Intel buys Mobileye: A billion-dollar deal for autonomous driving

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Plenty of companies were pursuing the Israeli image-processing specialist Mobileye. Now INTEL as edged out the competition. Although 15.3 billion dollars is hardly a deal for an SME.

For now, industry insiders are just rubbing their eyes. More than 15 billion dollars for an economic midget with just less than 360 million US dollars in sales? Nearly two years ago, Intel paid a similar sum (16.7 billion) for Altera, the number two in field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) with just less than 2 billion in sales.

However, technologically speaking, Mobileye is already playing in the absolute Champions League. With the exception of Daimler (Continental) and Toyota (Inhouse), its cameras equipped with EyeQ chips are being used in the assist systems of nearly every automobile brand in the world. Founded by Ziv Aviram and Amnon Shashua in 1999, the Israeli company is considered the know-how carrier for the most important automotive technology of the future: autonomous driving.

Even the showpiece electric car, the Tesla Model S, was driving with Mobileye technology. Although too soon, in the opinion of Mobileye’s founders. After a fatal accident in the spring of 2016, it terminated its “reputation damaging” collaboration with Tesla.

Technology giant Mobileye

“We want to collaborate more closely with manufacturers and be more than just a supplier,” is what was coming out of Jerusalem at the time. So since last year, the company has been developing completely autonomous vehicles with Intel and BMW. The Bavarian carmaker wants to put self-driving BMWs on the road by 2021. Initial testing with forty 7-Series models is scheduled to begin in Europe and the United States during the second half of the year. Autonomous cars could then be on the open road by 2021.

Mobileye provides cameras and sensors for mapping the environment. But the EyeQ chip and its algorithms are what really make things tick. It controls the electronics, brakes to prevent accidents and links map data to sensor data. The next version for up to eight cameras is expected in 2018. However, completely autonomous driving will not be possible until the EyeQ 5 is available. It supports more than 16 sensors including radar and LIDAR (light detection and ranging). It is supposedly based on MIPS (microprocessor without interlocked pipeline stages) technology from Imagination Technologies, which is used extensively on the embedded market. As was the case with previous models, once again STMicroelectronics brings its experience with automotive-compatible designs to the table. At least that is what Intel announced before the purchase.

Robotic car is a data leech

But now that it has purchased Mobileye, it looks like Intel will be producing the EyeQ 5 in 10-nm FinFET technology or smaller. Whether or not MIPS cores can be manufactured using Intel processes is still open.

According to its own reports, Intel sees itself as a link between automobiles, the cloud and the IoT (Internet of Things). By 2020, each vehicle is supposed to generate at least 4 Terabytes of data per day. So the future looks bright for server centers and the Xeon server chip. The chip giant estimates that the overall market related to highly and fully automated vehicles will be worth 70 billion dollars by 2030. This is a huge opportunity that could compensate for missing the mobile revolution and shrinking PC sales.

So it has also spent the last few months acquiring various car-related companies—such as Arynga with its CarSync software for over-the-air updates, or Yogitech with safety tools for vehicle chips. When it purchased Itseez, which develops computer-vision algorithms for implementation in embedded systems, the industry was concerned that Intel might want to position itself as Mobileye’s competitor.

But that is no longer an issue. Intel’s entire division for autonomous driving is picking up and moving to Jerusalem. As a result, Mobileye is not being integrated so much into Intel as the other way around—Intel’s Automated Driving Group (ADG) is being integrated into the Israeli SME. The result should be a leading company in the sector for autonomous driving. And according to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, not just to further Intel, but to benefit the automobile industry and mankind. At the very least, thanks to Mobileye Intel can now supply companies with plenty of components that are indispensible for autonomous driving.




Mobileye (Image: Mobileye)

By purchasing Mobileye, Intel wants to do more than just have some say when it comes to autonomous driving. (Image: Mobileye).