Intel building self-driving car system, announces BMW partnership
SAN JOSE — Semiconductor titan Intel has officially jumped into the self-driving car frenzy, throwing itself into battle with Google spinoff Waymo, Apple and a host of other firms.
“That is an arms race going on,” said Raj Rajkumar, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University focused on autonomous driving. “I don’t think they are late, but they have to execute, of course.”
In an event for press and analysts Wednesday at its “Innovation Campus” in San Jose, Intel unveiled a sleek silver BMW sedan showcasing Intel’s partnership with the German automaker and the computer vision company Mobileye that Intel is buying.
The partnership is intended to let Intel develop a “base functionality platform” for self-driving cars that it would license to car makers, said Intel spokeswoman Marcie Miller.
The Santa Clara firm’s move comes as its business has been on the upswing after it missed the mobile-computing revolution and saw PC sales falter before it pivoted toward cloud computing and development of 5G wireless networks. Autonomous cars represent another new frontier in technology markets.
“It’s very wise for them to diversify,” Rajkumar said.
Intel’s semiconductor chips would act as the “brains” for an autonomous-driving system, Miller said. The chips would process data from vehicles’ sensors within the vehicle, as well as in Intel’s self-driving system, and for processing autonomous-vehicle data in the cloud, Miller said.
The foray into autonomous driving will leverage and bolster Intel’s strengths, including its data centers, its work on 5G networks, and its processors, said Kathy Winter, vice-president of the firm’s Automated Driving Group.
“It plays well to all of the things that we are already doing, and it’s another way to extend those businesses,” Winter said.
Or, as AutoPacific analyst George Peterson said, “it’s a way to sell chips.”
Intel’s gambit puts it up against companies from a variety of technology sector, analysts said.
“One of their primary competitors is going to be Waymo, of course, they’re well ahead,” Peterson said.
Another rival will be Apple, which probably won’t build a car but instead produce autonomous-driving software and possibly some hardware modules, Peterson said.
In an additional arena of competition, Intel will do battle with companies like Bosch making components for self-driving systems, and in yet another competitive realm, Intel will strive against companies with expertise in mapping — including Google, Magellan and TomTom — that’s crucial to autonomous driving systems, Peterson said.
Car makers like Ford and GM also represent competition for Intel’s self-driving efforts, along with Uber, which is testing autonomous vehicles, and smaller firms such as Aurora Innovation, co-founded by Google’s former self-driving project head Chris Urmson, Rajkumar said.
Another chipmaker, Santa Clara’s NVIDIA, will put additional competitive pressure on Intel, via NVIDIA processors used within autonomous cars — including all Teslas sold in the last six months — and for processing self-driving vehicle data in the cloud, said Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Patrick Moorhead.
Whether a dominant autonomous-driving player will emerge with a widely used platform, or whether car makers will pull technology from a variety of sources remains to be seen, Peterson said.
The BMW 740i showcased Wednesday is a prototype for the “iNext” electric car that BMW plans to put on the market in 2021, with self-driving capabilities falling somewhere between mostly driving itself but needing human backup, and full autonomy, said BMW advanced technology engineer Kyle Moy.
Intel in November announced a partnership with Israeli self-driving technology company Mobileye, and in March, it announced it was buying the company for about $15 billion. It is Mobileye’s machine-vision technology that will act as the “eyes” of the BMW prototype.
Intel, by its own admission, missed the mobile revolution. And with the company netting more than half its sales from shipment of PCs as of 2016, five straight years of falling PC sales led Intel last year to announce it would cut 12,000 jobs and focus on chips for the cloud and Internet-connected devices.
However, Intel’s fortunes have swung upward of late, with CEO Brian Krzanich in the company’s latest earnings report highlighting record first-quarter revenue of $14.8 billion, and looking toward self-driving car technology.