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Microsoft, Baidu team up on self-driving technology

The two tech giants will drive the use of the Azure cloud computing service to power autonomous vehicle projects outside China

Microsoft and Chinese search giant Baidu are joining forces to spearhead the development of self-driving vehicles outside China through Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service.

Azure will be used by members of the Apollo alliance, which offers an open platform that supports major features and functions of an autonomous vehicle.

Led by Baidu, the Apollo alliance – named after the historic lunar landing programme to illustrate its scale and complexity – comprises cloud services, an open software stack, and reference hardware and vehicle platforms.

Apollo has roped in 50 partners so far, including navigation and mapping service provider TomTom, Bosch, Continental and Singapore-based ride-hailing service Grab.

“Today’s vehicles already have an impressive level of sophistication when it comes to their ability to capture data,” said Kevin Dallas, corporate vice-president of Microsoft.

“By applying our global cloud AI [artificial intellligence], machine learning and deep neural network capabilities to that data, we can accelerate the work already being done to make autonomous vehicles safer,” he said.

Baidu’s president Zhang Ya-Qin noted that Azure will enable Apollo partners outside of China to focus on innovating instead of building their own cloud-based infrastructure. Microsoft and Baidu will also explore opportunities to deliver connected vehicle systems.

Microsoft is already working with companies in the automotive industry to help manufacturers ingest data from connected vehicles and apply that data to deliver insights.

Companies such as BMW, Ford, Renault-Nissan, Toyota and Volvo are all using or have announced plans to adopt Microsoft’s cloud technology to help with services such as driver assist, predictive maintenance and voice-controlled media.

According to management consultancy McKinsey, up to 15% of new cars sold in 2030 will be fully autonomous.

Read more about self-driving vehicles

In anticipation of wider adoption of self-driving vehicles, some governments have started to address the regulatory issues surrounding the technology.

In the US, various state governments have enacted laws or are working on regulations that govern the use of self-driving vehicles, while countries such as Singapore have amended laws to facilitate autonomous vehicle trials.

In 2016, Singapore became the first in the world to debut an autonomous taxi service that serves a district in the southwestern part of the city-state. Nutonomy, the company behind the service, plans to roll out similar services in other Asian cities.

More recently in April 2017, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority inked an agreement with ST Kinetics to develop and test two 40-seater autonomous buses that can be deployed to serve fixed and scheduled services.

The buses will use the Global Positioning System and an array of sensors to scan and determine their location and immediate surroundings, including the ability to navigate in heavy rain and detect other vehicles and pedestrians up to 200 meters ahead.

While most autonomous vehicle technology developers are focusing on self-driving cars, Singapore sees a greater need for high-capacity vehicles to address peak-hour transportation demands in the land-scarce country.

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