Ola, Microsoft join hands to build new connected car platform for auto firms

In what could be a leg-up for cab aggregator Ola and help it become a supplier to auto companies worldwide, the company on Tuesday said it has tied up with Microsoft Corp. to build a new connected car platform for automobile firms.

As part of the partnership, Microsoft will be a preferred cloud services provider to Ola and the Indian taxi start-up will use Microsoft Azure for Ola Play, the company’s existing connected car platform.

This will transform driver and passenger experiences, providing vehicle diagnostics, improved in-car productivity, advanced navigation, predictive maintenance of vehicles and more, the company said.

“Both companies will collaborate to take this platform to car manufacturers globally, to integrate with vehicle systems,” Ola, run by ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd, said in a statement.

Currently, Ola only sources cars from various companies in India although it is believed to be in talks about getting into a licensing agreement with Indian car companies to offer its Ola Play services.

Ola’s tie-up with Microsoft needs to be seen in the context of the changing dynamics of the auto industry, where auto makers want cars that can access the Internet, read out your emails, messages and social media updates, put out displays on an LED screen, pull up a route map, or make calls—all on command. Smart cars, possibly with ecosystems of their own, aren’t products of the distant future.

Ola’s tie-up with Microsoft goes a step further.

Ola Play, Ola’s connected car platform, will leverage Microsoft’s expertise in Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things to spruce up driver and passenger experiences with tools such as telematics, navigation, cloud-based infotainment and productivity.

The advanced telematics platform will transform the car into a high-performing, intelligent vehicle, capable of assessing fuel efficiency, engine performance, and driver performance. It will also enable smarter navigation and predict breakdowns, enhancing safety and security while creating new business models and opportunities, Ola said in the statement.

“It is a new way of becoming an integral part of the auto business,” said Abdul Majeed, national auto practice leader, Pricewaterhouse Coopers. “There is no doubt that digitisation is taking over automobiles. The question is whether an OEM (original equipment maker) would want to do it themselves or pay for services. OEMs will have to get completely comfortable with that. I don’t know how the auto companies will react.”

Additionally, Ola can also suggest that its car suppliers use the platform in cars which it sources for itself, Majeed added.

Ola Play customers will be able to use productivity tools, such as Office 365 and Skype for Business, as well as voice-assisted controls built using Microsoft Cognitive Services and Bot framework during their rides.

“Today’s car is quickly becoming the ultimate computing device…,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in the statement. “The combination of Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and our AI platform with Ola Play will deliver new customer experiences and business opportunities across the automotive ecosystem,” Nadella added.

As for Ola, it believes that the auto industry is experiencing a seismic shift with the definition of automobiles increasingly changing from gas-powered vehicles to technology-packed, connected devices.

“Together with Microsoft, we can make the new platform available to a larger global audience and unlock futuristic experiences for customers worldwide,” said Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal.