Intel Grabs Mobileye for Self-Driving Car, Artificial Intelligence and IoT Applications

In another move to expand beyond data centers and PCs, Intel announced it is going to acquire Mobileye, an Israeli company involved with Artificial Intelligence and Self-Driving hardware and software technology. Intel processors are used in desktop and notebook PCs and on-premise and public cloud applications but the company has been looking for ways to expand into the Internet of Things (IoT) market. Most recently, Intel powered the drone and lighting display at the SuperBowl 2017 with Lady Gaga as an example of the new non-conventional areas that Intel is trying to enter. The company also acquired Altera in 2015 for its Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) technology to further Intel’s position in data centers and expansion into the IoT space.

Artificial Intelligence on a Chip

Part of Intel’s motivation for spending $15.3B is the technology behind the Mobileye EyeQ® processor which allows multiple AI applications to run on a single processor thereby reducing the overall cost of delivering advanced capabilities to IoT applications such as Self-Driving cars. The consolidation of advanced functions on to one chip reduces the cost of the overall solution which will be required to enable mainstream affordable cars with autonomous capabilities. As per Mobileye, the company’s technology uses a mono camera and computer vision computer­ vision algorithms to run Driver Assistance Systems (DAS) functions such as issuing drivers with warnings if they cross lanes or if there is a chance for collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian. The DAS also helps with Radar-­Vision fusion, Intelligent High Beam Control, Traffic Sign Recognition and vision­-only Adaptive Cruise Control which would make a semi-autonomous car work extremely well on public roads. With the EyeQ at the ‘fog’ level and Xeon processing at the cloud level, Intel can offer complete distributed computing for autonomous vehicles and other IoT and big data applications. Fog Computing is a term used for local processing and storage at the network’s edge and has been promoted heavily by Cisco and other members of the OpenFog Consortium such as Intel, ARM Holdings, Dell, Microsoft, and Princeton University. In the context of autonomous cars, the vehicle acts as the edge of the network and EyeQ technology can prove extremely useful at high performance processing of all data needed for self-driving systems.

Evolving Eco-System and Partnerships

Intel’s interest is is not all about the EyeQ and the relationship with Mobileye is not new. At CES 2017, BMW, Intel and Mobileye announced that the alliance is working on launching a fleet of 40 autonomous BMW cars on public roads in 2017. The companies first announced the partnership in July 2016. As per Mobileye’s press release in January 2017, the company wants to utilize the power of the new Intel GO processor and FPGA technologies which meets the stringent thermal and safety requirements of the automotive industry. The Intel GO solution has been described to be suitable for in-car critical functions including sensor fusion, driving policy, environment modeling, path planning and decision making. Mobileye also sees the Intel’s Nervana platform in its autonomous car architecture for artificial intelligence and deep machine learning.

Intel’s competitors are also striking partnerships in the autonomous car arena. On March 16th 2017, Bosch and NVIDIA announced new AI Self-Driving Supercomputer which features NVIDA’s new DRIVE PX platform open car computing platform and incorporates NVIDIA’s forthcoming Xavier technology. As per NVIDIA, Xavier can process up to 30 trillion deep learning operations a second while drawing just 30 watts of power. Qualcomm has partnered with LG to incorporate 5G and Cellular-V2X Communications to enable wireless performance needed for autonomous cars.

New Revenue Streams for Intel

The acquisition comes at a time when Intel is facing new found competition from ARM chips being featured in Cavium and Qualcomm servers. At the Open Compute Project (OCP) Summit 2017, chip vendors such as AMD, NVIDIA and others announced new alternatives to Intel in the hyperscale cloud server market. The server and PC market is well over $100 billion in size and Intel has led that space for years with its x86 processor lines. Intel now wants to play in new data intensive areas and the company estimates the vehicle systems, data and services market opportunity to be up to $70 billion by 2030.

Mobileye is not another start up with cool technology looking for customers. The company which reported $358.2M revenue in 2016 has over 100+ distributors globally and ~15 million vehicles use Mobileye technology. Mobileye’s aftermarket system can be installed in any vehicle, making it an ideal solution for fleets looking to improve safety. Their technology is already being integrated in new vehicles and as per Intel there is plan to integrate into 313 models from 27 vehicle manufacturers. This will certainly give Intel a much needed push into the automobile and fleet management IoT market.

Mainstream Autonomous Cars

Intel changed the high performance servers and PCs industry with affordable x86 chips which have been embraced by all major OEM manufacturers in the world. Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO wants to replicate that model and make autonomous cars market competitive.

“Mobileye brings the industry’s best automotive-grade computer vision and strong momentum with automakers and suppliers. Together, we can accelerate the future of autonomous driving with improved performance in a cloud-to-car solution at a lower cost for automakers.”

As per Intel, post merger, the combined Automated Driving Group will be headquartered in Israel and led by Professor Amnon Shashua, Mobileye’s CoFounder, Chairman and CTO.

Mobileye is one of the most promising acquisitions in Intel’s history which can position it favorably for the next few decades if the company play’s it right. With both processor and software capabilities, Intel can partner or compete with autonomous car manufacturers like Tesla, Uber, Google etc. The price tag of $15.3B is heavy and we will be watching how Intel competes with Qualcomm, NVIDIA and others on the hardware side to get a foothold in the autonomous vehicle industry.

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