Honda Motor Co. said Wednesday it will collaborate with General Motors Co. and its unit Cruise LLC on launching a service using self-driving vehicles in Japan and start feasibility tests later this year. Automakers are scrambling to develop next-generation autonomous vehicles, with IT firms also joining the race. Honda and major U.S. carmaker GM agreed in 2018 to join hands in developing self-driving vehicles. Honda said it plans to start a mobility business using the Cruise Origin, a self-driving vehicle being developed by the three companies, with an eye to offering new transportation solutions in potential collaboration with local governments in Japan. "Through active collaboration with partners who share the same interests and aspirations, Honda will continue to accelerate the realization of our autonomous vehicle MaaS business in Japan," Honda President Takahiro Hachigo said in a statement, referring to its mobility service.
Self-driving car startup Cruise has received more than $2 billion in a new round of investment from Microsoft, General Motors, Honda, and institutional investors, according to a joint statement by Cruise, its owner GM, and Microsoft on Tuesday. The investment will bring the valuation of Cruise to $30 billion and make Microsoft an official partner. Per Tuesday's announcement: "To unlock the potential of cloud computing for self-driving vehicles, Cruise will leverage Azure, Microsoft's cloud and edge computing platform, to commercialize its unique autonomous vehicle solutions at scale. Microsoft, as Cruise's preferred cloud provider, will also tap into Cruise's deep industry expertise [emphasis mine] to enhance its customer-driven product innovation and serve transportation companies across the globe [emphasis mine] through continued investment in Azure." So, Cruise will get the much-needed funds to conduct research and (possibly discounted) access to Microsoft's cloud computing resources and move closer toward its goal of launching a purpose-built self-driving car.
Microsoft is investing in General Motors' self-driving subsidiary Cruise. In return, Cruise and GM are touting Azure as their "preferred" (though not exclusive) cloud vendor. According to the January 19 press release about the deal, Cruise will use Azure for its autonomous vehicle solutions. GM will work with Microsoft on collaboration, storage, AI and machine learning, as well as on digital-supply chain, productivity and mobility services. And Microsoft will join GM, Honda and institutional investors in a combined, new equity investment of more than $2 billion in Cruise.
Kicking off a new year is always a great opportunity to look back at what transpired over the last 12 months. We passed along the top robotics stories and most-funded robotics companies of 2018. Now it is time to look ahead at what to watch in 2019. Stay tuned for trends and startup companies to track, but 2019 is also a pivotal year for major companies working in robotics, too. Below, in alphabetical order, are major companies in the robotics space to watch in 2019.
Volkswagen Group is enlisting Microsoft's help to speed up the development of autonomous driving systems, the company announced. It has already worked for several years with Microsoft on cloud computing for connected cars, but now it will expand that to autonomous driving. The idea is that Volkswagen will combine its expertise in self-driving systems with Microsoft's Azure cloud computing to create what it calls the Automated Driving Platform (ADP). Like other automakers, VW has big plans to branch into digital mobility for ride-sharing, micro-mobility, short-term rentals and more. To make that happen, it needs to develop both connected car and autonomous driving tech.