Automaker BMW, chipmaker Intel, and vision systems developer Mobileye are ready to announce a collaboration aimed at ushering in a self-driving car within five years. The three companies have scheduled a briefing for Friday morning (July 1), 10 a.m. East Coast time, or 4 p.m. CEST (central Europe).
It’s likely the announcement will be built around advances in sensors and algorithms that improve on cars’ abilities to detect and respond to other vehicles, pedestrians, and objects in the road that might collide unless the autonomous vehicle changes course or takes other action. The story was broken Thursday morning by Reuters.
The challenge to autonomous driving: the unexpected
Even now, more than a dozen car models have some measure of autonomous driving — on limited access highways with gradual not hairpin curves, when it’s not snowing or raining heavily, and when another car doesn’t spin out just in front of you, or an old washing machine doesn’t fall off off a pickup truck. But it will follow the car in front (adaptive cruise control), stay centered in the lane (lane centering assist), and keep you from changing lanes if there’s a car you don’t see in your blind spot.
BMW is talking about taking its cars to a higher level of autonomous driving by 2021. Coincidentally, that could be the likely launch year for the seventh generation of the flagship BMW 7 Series, which is on a 6- to 7-year product cycle (the current 7 Series was launched in 2015). BMW earlier this year said it would launch a flagship car with autonomous driving capability. BMW could also declare its flagship vehicle to be the X7 SUV, which is expected to debut in 2018 and would be due for a mid-life refresh circa 2021.
Self-driving is the new competitive edge
The world’s premier automakers see individual driver assist technologies today, and self-driving within the decade, to be potential differentiators. The challenge for the automakers is the core technologies — whether it’s vision sensors from Mobileye, night vision sensors from Autoliv, or adaptive cruise control radars from Bosch — come from suppliers that work with multiple automakers.
Individual automakers can still hustle a technology to market by putting more people to work on the project, or make the installation and interface easier for the driver. BMW has an advantage because of its longstanding deployment of head-up displays that can show what the self-driving tools are sensing.
Who is Mobileye
Mobileye was founded in 1999 and has headquarters in Jerusalem, Israel, with several offices in the US. It concentrates on vision systems. BMW, along with GM and Volvo, were its earliest clients. Tesla is a high-profile client that uses Mobileye sensors for its AutoPilot System. The company also makes portable systems that can be installed on cars and trucks already in use.
Mobileye is expected to be the optical systems supplier for the BMW project, while Intel would be the chipmaker for Mobileye’s fifth-generation chips, called EyeQ5. The chips and software are believed to offer real-time road mapping (that is, road contours and edges) as well as driving policy, meaning the rules for interacting with other cars and roadside objects, including when they’re not behaving as expected. One uncertainty is what happens to Mobileye’s existing relationship with STMicroelectronics, a French-Italian chipmaker.