Intel Goes Inside Mobileye, Delphi Self-Driving Car Partnership

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Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Intel chips capable of processing 12 trillion operations per second will be inside the autonomous automobiles being developed by auto-parts suppliers Mobileye NV and Delphi Automotive Plc, the two companies said Monday.

“This is really about the path to production,” Glen De Vos, Delphi’s vice president of engineering, told reporters at a presentation in Pittsburgh. “We’re shifting the focus away from just talking about the technology. The dialogue about automation is moving from, ‘Will it happen?’ to ‘When will it happen?’”

Intel joins Mobileye and Delphi, which teamed up in August to develop a low-cost system for self-driving vehicles that’s slated to begin sales to carmakers in 2019. Unlike on most autonomous autos, the two companies’ self-driving technology relies less on costly lidar sensors, which bounce light off objects to assess shape and location, and instead emphasizes cameras and radars, which are less expensive. The result, they say, is a more affordable system for carmakers that lack the resources to develop it on their own.

Adding Intel Corp.’s high-speed processors to the partnership will allow the companies to develop a system robust enough to handle the rigors of everyday driving -- without a driver behind the wheel. The cost of the system will be about $5,000 per car when it’s introduced, but will likely drop rapidly as the technology becomes more widespread, De Vos said.

“For us, it’s a big step forward because it allows us to really accelerate the development of the overall program,” De Vos said of the deal with Intel.

Automakers and technology companies are rushing to form partnerships to compete in self-driving technology with Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which has already clocked 2 million miles of public road tests. Volvo Car Group has begun delivering robot taxis to Uber Technologies Inc., which are being tested in Pittsburgh as part of a $300 million development deal. Ford Motor Co., which has promised to sell 100,000 self-driving cars for ride hailing by 2021, invested $150 million with China’s Baidu Inc. in Velodyne Lidar Inc. Mobileye and Intel already have a partnership with BMW AG to field a self-driving car by 2021.

“BMW as an automaker has much different needs,” said Dan Galves, Mobileye’s senior vice president of communications. “So while the two programs are very similar in approach, the vehicle needs to perform the way BMW wants. So the programs can end up acting completely differently.”

Read more: Robots taking the wheel -- a QuickTake on driverless cars

Mobileye and Delphi plan to debut their system in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. They intend to begin road testing shortly afterward in Singapore, where Delphi already is researching on-demand robo-taxis. Last year, Delphi demonstrated the first U.S. coast-to-coast trip in an autonomous car, covering about 3,500 miles from San Francisco to New York in self-driving mode.

Delphi has been surprised by the number of potential customers who have come calling, De Vos said. And it’s not just automakers. There has been interest from bus operators and airport trams, among other applications. The partnership is looking to debut its system with customers who are most likely to succeed in deploying the self-driving cars, De Vos said.

“We’re thinking carefully about who we want to focus on initially,” De Vos said. “We want to make sure we pick the right customers in the right market.”

U.S. regulators are eager to remove people from responsibility for taking the wheel, saying that 94 percent of roadway fatalities are caused by human error. More than 35,000 people died on U.S. roads last year. Globally, the death toll reached 1.25 million.

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