Microsoft wants a piece of the ride-hailing market. It has shared its plan to invest in Singapore-based company Grab.
Both companies will work on projects such as big data and AI, but Grab has more to gain from the partnership. It will have a slew of Microsoft products to use, including cloud-computing service Azure.
Microsoft EVP Peggy Johnson told CNBC, “We’re fascinated with the companies that are emerging from Southeast Asia. It’s been amazing to watch what they have done with technology, in the way that they’ve applied it to solving problems for their customers.”
Microsoft and Grab keep mum on the agreed price. Although the Financial Times cited a source talking about a $200 million deal, both companies denied it.
Grab has raised $2 billion from Toyota and other investors so far this year. As of early August, total funding has reached $6 billion. The company also has an $11 billion valuation.
Reuters reported Friday that Japanese firm SoftBank plans to invest about $500 million in Grab. Yet, this remains to be seen, with Grab’s latest round for funding set in a few weeks.
Grab President Ming Maa told CNBC that they expect to raise about $3 billion in funds by the year-end. He declined, however, to share figures on Microsoft’s investment.
“We cannot comment on sizing but I think what’s probably more important for us is not the sizing, but the quality of the partners,” Maa said.
Grab has the backing of several big companies, including Toyota, SoftBank and fellow ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing.
With ride-hailing operations in eight Southeast Asian countries, Grab also offers food delivery, mobile payments and financial services.
Earlier this year, Grab acquired Uber Southeast Asia and faced scrutiny from watchdogs in several markets.
Maa said they will use Microsoft’s investment for user safety and experience.
As agreed, Grab will work with Microsoft to use facial recognition when verifying passengers and drivers using embedded AI technology.
Grab plans to use the tech giant’s data analytics, machine learning, fraud detection and computer vision technologies to enhance user experience. Passengers can also book rides from Microsoft Outlook.
“Where Microsoft fits into this is all of the AI/machine learning platforms that Microsoft has developed will allow us to build these services,” Maa added.
Microsoft sees AI as a top priority. In May this year, it showed at its developers conference how a world filled with AI looks and feels like.
As of this writing, the company still needs engineers to work on AI chips for Azure. It also bought AI startups Bonsai and Lobe.
“One of the things that we look for are tools that make AI easier so that customers like Grab, who we work with, can implement AI without having to have a team of data scientists. We look for tools in that area and we’ll continue to focus on it,” Johnson added.