Microsoft to help Baidu’s ‘Android of autonomous cars’ go global

We already knew Microsoft Azure Cloud was a member of Baidu’s Apollo self-driving platform alliance, but now Microsoft has revealed more details about what it will be providing the cross-industry partnership. Basically, Microsoft will be offering cloud infrastructure services via Azure for customers in markets outside of China looking to adopt Apollo, which Baidu has described as an open, “Android of the autonomous driving industry.”

Apollo, which Baidu knowingly named after the original lunar landing program because it sees a similar scale of cross-industry cooperation required to bring autonomous driving to market, is meant to offer cloud services, open software, and reference vehicle, sensor and computing hardware. The alliance includes a number of top industry players, including mapping company TomTom, Bosh, Continental, Nvidia, and Uber competitor Grab, in addition to Microsoft.

Microsoft has also been aggressive in nailing down partnerships in the growing autonomous and automotive cloud services space – it’s working with BMW, Ford, Renault-Nissan, Toyota and Volvo on a range of different projects, and its work with Baidu and Apollo could add a host of new OEM partners to that list, depending on uptake.

Apollo is intended to be released to developers and automakers via staged releases, including access to self-driving tech for circumscribed, restricted areas by month’s end. Baidu has said that it hopes to deploy a platform that can fully handle autonomous driving in both urban and highway settings by the end of 2020, which is a very ambitious target for the nascent project, but in line with stated expectations about self-driving commercial launches from leading automakers.