Cloud technology is rapidly transforming many fields, from healthcare to transportation. One of the key applications of cloud technology is with autonomous vehicles. The cloud has already been used for vehicle interfaces, most notably the Tesla Model S, which has a digital interface that permits real-time data transfer and the ability to fix issues on the fly remotely.
Data that comes from a vehicle’s sensors and other smart devices can be processed in the cloud as a means of improving the safety and efficiency of vehicles, especially those that are operated autonomously. While this may seem like technology of the future, it is actually becoming reality quite quickly.
In all likelihood, cloud computing will prove the key component in making autonomous vehicles possible. It will facilitate real-time communication with other vehicles and various devices. Moreover, the amount of data that these vehicles will collect and process is massive and only the cloud can provide this amount of secure storage.
This data will make remote maintenance checks possible and even alert drivers to issues before they become apparent. Communication between vehicles will help keep the roads safer by protecting against collisions and could even make travel more efficient. If vehicles are able to share data in real time about road conditions, vehicles can reroute themselves to avoid hazards and congestion.
Volkswagen Teams with Microsoft for Cloud Computing
In early February, 2021, Volkswagen Group announced a new partnership with Microsoft to use the latter’s cloud computing services in the development of software for autonomous vehicles. Volkswagen has focused heavily on developing the technology necessary for self-driving cars, including collision avoidance systems, emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control.
In 2020, the company established Car.Software, a subsidiary to develop these technologies that can then be applied to all the brands under the Volkswagen umbrella, including both Porsche and Audi. The Microsoft partnership will make it possible to build an automated driving platform that is a scalable solution for all these brands.
Notably, Volkswagen is using Tesla as a guide for how to implement this software most successfully. Tesla has long touted cloud-based software updates as a differentiating factor in its vehicles. Volkswagen plans to enable the same technology in collaboration with Microsoft.
Cloud-based updates are crucial for autonomous vehicles so that problems can be addressed immediately, not just when the driver happens to be connected to a network. Volkswagen has acknowledged that this sort of live exchange is essential for autonomous technologies to work.
Notably, Volkswagen already has an agreement to use the Microsoft Azure cloud computing service, which was signed back in 2018. The new partnership will help Volkswagen develop technologies to take full advantage of this cloud more quickly.
We may see cloud-connected Volkswagen vehicles on the road in the very near future. The company plans to release the first models this year with a full rollout next year. While these vehicles will not likely be fully autonomous, they are important stepping stones for the commercialization of such options.
Other Vehicle Manufacturers Investing in Cloud Computing
Volkswagen is not alone in its effort to connect vehicles via the cloud. In January, Microsoft backed the General Motors driverless car unit Cruise with an investment of $2 billion. This funding is part of a long-term strategic relationship between the two companies to accelerate the development and commercialization of autonomous vehicles.
Honda and General Motors itself have also been major investors in Cruise, which currently has a valuation of $30 billion. Cruise is also using Microsoft’s Azure solution to enable the key features of autonomous vehicles.
General Motors plans to release 30 new electric vehicles globally by 2025, and autonomous features may become much more prominent in these options. The company announced that it will invest $27 billion in the development of electric and autonomous vehicles in the next four years.
Ford has teamed with Google to run its information and entertainment systems on the Android Auto cloud system by 2023. While partnership has not officially been geared toward the development of autonomous vehicles, it certainly creates a framework for Ford to move in the direction in the future.
For its part, Google has its own investment in driverless vehicles through Waymo. While Waymo only got its first external investment last March, the company has already begun testing driverless vehicle technology in California.
The tech industry has been embracing autonomous vehicles at a faster rate with many of the major players now putting their hat in the ring. For example, Amazon acquired the autonomous vehicle developer Zoox in June of last year. Uber also sold its self-driving vehicle company to Aurora Technology, which is backed by Amazon, at the end of 2020.
AutoX, which is backed by Alibaba, has already rolled out driverless taxis in China, and the rideshare platform Didi received a $500 million investment from SoftBank to develop autonomous technology last spring. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how these different companies adopt, adapt, and integrate cloud technologies with their respective products.