By David Meyer
August 16, 2017

Just over a year since BMW Group teamed up with chipmaker Intel and sensor firm Mobileye to develop a driverless car platform, the alliance has signed up another major car manufacturer: Fiat Chrysler.

The addition of Fiat Chrysler will give the alliance a big potential boost in the North American market, as it prepares to start testing autonomous vehicles by the end of this year. It’s been a busy week for the U.S.-Italian combination, whose shares soared on Monday in response to rumors that a number of Chinese auto makers are interested in buying it.

“In order to advance autonomous driving technology, it is vital to form partnerships among automakers, technology providers and suppliers,” Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a joint statement Wednesday.

Read: Autonomous Cars to Drive Chip Sector Consolidation Says NXP

Since the alliance’s formation in mid-2016, BMW and Chinese tech giant Baidu called off their partnership on driverless car research, and Intel bought Mobileye, an Israeli company whose technology enables “computer vision,” for $15.3 billion. Intel’s deal aimed to address a perceived deficit in autonomous driving technology, an area that is likely to be one of the biggest growth for chipmakers for years to come. A fully autonomous car is likely to need up to $500 worth of semiconductors, according to some estimates.

So far, the companies involved in the alliance have announced two tranches of self-driving car tests that are scheduled to take place by the end of 2017: a 40-car test that was revealed at the start of the year, and a 100-car test that Intel announced last week. Wednesday’s statement mentioned both tests, saying they will demonstrate the “scale effect” of their collaboration.

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“The future of transportation relies on auto and tech industry leaders working together to develop a scalable architecture that automakers around the globe can adopt and customize,” said Intel chief Brian Krzanich.

The platform that the companies are developing is intended for use by multiple car manufacturers, and indeed Wednesday’s statement reiterated their invitation for more automakers–and tech firms–to join the party. The system should be able to support various degrees of autonomy, ranging from what the industry calls “Level 3” (which still requires a human driver for many tasks) all the way up to “Level 5” (which provides a fully hands-off experience in all conditions).

Other notable partnerships in the autonomous car field include those between Daimler and Uber, and General Motors and Lyft.

 

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