The pursuit of autonomous cars has brought auto manufacturers and tech companies closer together than ever. Microsoft and General Motors, strange bedfellows though they might’ve been a decade or two ago, are now partnering to put Cruise’s robotaxis on the road.
On Tuesday, Microsoft announced a contribution to a $2 billion investment round that also included funding from GM and Honda, placing Cruise’s total valuation at $30 billion. GM acquired Cruise in 2016; since then, the self-driving research startup has grown from 40 employees to almost 2,000, according to the Financial Times.
Microsoft’s involvement gives Cruise a cloud computing backbone to grow, and grow faster; in turn, Cruise gives Microsoft inroads into the whole autonomous car thing, which is fast becoming the domain of the companies that already make your smartphones and much of the TV you love to stream. From Microsoft and GM’s joint press release announcing the news:
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 to enhance its customer-driven product innovation and serve transportation companies across the globe through continued investment in Azure.
As we learned last week, GM has many EVs coming, along with interesting new initiatives like BrightDrop, dealing just as much in logistics and software-based fleet management as electric car manufacturing. Again, this is where Microsoft comes in, as GM CEO Mary Barra explains:
“Microsoft is a great addition to the team as we drive toward a future world of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “Microsoft will help us accelerate the commercialization of Cruise’s all-electric, self-driving vehicles and help GM realize even more benefits from cloud computing as we launch 30 new electric vehicles globally by 2025 and create new businesses and services to drive growth.”
About a year ago, Cruise unveiled the Origin — its pitch for the autonomous shuttle bus that looks, well, like a lot of autonomous shuttle buses probably will, in that it’s a rounded box with lots of glass and big wheels pushed out to the corners to maximize interior volume. It’s certainly more conventional-looking than Zoox’s design, but frankly, I don’t care what my faceless, soulless chariot of the future looks like — just that it gets me where I’m going relatively efficiently without killing me or anyone else.
Cruise has been testing vehicles for five years, in the form of modified Chevrolet Bolts. Over that time, those Bolts have racked up 2 million miles of testing in the company’s home city of San Francisco, in addition to earlier testing at GM’s proving grounds in Michigan.
Until late last year, those trips were taken with a driver at the ready, though Cruise is now supposedly testing fully driverless cars. Unlike Waymo, it doesn’t appear to be ferrying passengers around quite yet, as Google’s self-driving startup recently started doing in the Phoenix metro area. It could still be a little while before Bay Area residents have the opportunity to ride in an Origin, though Microsoft joining the effort may very well expedite things.