BMW, Intel, and Mobileye Plan to Do More Than Build Self-Driving Cars

July 1, 2016, 2:51 PM UTC
Photograph courtesy of BMW

BMW, Intel, and Mobileye say they will produce self-driving cars for city streets by 2021 and develop the technology as an open platform that can be used other automakers or ride-sharing companies.

The companies didn’t provide specific details during a press conference in Munich, Germany on Friday as to how much each company was spending on the project. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich did say his company was dedicating hundreds of people and several hundred million U.S. dollars towards the project.

BMW’s iNEXT model, a next-generation flagship brand that the company plans to launch in five years, is at the heart of the partnership. Intel (INTC), the world’s largest chipmaker, will contribute its computing power with artificial intelligence and computer vision company. Mobileye will bring its advanced sensor tech into the car.

But the goal isn’t just to help BMW (BMW-HM) build its own self-driving cars. The companies specified the technology they develop will be the basis for fleets of fully autonomous vehicles that can be used on highways and by ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft.

“We want to have a standard open platform that other companies will join,” said Harald Krüger, chairman of BMW’s board, during the press conference, remarking that the automaker was evolving from an engineering business to a tech company.

The companies promised the collaboration aims to develop tech that will let drivers reach the so-called “eyes off,” or level three of autonomous driving—and eventually level four, or “mind off.” This level of autonomy would enable the vehicle, on a technical level, to achieve the final stage of traveling “driver off,” level five, without a human driver inside, the companies posited.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines vehicle automation as having five levels. At level zero, the driver is completely in control. By level four, the vehicle takes over all safety-critical functions and monitors roadway conditions for an entire trip.

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Most major automakers, including Google (GOOGL), are working on autonomous driving technologies of varying degrees. All are at level one right now, and many luxury automakers such as Volvo have recently introduced level two capabilities. General Motors (GM) will offer a level two, semi-autonomous feature known as Super Cruise on its 2017 models that includes hands-off lane following, braking, and speed control in certain highway conditions. Tesla (TSLA), which rolled out its hands-free Autopilot software in October, allows for level three capabilities on the highways.

Mobileye’s technology—vision chips and software that interprets data from a camera to anticipate possible collisions with cars, people, animals, and other objects—is used by nearly two dozen automakers, including Audi, BMW, General Motors, Ford (F), and Tesla Motors.

The common platform developed by the BMW, Intel, and Mobileye will address level three to level five automated driving and will be made available to multiple car vendors and other industries. The trio plans to collaborate and build a prototype that can demonstrate an autonomous test drive this year. In 2017, the platform will extend to fleets with extended autonomous test drives.

Self-driving cars are blowing up the auto industry:

The companies have a long history of collaboration. BMW and Intel have worked together for 10 years. BMW started using Mobileye’s first generation of sensors in its cars in 2007.

In the past year, Intel has deepened its stake in the Internet of things—technology that it says includes the automobile. The company acquired Yogitech in April, an Italian semiconductor designer that specializes in adding safety functions to chips used in self-driving cars and other autonomous devices.

In May, Intel bought Itseez, a company that specializes in machine vision technology that lets computers see and understand their surroundings. The technology is necessary for an autonomous vehicle, which needs to be able to perceive the world around it.

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