Volkswagen to tap Azure for self-driving software updates

The German car giant is hoping to catch up with the likes of Tesla by extending its cloud partnership with Microsoft

A steering wheel and dashboard from a Volkswagen car

Volkswagen has extended its partnership with Microsoft to further boost the development of its self-driving car software.

The German automotive giant will use Azure services to update the software in its vehicles, as a way of gradually building up automated functions over time.

Volkswagen has developed some driver-assistance features in its current models, such as cruise control, through its software subsidiary Car.Software. However, the new deal with Microsoft is about tapping into the tech giant's expertise with software updates.

With Volkswagen and Car.Software building the initial layer of software in its cars, it is hoped that Microsoft will be able to add more and more automated functions, in a way similar to the smartphone industry's approach of adapting new features for older hardware.

"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," Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of cloud and artificial intelligence at Microsoft, told Reuters. "That ability to start to program the vehicle in richer and richer ways, and in a safe way, transforms how the experience works."

This technique is already used by Tesla and is thought to be one of the main reasons why it was able to take the lead in the industry.

Volkswagen originally signed a deal with Microsoft in 2018 to connect its cars to Azure services, but the new agreement could help the German giant catchup to the likes of Telsa with 'over-the-air updates' using the industry's second-largest cloud infrastructure provider.

"As we transform Volkswagen Group into a digital mobility provider, we are looking to continuously increase the efficiency of our software development," said Dirk Hilgenberg, CEO of the Car.Software Organisation.

"We are building the Automated Driving Platform with Microsoft to simplify our developers' work through one scalable and data-based engineering environment. By combining our comprehensive expertise in the development of connected driving solutions with Microsoft's cloud and software engineering know-how, we will accelerate the delivery of safe and comfortable mobility services."

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