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VW Group and Microsoft join forces to build autonomous cars

by Graham Hope
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As the car maker transforms into a “digital mobility provider”

The Volkswagen Group is teaming up with Microsoft to accelerate the development of autonomous driving systems.

The move signals an extension of the pair’s 2018 partnership, which saw the companies working together on services for connected cars.

Under the new arrangement, the VW Group’s Car.Software Organization will use the Microsoft Azure cloud service to develop its Automated Driving Platform, hoping to deliver reliable self-driving tech quicker and on a global scale.

The division will focus on advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving, with the likelihood that the tech will be rolled out across most of the group’s brands – a significant step given that last year, the VW Group sold more cars across the world than any other car company.

Cars for people, software for cars

At present, the VW Group portfolio includes Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT, Skoda, Bentley, Porsche, Lamborghini, and Bugatti. Like many other car makers, the group is eyeing a share of the emerging urban mobility market, where ride sharing, robo-taxis and short term rentals may all have a significant role to play – so advancing its autonomous capabilities is of paramount importance.

This requires a mountain of data to be processed: road conditions, weather, obstacle detection and driver behavior all have to be taken into account for the simulation and validation of autonomous driving features.

Microsoft is expected to contribute its expertise in this area, with the VW Group hoping that the newly created Autonomous Driving Platform will help reduce the development cycles for such features from weeks to days.

Dirk Hilgenberg, CEO of the Car.Software Organization, said: “As we transform Volkswagen Group into a digital mobility provider, we are looking to continuously increase the efficiency of our software development.

“We are building the Automated Driving Platform with Microsoft to simplify our designers’ work through one scalable and data-based engineering environment.

“By combining our comprehensive expertise in the development of connected driving solution with Microsoft’s cloud and software engineering know-how, we can accelerate the delivery of safe and comfortable mobility services.”

The first fruits of the VW Group's previous collaboration with Microsoft – namely the Volkswagen Automotive Cloud – will be tested on the roads later this year. If successful, the software could be available in the production version of the all-electric VW ID.4 from next year.

It is becoming increasingly common for car manufacturers to partner with major cloud and AI companies to further their tech agenda. Microsoft is already working with General Motors, while Google has recently paired up with Ford.

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