Toyota connects to the future

Investment in Kymeta Corp. promises access to disruptive satellite technology

Published: January 18, 2016, 11:40 AM
Updated: April 29, 2018, 10:27 AM

Toyota Kymeta Satellite Communication System

One of the most frequently used words in the auto industry these days is connectivity – “the ability to connect to or communicate with another computer or computer system” (Merriam Webster).

Toyota Motor Corporation has “connected” with Kymeta Corp., an emerging wireless technology firm, by making a $5-million (US) investment in the company. Why? The venture promises to revolutionize the way vehicles communicate.

Toyota Kymeta Satellite Communication System

In announcing the partnership at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Toyota used a Mirai fuel cell vehicle to display this futuristic system.

We all know about Toyota, the largest automobile company in the world, but whom or what is Kymeta Corp? The lead investor in Kymeta is no less than Bill Gates, who sits on the board of the Redman, Washington-based company. Not yet four years old, Kymeta has forged relationships with a number of major global companies in addition to Toyota, including Panasonic, Sharp, and Inmarsat satellite company         

Disruptive technology

Kymeta has been named by MIT as a 'Top 50 Most Disruptive' technology company, one that will revolutionize the satellite communication industry.

Toyota Kymeta Satellite Communication System

What makes Kymeta so special? It has developed the technology that enables a portable satellite broadband receiver, the size of a laptop, to retain a strong wireless signal from a satellite anywhere in the world – with no moving parts.

Conventional satellite communication relies on a bulky dish and the hardware necessary to continually move it in order to retain a signal from a satellite as the earth rotates.

The Kymeta antennae use liquid crystal technology and software to electronically acquire, steer and lock a beam on satellites with no moving parts and no need for pointing.

This proprietary system allows software-defined connectivity from not only fixed bases, but from moving vehicles, whether they be cars, trucks, boats or airplanes. The system will also allow people living in rural areas to receive programming from nearby cities.

Low profile

What is the importance to the auto industry, and Toyota in particular? The compact, innovative, software-enabled antennae system is light and low profile, which means it can be mounted practically anywhere on the vehicle without sticking into the airstream and harming aerodynamics.

Toyota Kymeta Satellite Communication System

But perhaps just as significant is that the Kymeta system is set to work with emerging high capacity satellites that offer much higher data transfer rates than the conventional ones currently in use.

Toyota says satellite communications offer a) the ability to distribute huge amounts of data to a vehicle, b) the global deployment of connected vehicles that share common standards across national borders, and 3) more stable and secure communications.

Toyota’s investment gives it exclusive rights for the development and testing of the on-car antennae. Since September 2013 the two have accumulated more than 12,000 kilometres of on-road testing with a Toyota 4Runner connected to satellites.

Massive amounts of data

Nathan Kundtz, founder and CEO of Kymeta says the system provides uninterrupted and inexpensive data delivery from space. It can download data at 50 megabytes per second and is expected to pass the one gigabit per second rate within a few years.

Toyota Kymeta Satellite Communication System

The 15-cm wide, six-sided antennas fit into receptacles on the roof and require only 10-watts of power. Want more bandwidth? Add more modules.

Sending software updates is likely to be the one of the system’s first applications. Down the road, it will allow in-car connectivity, including games and movies at a terabyte per month, the equivalent of 100 HD movies.

By today’s standards, that is a ridiculous amount of bandwidth. But with the coming autonomous vehicles and 3D terrain mapping GPS systems it will be needed.