Microsoft invests big in Grab to integrate AI and machine learning into platform

Microsoft is investing in Grab in a bid to “transform the delivery of digital services and mobility in the region” by leveraging on Microsoft’s expertise in machine learning, and other AI capabilities.

As a first step in the broad collaboration between the two companies, Grab will adopt Microsoft Azure as its preferred cloud platform and Microsoft will make a strategic investment in Grab. Utilising Microsoft Azure’s data analytics and fraud detection, Grab will look to better predict and prevent fraudulent transactions on its platform. 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, as a replacement for checking IDs, that help match both driver and passenger identities to the reservation.

“This partnership signals a deep collaboration with Microsoft on an array of technology projects, including big data and artificial intelligence, that will transform the delivery of everyday services and mobility solutions in Southeast Asia,” said Ming Maa, president of Grab.

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

Grab currently operates in 235 cities across eight Southeast Asian countries, and Grab’s digital wallet, GrabPay, is the leading player in Southeast Asia.  Through this collaboration, special innovation projects are already on the way to help improve passenger and driver safety and security, said the two in a joint statement.

The companies also plan to leverage Microsoft’s natural language processing capabilities to provide customers with contextualised real-time translations and create an AI chatbot so Grab users can engage in interactive experiences. Microsoft’s machine learning and AI capabilities will be used to power Grab’s advanced “recommendation engine” that analyses user data and behavior to provide personalized services and content recommendations through the Grab application.

Grab also plans to work with Microsoft to explore image recognition and computer vision technologies that will improve the user and driver pickup experience. For example, passengers will be able to take a photo of their current location and have it translated into an actual address for the driver. The collaboration will also see Grab provide on-demand transportation booking options to Outlook users so they can seamlessly book rides directly in the application and be alerted with calendar reminders.

The companies will also collaborate on the deployment of in-car entertainment and productivity solutions across Southeast Asia, and Microsoft will explore integrating Microsoft Rewards Gift Cards into the Grab Rewards loyalty program.

Peggy Johnson, executive vice president at Microsoft said the two look forward to transforming the customer experience, as well as enhancing 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.

However, Microsoft is not the first to park its money on the ride-hailing firm. Most recently, SoftBank Group was close to invest approximately US$500 million into Grab in its latest funding round. A Reuters article also said that Grab garnered more than US$6 billion in total funding, led by SoftBank, Toyota Motor and Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing.

Most recently, in its bid to grow in the region, Grab partnered with the Indonesia Tourism Ministry to help bolster tourism development and aid in hitting the government’s target of hitting 20 million foreign travellers in 2019. This comes following Grab's US$2 billion proceeds, from its current round of financing, to invest in Indonesia. Grab looks to bolster its investments while targeting over 7.1 million micro-entrepreneurs that use its platform. Currently, more than half of the micro-entrepreneurs on its platform resides in Indonesia, a statement read at the time.