Earlier Wednesday, Baidu announced it has signed on more than 50 partners for its self-driving car project, dubbed Apollo, including the Seattle-area software giant. The initiative, which now includes players in mapping, ride sharing, automaking, software and technology, is aimed at bringing artificial intelligence (AI)-powered vehicles to the market. The program is taking a page from Alphabet Inc.’s Google (GOOG) and its Android operating system for mobile phones by encouraging more companies to build products based on Baidu’s autonomous car software. Other partners working to bring self driving cars to the streets as soon as 2018 include Robert Bosch, Continental AG, TomTom and the Southeast Asian ride hailing company Grab. (See also: Self-Driving Vehicles Will Create ‘Passenger Economy’ Worth $7 Trillion: Study.)
Building Connected Cars
Like most technology companies, Microsoft is branching into new areas and sees AI as a way to change the way all sorts of things operate, including vehicles. With these self-driving cars requiring a lot of software, sensors and other technology, it’s not surprising that all of the technology powerhouses want a piece of the pie. (See also: GM Introduces Self-Driving Technology in Cadillac.)
In March, Microsoft took a different approach to autonomous cars, announcing it licensed a handful of patents to Toyota Motor Corp. When releasing details of the licensing pact, Erich Andersen, chief IP counsel at Microsoft’s Intellectual Property Group, said the company invests $11.4 billion each year in research and development and for more than 30 years has been developing technology for the connected car. As a result, it is in a position to license its connected car technology to Toyota, he said. Andersen said the patent agreement includes “broad coverage” for connected car technologies and builds on the existing relationship between the two.
The company is also focused on AI and last month invested via Microsoft Ventures in Element AI, the Canadian artificial intelligence startup that developed a platform to help companies of all sizes build AI into their businesses. It marks another instance where it recently backed a company focused on this new technology. In May it co-led a $7.6 million VC round of funding for Bonsai, the Berkeley, Calif.-based AI startup, and invested in Agolo, a New York City-based AI startup. Bonsai’s AI technology is designed to help manufacturing, retail, logistics and similar markets incorporate AI into their businesses. Agolo provides AI systems to some of the world’s biggest media companies to summarize their news on Facebook and via Amazon’s Alexa, it’s voice-activated personal assistant.