First Japan, Then the World: Big Companies Collaborate to Mainstream MaaS

Honda is starting a test program for autonomous vehicles this September, taking a step toward an autonomous vehicle mobility service (MaaS) business in Japan, which Honda is planning to launch in partnership with General Motors and the big automaker's autonomous vehicle company Cruise.

Microsoft will contribute software and hardware engineering excellence, cloud computing capabilities, and manufacturing know-how to the commercialization of self-driving, all-electric, shared vehicles.

Mobility as a Service integrates various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand, as the Brussels-based Maas Alliance defines the emerging sector. MaaS aims to provide an alternative to using the private car that may be as convenient, more sustainable, help reduce congestion and constraints in transport capacity and be even cheaper, the Alliance explains.

The Honda-Cruise-GM-Microsoft testing program for autonomous vehicles MaaS technologies will be conducted in Utsunomiya City, a city of half a million people 100 km north of Tokyo, and also in the much smaller community of Haga Town, both test locations in Tochigi Prefecture.

As the first step to prepare for thorough testing of the autonomous mobility service, a high-definition map of the area will be created using a specialized vehicle for mapping.

Once the high-definition map is ready, the specialized autonomous vehicle, a Cruise AV, will be driven on public roads to develop and test autonomous vehicles adapted to the traffic environment and the laws and regulations of Japan.

Founded in San Francisco in 2013, Cruise was acquired by GM in 2016 for a billion dollars. An independent subsidiary within GM, the company now employs more than 2,000 people, including an engineering team of around 900.

Cruise has completed more than three million miles (4.8 million km) of autonomous testing, and its fleet is exposed to more than 20,500 intersections, 3,000 cut-ins and 3,000 double-parked cars every day, the company says.

Honda and Cruise will jointly work on the testing program, and it will be developed at a new operations test site to be established within a Honda facility in Tochigi Prefecture, where Honda has half a dozen factories.

Farther into the future, Honda aims to launch its autonomous vehicle MaaS business in Japan using the Cruise Origin, a vehicle jointly developed by Honda, Cruise and General Motors exclusively for autonomous vehicle mobility service.

Honda Mobility Solutions Co., Ltd., a Honda subsidiary for MaaS business, will operate the business in Japan.

Mohamed Elshenawy, senior vice president of engineering teams at Cruise, spends his working life solving the challenges that arise from building a self-driving car.

"One of the common questions I get asked by friends and family is, 'Why does it take so long to solve the self-driving problem?'" Elshenawy says. He answers in depth.

"We aren’t teaching a human brain, which has already evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to accurately perceive the world and predict actions within their surroundings. We are essentially building an AV brain that can do all that without stagnating or making silly mistakes or getting tired, bored or distracted," Elshenawy tells his friends and family.

Honda-AV - Movin'On

WE’RE COMPRESSING HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF HUMAN INTELLIGENCE INTO JUST A FEW YEARS.

Mohamed Elshenawy

Senior VP of Engineering Teams at Cruise

Cruise and GM Partner with Microsoft

This past January, Cruise and General Motors announced that they have entered a long-term strategic relationship with Microsoft to accelerate the commercialization of self-driving vehicles.

"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."

To unlock the potential of cloud computing for self-driving vehicles, Cruise will leverage Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, to commercialize its autonomous vehicle solutions at scale.

Microsoft, as Cruise’s preferred cloud provider, will 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.

"Advances in digital technology are redefining every aspect of our work and life, including how we move people and goods," said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. "As Cruise and GM's preferred cloud, we will apply the power of Azure to help them scale and make autonomous transportation mainstream."

Microsoft will join General Motors, Honda and institutional investors in a combined new equity investment of more than $2 billion in Cruise, bringing the post-money valuation of Cruise to $30 billion.

"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.

Mary Barra

GM Chairman and CEO

"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."

Barra says GM will work with Microsoft as its preferred public cloud provider to accelerate digitization, collaboration, storage, artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to streamline operations across digital supply chains, foster productivity and speed new mobility services to customers.