Microsoft Parks Its Cloud Over the Connected Car

At CES 2016, the software giant and its automotive partners are demonstrating how Azure, Office 365 and Windows 10 can enable safer and more productive commutes.

Microoft Office 365, Azure, Windows 10

Microsoft's response to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is coming into sharper focus during CES 2016 in Las Vegas this week.

Microsoft is enlisting its growing Azure cloud computing ecosystem to provide automakers with new on-the-go productivity and safety-enhancing features, according to a Dec. 5 announcement by Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of business development for Microsoft. Those efforts include teaming with Harman, a maker of car infotainment systems, to sprinkle some cloud-enabled, Office 365-based productivity on the morning commute.

"Drivers will be able to access Office 365 services and interact with them through intelligent personal assistant software to schedule meetings, hear and respond to important emails, and make Skype calls when in park, or when on the road in autonomous vehicles," stated Johnson. In Europe, Microsoft Azure will power Nissan's Connect Telematics Systems (CTS) in its Leaf electric cars and all Infiniti models. The partnership will enable users to access car functions, like charging and climate controls, remotely.

Volvo and Microsoft are exploring how wearables can factor into the connected car experience. Using the Band 2 fitness band, a Windows 10 phone and the Volvo on Call app, "a Volvo owner can press and hold the action button and say, 'Volvo, start the heater of my car,' among many other options," Johnson said. Band 2 voice controls will be available in select markets in the spring.

With IAV, a German automotive technology supplier, Microsoft will challenge Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are gaining ground in auto industry. Earlier this week, Ford announced it was adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to its Sync infotainment systems.

"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," Johnson said. During CES, the companies are also demonstrating "how to use Cortana Analytics and data from a vehicle's surroundings to improve safety by anticipating and mitigating potential vehicle and pedestrian accidents," she added.

Naturally, data security and privacy are major considerations when implementing any sort of connected car technology.

"We're able to strike the right balance between using data to create both intelligent and personal experiences, while helping maintain privacy and security," said Johnson of her company's focus on creating and maintaining secure cloud services. Microsoft is also "able to develop and deploy secure platforms and infrastructure to enable innovation on top of existing systems," she claimed.

After last year's headline-grabbing Jeep hack, parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) recalled 1.4 million vehicles. Security researchers were able to exploit a vulnerability in FCA's Uconnect infotainment system and demonstrated how attackers could affect or disable critical functions, including a car's brakes.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...