Money keeps pouring in from companies trying to perfect the self-driving car.
Like, a ton of money.
The latest eye-popping transaction: Intel announced Monday that it was buying Israeli company Mobileye for $15.3 billion.
Mobileye’s systems, which are used by 27 carmakers, depend on specialized cameras to sense a car’s surroundings on the road. It’s the tech behind the emergency braking and lane assistance systems that are becoming more common in new vehicles.
The acquisition shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, since the two companies have been working together with BMW since last year to create a fully autonomous car by 2021. The first test vehicles for that project, iNext, are slated to hit the streets as part of a pilot program in the second half of this year.
Intel’s big acquisition shows that it won’t be content simply providing chips for self-driving systems. While $15.3 billion is a massive investment, Intel believes the self-driving vehicle market could climb to $70 billion by 2030
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich made the company’s intentions clear when announcing the acquisition. He touted the potential of combining Intel’s processing power and Mobileye’s advanced automotive computer vision systems, as well as its ties to automakers.
“Together, we can accelerate the future of autonomous driving with improved performance in a cloud-to-car solution at a lower cost for automakers,” he said in a statement.
The real value here is that the systems developed by the Intel-Mobileye partnership won’t be tied to just one automaker or use case, like other projects in the works from automakers like Tesla or ride-hailing companies like Uber.
Instead, Intel will look to reap the benefits of being a free agent, so more deals like the BMW partnership could be on the way.
Mobileye famously teamed up with Tesla and helped to create the automaker’s first automatic crash avoidance system. The two companies went through an ugly breakup in 2016, however, following the first self-driving car fatality, which was the result of a driver’s improper use of the Autopilot system. At the time, Mobileye chairman and CTO Amnon Shash said Tesla was “pushing the envelope in terms of safety.”
The Intel-Mobileye deal is part of a larger trend in the development of autonomous driving systems than can be marketed to multiple customers, rather than each automaker building its own.
In January, the former Google self-driving car project, Waymo, announced it started building its own hardware to go along with the software it’s developing. For now, the Waymo platform is being honed on a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans — but the company has not-so-subtly hinted that other automakers are in its sights for the future.
Ford made a smaller (but still huge) $1 billion investment in another self-driving engineering startup, Argo AI, which also has eyes on making a platform that could eventually be licensed to other automakers. The project will likely be limited to Ford vehicles for the near future, though — the company also set a 2021 finish line for its fully autonomous system.
Self-driving cars seem inevitable, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more deals like this in the future.