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Intel and BMW plan to seize the wheel in self-driving cars

Autonomous driving is coming, and unsurprisingly Intel believes it should be at the heart of it.

At the former Altera facility in San Jose, California, the company better known for powering your laptop and PC outlined its vision for driverless cars over the coming years. While collaboration is the name of Intel‘s game, make no mistake: it sees this as a prime opportunity to sell more silicon.

“We think this is a place where we can be close to potential partners, potential startups,” Kathy Winter, VP of Intel’s Automated Driving Group, said of the center, which will act as a “garage” for the company’s self-driving work moving forward. According to Winter, the positioning is essential because of how it facilitates different teams within the firm working together. “At Intel, this is probably been the best examples I’ve seen of “One Intel”,” she said.

However, there’ll be more than just Intel staff on-site. “The only way we’re going to solve this problem across the industry,” Winter said of autonomous technology taking old, is not by ourselves but by working together.” That means a long list of partners, from automakers, through wireless experts, software developers, and experts in the high-definition mapping self-driving vehicles will demand.

One such example is BMW, which will be providing the donor cars for a new Intel-powered fleet of autonomous testers. Though at first glance they look like your typical 7 Series, look closer and you can see a Mobileye camera array behind the windshield, and a pair of high-resolution GPS sensors on the roof near the satellite radio antenna. Around forty of the cars will be on the road by the end of the year.

The goal isn’t just to make a system for BMW to deploy its own production self-driving vehicles. Instead, the automaker, Intel, and Mobileye will collaborate on a scalable architecture that other car companies can build upon, ranging from select modules – like sensor hubs that pull together camera, radar, and LIDAR data – to an entire turn-key system.

Exactly how that will roll out is unclear at this stage: as BMW’s Kenn Sparks told us, “we have to build it first!” The automaker is counting on the various autonomous platforms in development coalescing into a single, open standard. What BMW is backing may not be the only one to contribute to that, “but we want it to be the best,” Sparks said. BMW has earmarked 2021 as the target for a commercial roll-out.

Whatever the underlying platform, individual cars themselves will have some degree of onboard intelligence, but it’s when technologies like V2V (vehicle to vehicle), V2I (vehicle to infrastructure), and V2P (vehicle to pedestrian) are factored in that autonomous driving will be able to reach a tipping point. That will allow for cars that can report back traffic conditions to their counterparts not yet with line-of-sight to a crash, or for cities to redirect self-driving vehicles around congestion or road works. That, of course, relies on a persistent wireless connection.

“We think of the network like oxygen,” Lynn Comp, senior director of industry enabling for the Network Platforms Group, “people use it, but they don’t necessarily realize they need it.” Comp’s team is working with infrastructure providers like Ericsson to ready the wireless world for the demands of self-driving vehicles and the distributed computing that Intel is betting will be the brains of that.

Papi Mabele
Tech enthusiast at heart. Lover of all things digital. Papi is the founder of SA Vibe and has been sharing his love for gadgetry since 2010. Papi sees no need for wearable tech in his busy schedule and considers the Xbox One as non existant. He may come across as bias at times, and still holds a grudge at BlackBerry for creating the 8520.