How Ford cars are getting closer to self-driving with Intel’s Mobileye

As the battle to supply the global auto industry with technology for self-driving vehicles heats up, Intel’s Mobileye notched a big win on Monday.

The company said it had struck a deal with Ford, the fourth-largest car company in the world by volume, to supply current versions of its EyeQ camera-based gear and software (with some tweaks) across Ford’s global product line.

“By customizing Mobileye’s excellent software and sensing technology, Ford’s great driver-assist features will continue to evolve and provide customers with confidence on the road throughout the life of their vehicles,” Lisa Drake, chief operating officer for Ford in North America said in a statement.

But Ford isn’t leaping entirely into the self-driving future quite yet. The deal covers systems like collision warning, automatic lane keeping, and adaptive cruise control. Those kinds of systems, which require the driver to maintain their attention on the road, are categorized only as Level 1 and Level 2 self-driving technology. Level 3 technology, which enables drivers to take their eyes off the road, isn’t yet included, let alone Levels 4 and 5, enabling cars to drive without human interaction.

Mobileye is competing with a horde of rivals, from chipmaker Nvidia to Google’s Waymo unit to well-funded startups like Argo AI. And that’s not to mention carmakers with their own efforts, like Tesla, and Big Tech players yet to show their wares, like Apple or Amazon (which bought self-driving startup Zoox last month).

Shares of Intel gained 1% in midday trading on Monday. Ford shares lost 3% as investors fretted that the auto industry would not recover quickly from the current pandemic-induced sales slowdown.

In Monday’s announcement, Ford said it would use Mobileye’s chips, sensors, and software in its upcoming next generation of vehicles including its top-selling F-150 pickup truck and new electric SUV, the Mustang Mach-E. The partners did not release the financial terms of the deal, but said that Ford cars will display Mobileye’s name and logo in vehicles that include the technology.

Intel bought Mobileye, the brainchild of Israeli computer scientist Amnon Shashua, for $15 billion in 2017, expecting it might take years for the technology bet to pay off. Now the unit is one of the fastest-growing parts of Intel, with revenue up 22% to $254 million in the first quarter. But it’s still a drop in the bucket at Intel, where chips for PCs and servers brought in $17 billion in the quarter. Mobileye’s operating income of $88 million, up 29%, was likewise dwarfed by PC and server operating income of $7.7 billion.

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