Toyota Senior Managing Officer Shigeki Tomoyama (2016 Detroit Auto Show)

2016 Detroit Auto Show: ‘Isn’t it interesting?’ says Senior Managing Officer Tomoyama about Toyota’s satellite communication technology

Toyota conducted a presentation of a technology that performs satellite communication from car with the use of a planar antenna, manufactured by the American company Kymeta at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show on January 12 (North American time). Toyota Senior Managing Officer Shigeki Tomoyama was present during this event. As the in charge of Toyota’s initiative “connecting technology,” he made this speech.

“We are currently researching. We still don’t know when this technology will be launched, and how much would it cost.” He said it was still too early to talk about its implementation, even. “We have been conducting this development together with Kymeta since 2013. We felt the convenience of satellite communication, thus we looked for innovative companies who could collaborate with us. Then, we found Kymeta.”

By connecting to a satellite, vehicles anywhere in the world can communicate. “It is possible to handle huge data through satellite communication. For example, when a high precision map data is necessary for autonomous driving, it can be easily acquired from anywhere in the world,” he expressed, regarding the efficiency of the technology even in autonomous driving.

However, it is said that this current development of satellite communication technology doesn’t have anything to do with autonomous driving. “We have just started the development of this satellite communication technology. It is different from autonomous driving as we will be applying it on real existing products,” he said, considering the possibility of its assistance to future autonomous driving technology.

“The antenna will be an LCD, and its directionality can be managed through a software. This technology is important as it can always move forward to the direction of satellite,” he explained about Kymeta’s technology. “There are many things to consider, such as improving it in terms of weight, low costing, and durability, but we have already mounted this technology in the 4Runner, and we have been conducting tests for it at approximately 100,000km range.”

Tomoyama said that this satellite communications technology does not intend to replace the existing communication technology. “It would probably be for a hybrid vehicle. I think it can be used for both communications within the region and communications all over the world. Nevertheless, there are still areas that have not been covered by satellite communication. There are many things that we have not yet employed, so it would be a very fascinating technology as it enables to transmit data around the world at once from Toyota’s ground antenna, among others,” he stated, highlighting its practicality.

Since the satellite communication can perform interactively (as a two-way transceiver), the construction of bigger data can be made possible. “We still do not know what kind of data we will be gathering, but Toyota will establish a big data center for that. As we gather big data, we want to use them to contribute to the society and to incite a higher level of autonomous driving technology. In that case, even though we cannot distribute the software all over the world, the great thing about satellite communication is that it enables us to transmit data all over the world at once.”

It is said that they are still considering other advantages of satellite communication. “For example, when natural disasters occur, communications cannot be utilized when ground antennas get destroyed. However, since satellite antennas won’t be affected, we think it’s a great option for vehicle communication technology,” he said, regarding the possibility of it serving as an aid or significant tool in times of crisis.

The satellite communications won’t be commercialized anytime soon for now, and it is said that they are still thinking about further details to apply. Nevertheless, Tomoyama uttered, smiling, “Isn’t it interesting?” Nobody still knows exactly what this technology would be able to do; its possibilities are limitless.

(Translated by Claire Marie Sausora)