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Volkswagen to Partner With Microsoft to Build a Cloud-based Autonomous Driving Platform

Volkswagen to Partner With Microsoft to Build a Cloud-based Autonomous Driving Platform

Author: Eric Walz   

German automaker Volkswagen announced on Thursday that it will use Microsoft's Azure cloud computing services to help the automaker streamline the development of software for advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving. 

The partnership is the latest example of an automaker partnering with a tech company to accelerate the development of self-driving technology and other advanced vehicle features.

Volkswagen is already working on self-driving cars and ADAS features such as adaptive cruise control. But the company's brands, including Porsche and Audi, have been developing the software that supports these features independently. Now the company is looking to consolidate these efforts in a cloud-based development environment.

Last year, Volkswagen consolidated some of its software development into a new subsidiary called "Car.Software" to help its development teams to better collaborate. However, the automaker was still using different internal systems to develop that software for vehicles.

The cloud computing infrastructure built by Microsoft will help Volkswagen consolidate all of its software development work. It will also help the automaker develop new software more efficiently, allowing the automaker to test and deploy it more quickly.

With its collaboration, Volkswagen's Car.Software unit and Microsoft are building an automated driving platform for the agile development of automated driving functions. Now all of these efforts will be migrated to a common cloud provider, Dirk Hilgenberg, chief executive of Car.Software, said to Reuters in an interview.

Volkswagen launched Car.Software in Jan 2020 as an independent unit responsible for developing the code for its future vehicles. The new unit employs around 3,000 people with a budget of more than 7 billion euros ($7.8 billion). 

By 2025, the automaker is aiming to have more than 10,000 software experts working on the OS for its vehicles with the goal of developing a bigger percentage of it in-house. These efforts will be supported by Microsoft's Azure cloud platform.

"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 developers' work through one scalable and data-based engineering environment," said Hilgenberg.

The partnership with Microsoft will also help Volkswagen to build vehicle that support over the air (OTA) software updates, a technology pioneered by Tesla that's now being used by other automakers such as Ford Motor Co. Microsoft's robust cloud platform will make it easier for Volkswagen to push OTA updates to its vehicles. 

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Volkswagen's collaboration with Microsoft began in 2018, when the company inked a deal with Microsoft to connect its cars to Microsoft's Azure cloud computing service. The latest partnership however means that the software updates will be developed and pushed to vehicles using a single cloud platform.

"Over-the-air updates are paramount," Hilgenberg said. "This functionality needs to be there. If you can't do it, you will lose ground."

Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of cloud and artificial intelligence at Microsoft  said the deal means that Volkswagen will be able to add new features over time, including software that supports higher levels of autonomous driving capability.

"For our phones 15 or 20 years ago, when you bought it, it pretty much never changed. Now, we expected every week or every couple of days that, silently, there's new features," Guthrie told Reuters in an interview. "That ability to start to program the vehicle in richer and richer ways, and in a safe way, transforms how the experience works."

Building new ADAS, automated driving and connectivity features for vehicles requires large-scale computational capabilities which Microsoft provides. For example, running machine learning algorithms that learn from billions of real and simulated miles generates petabytes of data that needs to be processed in the cloud and sent to and from the vehicle in real time.

Car.Software will address these challenges together with Microsoft by simplifying the developer experience and leveraging the "learnings from miles driven" through a single database that includes real-time traffic data from the Group's vehicles as well as simulation data. 

Volkswagen said its cloud-based Automated Driving Platform will help reduce the development cycles from months to weeks and efficiently manage the huge amounts of data.

The companies will start working on the Automated Driving Platform immediately and plan to continuously expand the functional scope of the development platform.

The first cloud connected VW test fleets are expected to be deployed in 2021. The rollout for consumer vehicles is planned for 2022. 

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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