In a race to make self-driven cars mainstream, Intel announced today that they've bought Israeli microchip technology company Mobileye for $15.3 billion, setting the stage for Intel to dominate a large portion of the driverless market.
Mobileye has bet big on image recognition software for outward-facing cameras on self-driving and driver-assisted car technology. Both Mobileye and Intel's Automated Driving Group will be headquartered in Israel to pool together their resources and bring autonomous driving to the forefront of transportation.
In an official statement to Geektime, Mobileye Cofounder, CEO, and President Ziv Aviram stated:
By pooling together our infrastructure and resources, we can enhance and accelerate our combined know-how in the areas of mapping, virtual driving, simulators, development tool chains, hardware, data centers and high-performance computing platforms.
Aviram expects the growth towards driverless cars to provide "safer" and "less costly transportation options," as well as providing growth in the automative industry and opportunity for newer and smaller companies to come in and make a difference.
One of Mobileye and Intel's largest clients is BMW, who is getting ready to test autonomous vehicles later this year in Munich. The test will include 40 vehicles "under real traffic conditions" setting the stage for the release of BMW's first fully driverless car—the iNEXT—in 2021.
Audi and Volkswagen are other major automaker partners of Mobileye.
Intel's biggest competition now is self-driving giant NVIDIA which has partnered with Tesla after one of their cars using the Mobileye technology crashed head-on into a truck back in 2016. While this crash may have been the breaking point of the partnership, others suggest the breakup was over how the companies would share data from the camera sensors on the car. This data, called metadata, may be what Intel is really after in the acquisition, according to The Information:
Executives in the self-driving car industry say the company's value lies in the data generated by cameras on the cars that Mobileye gets to keep for itself. Mobileye refers to the image-recognition data its software generates from the camera imagery as "metadata." In the future, Mobileye will be able to upload that data to its servers and use it to improve the accuracy of its image recognition for those vehicles and future ones....
Not all carmakers are OK with Mobileye's ability to keep the data, since they don't want to outsource key parts of the "brain" of a self-driving car. Tesla's decision last year to stop using Mobileye software to aid Tesla's semi-autonomous driving system is believed to stem from this type of data-ownership conflict.
It should be interesting to see how the field shuffles out over the next few years as the new Mobileye, backed by Intel, jockeys for key positions in the industry against NVIDIA.