As the auto industry wonders what Silicon Valley chip supplier might dominate the market for self-driving cars — giant Intel or colossal Nvidia — the answer may well be headquartered 7,400 miles east of Detroit.
When Intel announced plans in March to acquire Mobileye of Israel for $14.7 billion, the Jerusalem-based software supplier commanded 70 percent of the global market for obstacle detection software.
Obstacle detection will be a crucial new vehicle component in the coming decade, empowering cars to "see" road obstacles such as pedestrians, stray animals, dangerous debris, vehicles and signs. In addition to detecting such objects, the systems must recognize and understand what those objects are doing. Is that a pedestrian in the middle of the lane ahead, or it is an emergency worker warning the vehicle to stop?
This has been futuristic technology until now. But it will soon be a standard component for an industry transforming to autonomous driving.
Mobileye gained dominance with EyeQ3, a software-and-chip combo that relies on cameras that are inexpensive enough for use in small cars. And that may be Intel's ace in the hole.
To be sure, both Intel and Nvidia are showcasing their top-of-the-line technology in vehicles developed by Audi, BMW, Volvo, Mercedes and other luxury brands.
But Mobileye gives Intel a chance to introduce self-driving technologies — such as lane-keeping, collision avoidance or 360-degree surround view — step-by-step in the mass market.
The company also can generate crowd-sourced road maps from camera data uploaded by Mobileye-equipped vehicles to the cloud.
General Motors, Nissan and Volkswagen all plan to introduce Mobileye maps over the next two or three years.
"Our ability to generate this map in an efficient and low-cost way is a big value to our customers," said Mobileye spokesman Dan Galves. "Cameras are an extremely versatile data collection device."