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Grab signs up for Azure, nabs investment from Microsoft

Ride-hailing, delivery and mobile payments firm will use slew of Azure services to improve operations and customer experience

Southeast Asian ride-hailing and delivery juggernaut Grab will adopt Azure as its preferred cloud platform in a five-year agreement with Microsoft to enhance its services through greater use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

Tapping into Microsoft’s cloud and AI capabilities, Grab will explore the use of facial recognition to authenticate drivers and riders, data analytics to detect fraud, and natural language processing to deliver real-time translations that could be handy for tourists, among other technology projects.

Grab also plans to work with Microsoft to explore image recognition and computer vision technologies to improve the user and driver pickup experience. For example, passengers will be able to take a photo of their current location and have it translated into an actual address for the driver.

Microsoft Azure’s machine learning and AI capabilities will also be used to power Grab’s recommendation engine that analyses user data and behaviour to provide personalised services and content recommendations through the Grab app.

Under the agreement, Microsoft will also invest an undisclosed sum in Grab, which provides ride-hailing, food and package delivery, as well as financial and payment services in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.

“This partnership signals a deep collaboration with Microsoft on an array of technology projects, including big data and artificial intelligence, that will transform the delivery of everyday services and mobility solutions in Southeast Asia,” said Ming Maa, president of Grab.

“As a global technology leader, Microsoft’s investment into Grab highlights our position as the leading home-grown technology player in the region. We look forward to collaborating with Microsoft in the pursuit of enhancing on-demand transportation and seamless online-to-offline experiences for users.”

Read more about AI in ASEAN

The cloud has been critical to Grab’s ability to scale and manage its operations, having been using Amazon Web Services’ Redshift and ElastiCache services to analyse data and data streams in real time, so it can point drivers to locations with higher demand for rides.

Grab’s partnership with Microsoft comes at a time when it is facing criticism over changes that customers and drivers have perceived as heavy-handed and arrogant, following its acquisition of Uber’s business in Southeast Asia, according to a new report by consulting and analyst firm Forrester.

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