Refresher: What’s Drivelink?
For Toyota or Lexus drivers, Safety Connect is probably something you’ve heard of. Safety Connect is the in-vehicle service that can connect customers with an agent in live-time when they face a roadside emergency or accident. It’s powered by the Drivelink telematics services platform. Drivelink is also the platform behind Destination Assist, which can help customers find their destinations, sending directions directly to a navigation system.
Those who have vehicles equipped with the newest Toyota Audio Multimedia or Lexus Interface infotainment systems are provided a Safety Connect trial subscription for up to 10 years in their select model year 2022 and later vehicles.
Test. And test again.
“A lot of testing is the first line of defense,” said Ashley Parks, senior Drivelink engineer. “Any code that goes in gets tested in an environment that's as close to production as possible. That infrastructure for that lower environment is set up to be as identical as it can be. And the load hitting it is also as identical as it can be to what production will see so that you can identify any problems before they make it to production.”
“Load,” in the case of what Parks is discussing, refers to the sheer volume of data the Drivelink platform receives. A call asking for directions is a packet of data. A call to or from an agent assisting a customer is a packet of data. But, there are also nonverbal packets of data – vehicle telemetry, for instance. That can include vehicle location, speed before a collision, and vehicle VIN to identify details about the vehicle.
When a connected vehicle senses it has been in a collision, it is designed to automatically connect customers with an agent, a first responder, or both simultaneously. If that agent doesn’t get ahold of a passenger, the agent can also contact first responders and explain the situation to emergency services in order to assist.
Many services, many servers
To handle all the incoming and outgoing packets of data, as well as the data being transferred through what could best be described as digital switchboards, each region around North America operates via multiple servers. This, in turn, adds another dimension of redundancy.
“Even if one server may go down, a few others will be accepting traffic as well. We have checks and balances, even within those data centers, within any given region,” said Nate Marshall, Drivelink managing engineer. “It’s simply redundancy upon redundancy upon redundancy.”
Where Toyota and the software world merge
“Toyota Connected is a separate company than the rest of Toyota,” said Marshall, “but it still has to adhere to the high level of quality the mothership stands for.”
Tech companies are often defined by moving fast, bringing an imperfect product to market, and then refining it over time. Philosophically, that runs at odds with the mission of a telematics platform, which ingests the information it receives to keep customers on the road with the assurance of a major automaker backing them.
As Marshall sees it, the goal isn’t to revolutionize a product where it could have real-world implications with customers. Rather, staging platforms and iterating in small, bite-sized improvements is where he sees Drivelink making its nearly constant improvements for speed, precision, and customer-centricity.
Parks added: “We’re really involved with Scrum and Agile. We take small increments of work and test them, so we don’t have bugs. Each is a tiny feature block, so if there’s something that’s broken in that block, it can be rolled back really quickly and easily and doesn’t affect a major release rollout.”
Scrum and Agile are software-oriented development methods that focus on bigger initiatives (stories), broken up into smaller initiatives (sprints) to ensure each smaller element ladders up into a strong, stable product. Elements of these design methods can exist in various industries – not just software.
Ahead of the curve because it needs to be
“We have really intelligent engineers, so why restrict them?” Marshall asked, rhetorically. “That’s why we have non-production environments – to give them the freedom to make everything just a little better.
“If it doesn’t work, let’s move onto the next thing that will.”
Marshall and Parks understand the real-world implications of their work. Drivelink recently recognized its 3 millionth call in North America. More than 55,000 of those calls were from automatic collision notifications. Further, more than 14,000 calls from the SOS button have required emergency responders, such as when someone in a Toyota or Lexus vehicle may see another perilous situation while driving.
Toyota Connected has dashboards throughout its office, notifying engineers of the time it takes for calls to go through, if any issues arise, and how much data is going through the servers at any given time.
“We spend a good amount of time making sure that we’re implementing cutting-edge technologies where they make sense, trying to be ahead of what our customers may need,” said Marshall. “That kaizen is part of our culture.”
Data charges may apply. See Owner’s Manual and https://www.toyota.com/connected-services/ or https://drivers.lexus.com/lexusdrivers/technology/interface. For Toyota and Lexus' connected services data collection, use, sharing and retention practices, please visit https://www.toyota.com/support/privacy-rights/ or https://www.lexus.com/privacy.