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Microsoft’s Cloud To Help Baidu Power Self-Driving Car Project

Microsoft and Baidu have signed a deal under which Microsoft’s cloud-computing network will power the Chinese search giant’s autonomous driving project outside of that country’s borders.

Baidu earlier this month said Microsoft was among the more than 50 companies pitching in on its open-source Apollo driverless-car program, a bid to jump-start its autonomous-driving program.

Microsoft has taken a back seat in the highly competitive race to develop self-driving cars. Instead of building its own platform to wire the brains of cars or help them see the world around them, the Redmond company has offered its Azure network of on-demand data storage and computing power for other companies to use.

That neutral position has borne some fruit, with several automakers exploring using some portion of Microsoft’s technology in autonomous vehicles.

The Renault-Nissan alliance is testing using Microsoft’s Cortana voice-activated digital assistant in car entertainment systems, BMW uses Azure as the computing power behind a smartphone app, and Toyota’s data-science and analytics subsidiary is plugged into Microsoft tools.

Few details were available on the latest partnership, announced in a news release Tuesday. Microsoft, the release said, “will provide global scale for Apollo outside of China with the Microsoft Azure cloud.”

Baidu, which dominates the search market in China, in January hired as chief operating officer Qi Lu, a longtime Microsoft engineering executive who previously led the development of Bing. Lu left Microsoft in September to recover from a bicycle accident.

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