Toyota to run connected car hackathon in Israel

The car maker is among the first Japanese giants to tap into the Start-Up Nation; expert says it’s unlikely to be the last

In this March 31, 2010 file photo, the Toyota logo is seen on a car displayed at the New York International Auto Show in New York. (photo credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
In this March 31, 2010 file photo, the Toyota logo is seen on a car displayed at the New York International Auto Show in New York. (photo credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

A Toyota hackathon next month will be the first tech event put on by a large Japanese corporation in Israel, allowing programmers and entrepreneurs here to present ideas on improving car safety and performance, the company announced Sunday, looking for inspiration for a whole new kind of vehicle, the “connected car.”

Toyota’s ITC (InfoTechnology Center), an important R&D arm of the Japanese car giant, will host the event on October 23 and 24 in Tel Aviv. Israeli entrepreneurs, programmers, tinkerers, and hackers are invited to showcase concepts to enhance road safety, vehicle performance, and engineering improvements, with an emphasis on the use of Big Data.

Among the most important aspects of development for the company in the coming years, Toyota said, is the perfection of the connected car — a vehicle that uploads and downloads information to and from the cloud, enhancing safety and the driving experience. Participants will utilize Toyota’s WebAPI, which will supply data about trial connected vehicles the company already makes. Hopefully, Toyota said, “participants are going to hack and create new services.”

In its announcement, Toyota said that the WebAPI contains data from 100,000 Toyota vehicles. “We are expecting Israeli engineers to generate the new idea of vehicle data usage in this hackathon, and can contribute pleasure and social value to society through smartphone applications in the near future,” the company said.

The Toyota gathering may be the first — but probably not the last — tech event a large Japanese conglomerate holds in Israel, according to Kazunari Okada, director of the Japan Innovation Center (JIC), which tries to match Israeli start-ups with Japanese corporations. The Japanese have shied away from embracing the Start-Up Nation until now, due to political issues and cultural differences. While Intel, Samsung, Microsoft, Deutsche Telekom and all the other European and American giants have large research and development facilities in Israel — and while Chinese companies increasingly hook up with Israeli start-ups — Japan has been left behind, he said.

Increasingly, Okada said, Japanese conglomerates are realizing they are missing out. They are beginning to look to Israel as a source of entrepreneurial know-how. “We have a database of about 6,000 Israeli companies chosen for their compatibility with Japanese industries and businesses,” said Okada. “We have been introducing Japanese companies to these Israeli firms, and already some promising relationships have developed.

Okada, who is working with Japanese accelerator Samurai House to get the ITC event off the ground, is excited about the upcoming hackathon. “This could be the icebreaker,” he said. “If Toyota can do it, why not Honda, Mazda, and all the rest? Working together, Israel and Japan can do some amazing things, and I firmly believe that the relationship between both countries will soon grow significantly.”

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