Cruise, the San Francisco-based robotaxi developer backed by General Motors, is getting a financial and technological boost from Microsoft
to help it commercialize the autonomous ride service it’s developing.
The tech giant is leading a new $2 billion funding round for Cruise, which also includes backing from GM, Honda and institutional investors, and is making its cloud computing platform Azure available for the company’s developers. With the new investment round, Cruise estimates its valuation is now $30 billion.
“Advances in digital technology are redefining every aspect of our work and life, including how we move people and goods,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “As Cruise and GM’s
preferred cloud, we will apply the power of Azure to help them scale and make autonomous transportation mainstream.”
The new partnership with Microsoft strengthens Cruise’s push to get its autonomous electric Origin vans on the road as it vies with similarly well-funded competitors including Alphabet’s Waymo and Amazon’s
Zoox to create a viable service in urban markets. Still, the exact timing of when any of the companies will be able to launch large-scale commercial operations remains unclear.
“Our mission to bring safer, better and more affordable transportation to everyone isn’t just a tech race–it’s also a trust race,” said Cruise CEO Dan Ammann. “Microsoft, as the gold standard in the trustworthy democratization of technology, will be a force multiplier for us as we commercialize our fleet of self-driving, all-electric shared vehicles.”
Last month Cruise began testing vehicles in San Francisco without a safety driver behind the wheel for the first time, months after receiving a permit from California to do so. The company, cofounded by CTO Kyle Vogt, originally hoped to start operating commercial robotaxis, at least on a limited basis, by 2019, before conceding the technology wasn’t ready to do so.
“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,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra.
Waymo’s small-scale robotaxi service in suburban Phoenix is currently the main commercial autonomous vehicle program in the U.S., though the company doesn’t yet provide detailed ridership or revenue figures. Like Cruise, Zoox is also planning to operate robotaxis in San Francisco but hasn’t said how soon that will happen.
“Tech to do this is hard. It’s not just AI, but real-time, safety-critical AI,” Vogt tweeted on Tuesday. “Few companies can acquire or already possess the critical mass of talent, capital, tech and expertise to pull this off. . . . Even fewer (companies) will achieve escape velocity; most will end up being worth nothing. There will be little incentive to use any product that’s not one of the best.”
Microsoft’s previous forays into autonomous vehicle development include serving as the and providing its Azure technology for use by Apollo, the open-source software initiative
Separately, Cruise is sending self-driving test vehicles to Japan for testing with partner Honda. Longer-term, the Tokyo-based automaker said it plans to operate a ride service using Cruise’s battery-powered Origin van.
The collaboration “will enable the creation of new value for mobility and people’s daily lives,” Honda President Takahiro Hachigo.
Shares of General Motors, which said it’s also working with Microsoft on “digitization initiatives” including artificial intelligence and machine learning, rose almost 10% to $54.85 in New York trading.