Microsoft is teaming up with a Chinese rival to power self-driving cars

Key Points
  • Microsoft will provide cloud services to companies using Baidu's self-driving platform outside China
  • The project, named Apollo, has signed on 50 partners to build and improve the platform
  • A McKinsey report predicted 15 percent of new cars sold in 2030 could be fully autonomous
Baidu driverless cars in test run during the 3rd World Internet Conference (WIC) on November 17, 2016 in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province of China.
VCG | Getty Images

Microsoft is throwing the weight of its Azure cloud infrastructure behind Baidu's open source autonomous driving project, Apollo, the companies announced Tuesday.

Baidu first revealed details about the initiative, named after the historic lunar landing program, in April: It is an open platform that provides cloud infrastructure, open software stack and other services that are able to support major features and functions of an autonomous car.

Companies using the Apollo platform for their self-driving vehicle projects can use Microsoft's Azure cloud services to securely scale outside China.

"Today's vehicles already have an impressive level of sophistication when it comes to their ability to capture data," Kevin Dallas, corporate vice president at Microsoft, said in a prepared statement.

He added, "By applying our global cloud AI, machine learning, and deep neural network capabilities to that data, we can accelerate the work already being done to make autonomous vehicles safer."

The autonomous vehicle space has been growing in recent years, with traditional automakers and prominent tech names working on various projects. Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google parent Alphabet, is considered one of the leading players in this space, ahead of names like Ford, Nissan and Tesla.

Last year, consulting firm McKinsey & Company said in a report that up to 15 percent of new cars sold in 2030 could potentially be fully autonomous.

Earlier this month, Baidu said more than 50 groups have signed on to build and improve the Apollo platform, including top Chinese car makers Chery Auto, Great Wall Motors and Changan Automobile. Other notable stakeholders include ride-sharing company Grab, global navigation and mapping service provider TomTom, suppliers Bosch and Continental as well as Ford and Intel.