Microsoft Cloud Joins Baidu's Apollo Autonomous Driving Program

The companies will use Microsoft's cloud to extend Baidu's autonomous driving technology platform beyond China.

connected car

Microsoft's cloud will soon be casting its shadow over self-driving cars powered by Baidu's Project Apollo.

The Redmond, Wash., software giant announced today that it is partnering with Chinese internet giant Baidu to help make the Apollo autonomous driving platform safer and available outside of China. In April, Baidu officially launched Apollo, using its artificial intelligence (AI) technologies as a foundation for other companies to collaborate on self-driving vehicles and related technologies.

Since then, Baidu has been quickly inking self-driving deals. Automotive supplier Bosch has pledged to support Project Apollo, named after the historic manned lunar landing mission. Separately, auto component maker Continental formed a strategic partnership with Baidu to advance and commercialize autonomous driving solutions.

Now, eyeing opportunities beyond China, Baidu announced that Apollo will soon tap Microsoft's globe-spanning Azure cloud.

"We're excited to partner with Baidu to take a giant step in helping automotive manufacturers and suppliers fully realize the promise of autonomous driving," said Microsoft Corporate Vice President Kevin Dallas, in a July 18 announcement. "Today's vehicles already have an impressive level of sophistication when it comes to their ability to capture data. By applying our global cloud AI, machine learning, and deep neural network capabilities to that data, we can accelerate the work already being done to make autonomous vehicles safer."

When it comes to connected cars, it's not Microsoft's first spin around the block.

During this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the company unveiled its new Connected Vehicle Platform, which combines the company's Cortana virtual assistant technology and other Azure cloud services to deliver personalized driving directions, predictive maintenance recommendations and in-car productivity services. Microsoft's Connected Vehicle Platform may first appear in future Nissans, although comments from company executives indicate that it will operate behind the scenes and not appear as a branded product like the Sync by Microsoft infotainment systems offered in past Ford vehicles. (Ford Sync now runs on BlackBerry's QNX operating system.)

Last week, Microsoft announced that certain Skype for Business functionality will be available to owners of BMW's latest 5 series cars. While on the road, drivers will be able to place and take calls made on the enterprise communications platform and virtually attend Skype meetings.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's rivals won't be found idling in park.

Last month, Google made a case for its Cloud IoT Core technology as a platform for analyzing the flood of data produced sensor-laden vehicles and a springboard for new intelligent services. Today's cars can generate up to 560GB of data each day, according to Charles Baer, a Google solution architect, which Cloud IoT Core can help make quick work of for automotive tech companies.

Also in June, IBM announced it had partnered with BMW to extend Watson's reach into the connected car market. Using the IBM's new CarData service, which collects and analyzes data using Watson cognitive computing technologies, the companies hope to usher in an ecosystem of third-party technology solutions that enrich the driving and vehicle-ownership experience.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...