Toyota Connected Launches, Developing Smart Car Tech in Plano

Company hiring 100 people for its Legacy West campus

Zack Hicks, CEO of Toyota Connected Inc.
Zack Hicks, CEO of Toyota Connected Inc.

Toyota drivers could soon be able make restaurant arrangements, conference into a meeting if traffic is backed up and even be able to keep tabs on their vitals all via the power of the cloud and connected-car software.

The developments are expected to come out of Toyota Connected Inc., a new company Toyota launched Monday. Toyota Connected is led by Zack Hicks, chief information officer of Toyota Motor North America who will serve as the CEO of the new group, and will occupy about 20,000 square feet at Legacy West in Plano. The company, which will function as a separate entity, will leverage its partnership with Microsoft to build new services and products using data analytics. It will report to Toyota Motors Co. in Japan.

“Toyota Connected will serve as a data science hub globally,” Hicks said. “Our focus is expanding capabilities in data management, data analytics and data services development.”

The company plans to hire about 100 positions, most of which will be data scientists and developers. It is partnering with the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Texas at Austin for recruiting efforts. It also plans to partner and work with local companies that work within the space, Hicks said.

The Toyota Connected team will be lead by three heavy hitters in Toyota’s technology efforts. Joining Hicks is Sandy Lobenstein, vice president of connected services and product planning, as well as Toyota North America’s CTO Ned Curic, who previously spent 13 years at Microsoft. Together, the three executives have more than 45 years of experience at Toyota.

“Part of what we’ve done is created a little bit of a dream team,” Lobenstein said. “Between the three of us, we hope to create a compelling strategy and products.”

The team is currently working out of a temporary space in at the campus formerly housing EDS. It expects to have access to its new Legacy West space in August and have the interior design completed by the end of the year.

The company plans to roll out new features that can be built into new vehicles as well as adopted by drivers already on the roads. With help from Microsoft, the company expects to develop software that will study driver habits and preferences, to be able to guide them to nearby places with a voice request. It could also book restaurant reservations, help navigate through traffic jams, notify others when the driver might be late and conference in to important phone calls.

But that’s just the beginning.

Long-term developments could include personal and group driving statistics, home connectivity, smart city integration and health data.

“Since you have your hands on the steering wheel, we can monitor your heartbeat,” Hicks said, adding that the seat serves as a built in weight scale. “In the future, we can monitor your respiration and glucose levels and securely send that to your doctor.”

Of course all of the connected car features that Toyota develops will be optional for drivers, allowing them to opt out if they’d rather not use any of that data.

Beyond the consumer benefits, Toyota also expected the new connected car initiative to save cost and improve efficiency within the larger organization. This means that the company will be able to leverage consumer data to understand driver preference trends. It will also support Toyota Research Institute in Silicon Valley with algorithms to support its self-driving car initiatives.

And finally, it will help the company identify maintenance issues so that crews can quickly fix a problem before it slows the manufacturing process.

“Really what we’re trying to show is that data analytics is not just about science,” Hicks said, “it’s about the art.”

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