Intel is partnering with BMW and Mobileye in an effort not only to bring a fleet of fully autonomous vehicles from the automaker to market by 2021, but also to develop industry standards and a common platform that can be used by other companies in the automotive industry.
The announcement July 1 from BMW’s headquarters in Munich, Germany, confirmed reports in the past couple of days about an alliance between the three companies, and marked the latest partnership between the technology and auto-making industries.
According to the top executives with each business, the companies will work incrementally to develop technologies and capabilities for BMW cars that eventually will lead to vehicles that can drive in both highway and urban environments without having a human inside the car.
Almost all automakers have autonomous car projects under way—Rolls Royce last month unveiled a driverless concept car—and industry analysts expect the market to grow over the next couple of decades. IHS Automotive analysts are projecting that more than 20 million autonomous vehicles will be on the road by 2035.
Bringing such vehicles to market will call for close work between technology and car companies. With the latest partnership, Intel will bring not only its Xeon and low-power Atom chips, but other technologies to enable the various compute systems in the car to the cloud and back-end systems. Intel already sells technologies to carmakers—including BMW—for their in-console and infotainment systems, but self-driving cars will call for a broad range of sensors and cameras to give the vehicles a complete view of the environment around them as well as systems—both inside the car and via the cloud—for processing, storing and analyzing the massive amounts of data those sensors will generate.
The vehicles also will need the machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to react accordingly to the data they receive.
“Cars are rapidly becoming what we believe [are] the most intelligent connected devices,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said during a press conference at BMW’s headquarters.
Mobileye will bring a lot of the software and camera technology—including its Road Experience Management software and EyeQ5 chips—to the partnership.
Amnon Shashua, co-founder, chairman and CTO of Mobileye, said that of the company’s 700 employees, 100 of them will be working on the project. Krzanich said Intel will have “hundreds” of people on the effort and expects to spend hundreds of millions of dollars.
BMW officials said the technologies will be used in its upcoming iNext vehicles, which will be the core of the company’s autonomous car efforts and will be the basis for what they said will be a fleet of self-driving cars both on highways and cities, which are more difficult to navigate. BMW CEO Harald Krueger said during the news conference that he envisions an environment where such autonomous vehicles can be used in urban environments for taxi and ride-sharing programs.
The three companies over the next several years will make incremental strides in the development of driverless cars, hitting on levels 3 (“eyes off”) and 4 (“mind off”), and eventually—by 2021—reaching level 5, where there is no need for a human inside. In the near term, the companies will conduct a test drive for a highly automated drive (HAD) prototype, and in 2017 will extend the common platform to fleets of vehicles through more autonomous test drives.
Intel, Mobileye to Help BMW Get Driverless Cars on Road by 2021
The executives all said open standards and a common platform will be crucial to the development of the driverless car industry. Intel’s Krzanich said open standards throughout the tech industry have helped drive innovation, and BMW’s Krueger noted that while a common platform would benefit all automakers, there will be areas in which the carmakers will be able to differentiate.
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, said openness will determine how broadly the common platform is embraced.
“The impact on the industry beyond these sponsoring companies will depend on the extent to which the integration software is made available as open source, and the ecosystem the sponsors are able to recruit,” Moorhead wrote in a research note. “Intel is very skilled and has demonstrated a history of creating standards.”
The executives all said safety is a key element of their plans, a goal highlighted by the fatal crash of a Tesla Model S car in May that was being operated in autopilot mode. The car collided with a truck in Florida, killing the 40-year-old Tesla driver. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into the crash. The three executives each said that five years is enough time to ensure that driverless cars are safe.
For Intel, the partnership marks an increased presence in the autonomous car space, which company officials see as a key growth market. It’s also highly competitive, with other chip makers—including Qualcomm, Nvidia and NXP Semiconductors—making strong pushes. Moorhead said that “collaborating with a leader like BMW will put Intel in a much better position to expand beyond their current, automotive niche into what is becoming a data center on wheels.”