Microsoft “won’t be building” smart cars, but in talks with 7 or 8 auto makers on tech applications

Vu Anh Nguyen

What do you know? Sounds like Microsoft is getting into the self-driving car race after all, albeit in a more roundabout way than its competitors, by providing the technology to others, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The information was mentioned by Microsoft’s business development chief Peggy Johnson on Friday, at the Converge conference in Hong Kong. Johnson also revealed that around seven or eight automakers have talked with Redmond about potential application of Microsoft technology in the space. Microsoft, for its part, have also been approaching auto makers about their needs for integration with Microsoft technology like Office 365 or Azure.

“We won’t be building our own autonomous vehicle but we would like to enable autonomous vehicles and assisted driving as well.”

To be fair, it’s not the first time Microsoft has displayed its intention to become the enabler of autonomous driving technology instead of getting it hands oily in car making: the company recently collaborated with engineering firm IAV to produce a smart car, which was shown off in this year’s CES, and got a mention from CEO Satya Nadella in his keynote speech at Hannover Messe 2016.

“You’re sitting in the car for many, many minutes a day. Can that be part of your new office, can it be your new desk, a place where you actually get work done? We believe it can. Each of them had a little something different that they [auto makers] wanted.”

Even then, Microsoft’s approach has been in stark contrast with the likes of Alphabet (formerly Google), with the car relying on a “hyper-connected” world of devices for its smartness, and a focus on the potential activities opened to users as the driving is automated. The idea is again hinted at by Johnson, who also revealed that a self-driving car running a Microsoft-made OS is a possibility.

Overall, Johnson’s revelation is very much in tune with the roots of Microsoft and how the company has been operating in all of its existence, as a software provider and platform builder first and foremost. It will be interesting to see what may come of a possible collaboration between Microsoft and a mainstream auto maker in the future, especially since the company is also behind its biggest competitor in that regard.