Sometime in early 2019, the self-driving e.GO Mover bus will hit the streets in Germany. The electrically powered vehicle can transport up to 10 people, with a battery that lasts for 10 hours or so.

And, it’s powered by the cloud. The Microsoft Azure cloud platform, to be exact.

While autonomous vehicles powered by the cloud are not new, e.GO Mover highlights how artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Thing (IoT), and edge computing projects are increasingly coming together to power smart cities. Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, boasts customers including DriveAI, nuTonomy, TuSimple, and Mapillary–all of which work on autonomous vehicle systems.

SEE: IT leader’s guide to the rise of smart cities (Tech Pro Research)

Google Cloud Platform also lists best practices for building a connected vehicle solution for autonomous driving and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication on its platform as well.

The growth of such a trend is enabled by the availability of powerful AI tools on these cloud platforms. Machine learning tools are crucial to the development of such autonomous systems, and public cloud giants make them much more accessible. This helps the growth of general IoT projects in smart cities as well.

Of course, the cloud on its own will not be able to fully drive the digital transformation of smart cities. Improved latency through next-generation 5G connectivity will also play a role, as autonomous vehicles and IoT devices will be able to more readily send and receive important data while operating.

SEE: From cloud to edge: The next IT transformation (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

But, what happens when connectivity is spotty? That’s when edge computing comes into play. Edge computing happens when data is processed at the same location where it is collected. This means that autonomous vehicles or IoT devices will need some sort of compute power on-board to be able to grok the data they’re receiving, without having to send it over a network to be processed and sent back.

Edge computing is especially important in autonomous vehicles, as the potential danger posed by poor operations is immense.

As more and more cities begin to embrace digital transformation, these three technologies will play an integral role in their future. And, as city officials begin to rely more and more on these tools, we may see network operators, public cloud vendors, and IoT providers operating similarly to the way our utilities providers operate today.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Microsoft Azure will power the e.GO Mover autonomous bus as it hits the streets in Germany in 2019, highlighting the important role of cloud providers in self-driving vehicles.
  • Edge computing and 5G networks will also play a critical role in smart cities, as more data will need to be processed quickly and efficiently.