Microsoft is teaming up with its Chinese frenemy to do for cars what Android did for phones – Business Insider


baidu self driving car apollo
One
of Baidu’s Apollo-powered self-driving cars hits the test
track.

Baidu

Microsoft on Tuesday announced an expanded partnership with its
long-time rival, the Chinese search giant Baidu, to help push
self-driving cars into the mainstream.

Notably, while Microsoft has long worked with auto manufacturers
to build software for internet-connected cars, this is the
company’s first push into self-driving vehicles,
specifically. 

Earlier in July,
Baidu unveiled Apollo
, an open-source operating system for
self-driving cars that any car company can use for free. At the
time, Baidu announced that Nvidia, Ford, Intel, and Microsoft,
among others, had signed up to contribute to the Apollo project,
and maybe use it in their own vehicles.

It’s a similar model as Google’s Android, but for cars. The idea
is that by working together, self-driving cars will get safer,
faster. 

“The purpose is very clear: We want to promote openness and
accelerate innovation,” Baidu President Ya-Qin Zhang tells
Business Insider. 

The thing, though, is that crunching the data produced by the
Apollo operating system requires a whole lot of processing power.
Within China, Baidu has that much processing power and more.
Outside the country’s borders, though, it doesn’t have much of a
presence — not ideal if you want Apollo to become adopted
globally.


baidu president ya-qin zhang
Baidu President Ya-Qin
Zhang

Baidu

If Apollo is going to beat competitors like
Uber
and
Alphabet’s Waymo
to rule self-driving cars, it needs to go
bigger.

That’s why Baidu tapped Microsoft, says Zhang. The
Microsoft Azure cloud computing service
has the computing
horsepower to handle that heavy computational load, plus it’s
available in more countries than its rivals at Google and Amazon.
By using Azure, Baidu and its partners can make Apollo available
almost anywhere in the world, says Zhang.

The other side

On the Microsoft side, this partnership with a competitor

reflects its current stance on the automotive industry.

Microsoft isn’t making a self-driving car of its own; while it
does have the AI know-how and partnerships with companies like
Volvo, it
doesn’t have a self-driving car operating system like Apollo
.

“We’re not in a position to deliver [self-driving cars]
end-to-end,” Microsoft corporate VP Kevin Dallas tells Business
Insider.

Instead, Microsoft’s current philosophy on the auto industry is
centered around building tools for car companies to do with as
they will, from data analysis to providing the Cortana digital
assistant in the dashboard. In this case, that means helping make
Apollo friendlier and more usable for manufacturers.


microsoft kevin dallas
Microsoft corporate VP
Kevin Dallas

Microsoft

“Ultimately, that’s what this is all about,” says Dallas.

The endgame here, says Zhang, is for Apollo to spread out and
accumulate the collective knowledge of every car company that
chooses to use it. With that much data coming in, Zhang says,
self-driving cars will get smarter, faster, facilitating their
spread across the globe. 

“It’s going to completely transform the auto industry,” says
Zhang.

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