the world of intelligent cars is not so far-fetched.

“In the near future, the car will be connected to the Internet, as well as to other cars, your mobile phone and your home computer,” said Microsoft’s Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of business development. “The car becomes a companion and an assistant to your digital life. And so our strategy is to be the ultimate platform for all intelligent cars.”

When you are driving home from work – what with road-ragers, rubber-neckers causing wrecks and sudden stopped traffic on the interstate – it might not be a relaxing drive, but still you are off the clock and out of the office. If you use that time to unwind, then you are not being productive. Microsoft plans to change that via a collaboration with Harman which will bring Microsoft Office 365 productivity suite capabilities to Harman infotainment systems.

Harman with Office 365 to work on the drive home Harman

At CES 2016, Harman announced “the collaboration is a first for Microsoft in the connected car space and represents a new emphasis on productivity within the car.”

With access to relevant Office 365 services through intelligent personal assistant software, drivers can complete tasks without compromising safety, including scheduling meetings, hearing and responding to emails, automatically joining conference calls without having to manually input the phone number and passcode, and seamlessly managing events and tasks throughout the day. Drivers will also be able to hold Skype calls and conferences when in park, or on the road with autonomous vehicles. In addition, with Harma’s over-the-air (OTA) incremental update capabilities, the most current version of Office 365 will always be accessible to drivers.

Microsoft and IAV team up for traffic safety tech demo at CES

Microsoft collaborated with automated driving engineering firm IAV to demonstrate a Connected Highly Automated Driving (CHAD) vehicle in order to showcase traffic safety technology at CES. IAV explained that CHAD connects with “Microsoft’s Azure cloud and Windows 10 to enable communication that helps prevent vehicle and pedestrian accidents and increases driving comfort and convenience.”

Microsoft’s Johnson added, “IAV will use Windows 10 Continuum to stream Windows 10 via a mobile device directly to a car’s dashboard, giving drivers access to Windows 10 features and apps such as Cortana, Skype for Business, Calendar, Outlook and Groove Music while the vehicle is in autonomous driving mode or parked. This integration allows drivers to use the devices they already own.”

When CNN took CHAD for a spin, the self-driving car embedded with Microsoft tech, the vehicle slowed when it approached a person wearing a smart band as the demo ride was to show how tech can prevent pedestrian accidents. Yet as CNN business correspondent Samual Burke pointed out, it’s pretty far-fetched to believe most people will be wearing a smart band to be safer from self-driving cars. IAV’s Lars Eggenstein responded, “It could also be a smartphone; so if your smartphone had the same capabilities as your band? More or less everybody is carrying a smartphone.”

The car communicated with a stoplight via Wi-Fi, instead of using a camera to see it; Wi-Fi connectivity is the “future” of traffic lights as Eggenstein said it will be necessary for a higher level of automation. Smart cars will need a smart infrastructure.

Again the point was hammered home that in the future, you can kiss that drive home downtime goodbye. Eggenstein said that in the future when a driver is no longer needed for the driving task, he can be productive; he can use the car’s display and talk to Cortana, be that for running specific search queries, sending email or working hands-free via access to Windows 10 features and apps.

Microsoft smart band to let you control your Volvo with your voice

Talking to Volvo with Microsoft Band 2 Volvo

Apparently inspired 33 years after Knight Rider, in which David Hasselhoff talked to his car KITT, Volvo announced collaborating with Microsoft for a “wearable-enabled voice control system.” In the future, “Volvo owners will be able to talk to their car via their Microsoft Band 2, allowing them to instruct their vehicle to perform tasks including, setting the navigation, starting the heater, locking the doors, flashing the lights or sounding the horn via Volvo’s mobile app Volvo on Call and the connected wearable device.”

Nissan to use Microsoft Azure to power Leaf and Infiniti telematics systems

Nissan announced, “All Nissan LEAF models and Infiniti models in Europe will have Connect Telematics Systems (CTS) powered by Microsoft Azure.”

Nissan Leaf Nissan

The company’s announcement added, “Nissan CTS is coupled to Azure, allowing a remote connection to the vehicle. With CTS, Nissan Leaf drivers can perform a range of functions on their car, while not even inside. These include using mobile phones to turn on and adjust climate controls and set charging functions remotely even when the vehicle is powered down.”

 Exciting or terrifying?

So whether you find this exciting, or quite frankly horrifying, Microsoft is moving toward its goal of being the “ultimate platform for all intelligent cars.” It remains to be seen if Microsoft can compete and overtake its rivals in the connected car arena. Besides the Harman, IAV, Nissan and Volvo announcements coming from CES, Microsoft said other automakers like Toyota, Ford, Qoros, Delphi have already been working with Microsoft to enhance their connected car strategies.

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