Google and billionaire Elon Musk are racing to make self-driving cars a reality, but Nokia plans to merge their way onto this crowded highway by tossing a chunk of dough into a fund to help make cars smarter.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported that Nokia Oyj, newly freed from the shackles of its legendary smartphone business, plans to invest $100 million (about £59.3m, AU$107.8m) into "intelligent car technologies" as an extension of the company's existing digital map business.

While rivals Google and Tesla focus their attention on self-driving cars, Nokia's venture capital firm Nokia Growth Partners plans to steer its focus onto the automobile as the next big software platform, similar to how apps and services brought a huge boost to mobile devices.

Nokia's investment is a drop in the bucket for Finland's onetime smartphone giant, having cashed a $7.5 billion (about £4.45b, AU$8b) check last month from Microsoft to shed its Devices & Services division.

Paving the road

"We're seeing innovation that's happening across the auto ecosystem through the combination of mobility and the internet," Nokia partner Paul Asel said May 5 during the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing.

Since 2007, Nokia has invested $8.1 billion to acquire map providers Navteq Corp. and Earthmine Inc., whose technology now powers four out of five car navigation systems. Nokia also provides HERE Maps data to Microsoft as well as Amazon and Yahoo.

Legacy automakers like General Motors and Toyota are also exploring ways to introduce automated emergency call services and other smart dashboard technology, but Asel feels upstarts like BMW, Google and Tesla could "adopt services faster than the established ones to gain a foothold."

Fueled by Musk, Tesla has already aggressively led the way with automobiles that include built-in internet access, roadside assistance and a service to help locate stolen vehicles.