Microsoft is opening a new IoT & AI Insider Lab in Munich, Germany, next month, the software giant's third such lab. Other locations include Shenzhen, China, and the company's sprawling Redmond, Wash., headquarters.
The lab will serve as both a workshop and a conduit between local developers, entrepreneurs and companies in Europe and the Middle East that are pursuing opportunities in the growing markets for internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) products.
IoT and AI are two of today's hottest trends in technology.
In February, Gartner predicted that 8.4 billion IoT devices will be in use this year, a 31 percent year-over-year increase. By 2020, that figure is expected to surpass 20 billion devices. Last fall, IDC forecast that the worldwide market for AI and cognitive systems would balloon to $47 billion by 2020, up from an estimated $8 billion in 2016.
To help prepare local innovators for this IoT- and AI-enabled future, and forge new technology alliances in the process, Microsoft is making its product and research groups available to area developers.
"Companies of all sizes can work in the labs at no cost. They get access to Microsoft technology and its engineers' expertise in machine learning, AI and the cloud, all in one-stop shops," said the software giant in a March 20 announcement. "During stints that typically span from one to three weeks, visiting development teams learn how to refine their product architecture, unblock technical issues and build the skills to create a full-stack IoT solution."
In October 2016, Microsoft launched an IoT Innovation Center in Taiwan to tap into Asia's growing market for IoT technologies. The center links area startups, research institutes and partner companies, integrating various research and development projects and improving collaboration between parties. NEC and Trend Micro are among the technology partners involved in the effort.
Of course, Microsoft isn't the only IT heavyweight that's banking on the growth of the IoT and AI markets.
In October, IBM announced it was investing $200 million in its Watson IoT headquarters, also located in Munich. Some of the funds, part of a $3 billion pledge by the company to bring its Watson cognitive-computing technology to IoT, were earmarked for hands-on labs where customers and partners work with IBM engineers, researchers and developers to create new IoT business models and solutions.
"Germany is at the forefront of the Industry 4.0 initiative and by inviting our clients and partners to join us in Munich, we are opening up our talent and technologies to help deliver on the promise of IoT and establishing a global hotbed for collaborative innovation," said Harriet Green, global head of Watson IoT at IBM, in a statement at the time.
In 2015, Google acquired a stake in the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) for an undisclosed amount. The company joined several other companies, including Intel and Microsoft, with a stake in the AI research specialist.