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Microsoft announces partnership and investment with Grab and said close to buying game studio Obsidian

Grab's base of operations in Southeast Asia contains more than 600 million people

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Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:MSFT) said it has entered into a five-year agreement and made a strategic investment in Grab, the leading on-demand transportation, mobile payments and online-to-offline services platform in Southeast Asia.

Grab will adopt Microsoft Azure as its preferred cloud platform to use the US tech giant's expertise in machine learning and other artificial intelligence capabilities.

Peggy Johnson, executive vice president at Microsoft, said in a statement the partnership should help "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.”

“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,” Ming Maa, the president of Grab which is based in Singapore, said in the same statement.

READ: Microsoft acquires coding platform GitHub, scaring away some developers

Grab's base of operations in Southeast Asia covers countries ranging from affluent Singapore to countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. The region has a population of more than 600 million people and economies in the area are growing at a brisk pace.

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, the statement said.

It will utilize Microsoft Azure’s data analytics and fraud detection services to better predict and prevent fraudulent transactions on Grab’s platform.

The companies plan to use Microsoft’s natural language processing capabilities to provide customers with contextualized 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 analyzes user data and behavior to provide personalized services and content recommendations through the Grab application, the two added in their statement.

READ: Microsoft buys conversational AI firm Semantic Machines

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.

To improve map creation and quality, Grab plans to tap into the power of Microsoft’s machine learning capabilities. 

Separately, Microsoft is also said to be finalizing a deal to acquire independent development studio Obsidian Entertainment, a report by Kotaku said.

Obsidian, best known for its work on critically acclaimed role-playing games like Knights of the Old Republic II (2004) and Fallout: New Vegas (2010), has been independent since it was founded in 2003. The company is based in Irvine, California.

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