Volkswagen said Thursday it will use Microsoft’s cloud computing services to streamline its software development efforts for self-driving cars.
Volkswagen, owner of brands such as Audi and Porsche, is working on self-driving cars for the future as well as driver assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control in current vehicles. But the company’s brand had independently developed those features.
Microsoft and GM announced a similar agreement last month to develop GM’s Cruise self-driving vehicles.
Last year, Volkswagen consolidated some of those development efforts into a subsidiary called Car.Software for better coordination between creators, with each company handling its own work around the look and feel of the software, while collaborating on essential safety features such as detecting obstacles.
But the different companies within the group still used different systems to develop that software, and the deal announced Thursday will put them on a common cloud provider, Dirk Hilgenberg, CEO of Car.Software, told Reuters in an interview.
The Microsoft deal also makes it much easier to implement software updates to add new features to cars – a practice that set Tesla apart from many rivals early on.
Volkswagen signed a deal with Microsoft in 2018 to connect its cars to Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service. Thursday’s deal means that the software updates will be developed in the same cloud that will then send those updates to the cars.
“Over-the-air updates are paramount,” said Hilgenberg. “This functionality has to be there. If you cannot do it, you will lose ground.”
Specifically, the deal means that cars initially hitting the road with a few driver assistance systems could over time add new capabilities that bring them closer to autonomous driving, said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of cloud and artificial intelligence at Microsoft. .
“For our phones 15 or 20 years ago when you bought it, it almost never changed. Now every week or every few days we expected there would be quietly new features,” Guthrie told Reuters in an interview. “That ability to program the vehicle in richer, richer ways and in a safe way is changing the way the experience works.”