Microsoft buys into Grab as pair focus on big data and AI on Azure

Grab will adopt Microsoft Azure as its preferred cloud platform and Microsoft will make a strategic investment in Grab.

Microsoft has announced making a strategic investment in ride-sharing service Grab, as one of the first moves under a recently forged partnership between the two companies.

Grab will also adopt Microsoft Azure as its preferred cloud platform, hoping to use the latter's cloud and artificial intelligence capabilities to "scale its platform and increase its capacity and capabilities".

Under the five-year agreement, the companies will work together on a range of technology projects, including in the areas of big data and AI, that president of Grab Ming Maa expects will transform the delivery of everyday services and mobility solutions in Southeast Asia.

"Microsoft's investment into Grab highlights our position as the leading homegrown technology player in the region," he said. "We look forward to collaborating with Microsoft in the pursuit of enhancing on-demand transportation and seamless online-to-offline experiences for users."

Grab operates in 235 cities across eight Southeast Asian countries, and the company claims its digital wallet, GrabPay, is the leading player in Southeast Asia.

The pair of companies hope to transform the experience for Grab's users, driver-partners, merchants, and agents, with projects targeted specifically towards initiatives such as passenger and driver safety, fraud protection, and map creation.

Grab will work with Microsoft to explore new authentication mechanisms such as mobile facial recognition with built-in AI for drivers and customers who opt-in, in lieu of checking IDs to match drivers with their passengers.

Image recognition will also be explored, potentially allowing for passengers to take a photo of their pickup location and have it translated into an actual address for the driver.

Grab will also seek to implement Microsoft Azure's data analytics and fraud detection services, while Microsoft's natural language processing capabilities, as well as the company's chatbot tech, will also be explored, with the idea to offer Grab users more interactive services.

Microsoft's machine learning and AI capabilities will additionally be used to power Grab's advanced "recommendation engine" that analyses user data and behaviour for targeted services and content recommendations, the companies added.

Grab also has plans to tap into machine learning to improve map creation and quality.

Under the partnership, Grab will provide on-demand transport booking options to Outlook users so they can book rides within the application and be alerted with calendar reminders.

The companies will seek to deploy in-car entertainment and productivity solutions across Southeast Asia, and will explore integrating Microsoft Rewards Gift Cards into the Grab Rewards loyalty program.

Grab will additionally pilot Microsoft's Kaizala in-house

"Our partnership with Grab opens up new opportunities to innovate in both a rapidly evolving industry and growth region," Microsoft executive vice president Peggy Johnson said.

"We're excited to team up to transform the customer experience as well as enhance the delivery of digital services for the millions of users who rely on Grab for safe and affordable transport, food and package delivery, mobile payments, and financial services."

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