Volkswagen and global supplier Mobileye have forged a new partnership focused on the deployment of self-driving vehicles.
Executives with the two companies announced a joint venture Monday and unveiled plans to launch an autonomous ride-hailing service in Israel beginning early next year. Service will start in a testing phase, then gradually shift toward a commercial deployment tentatively planned for 2022.
By that point, "there will be several dozen vehicles deployed and we will quickly scale to hundreds of vehicles as the geography of the program expands," a Mobileye spokesperson said.
The tie-up places the two companies within a group of frontrunners all locked in a global race to deploy fleets of vehicles and scale businesses underpinned by autonomous-driving technology.
The new joint venture, called the New Mobility in Israel, was rolled out during the ongoing Smart Mobility Summit being held in Tel Aviv this week. For now, the companies declined to say whether the service will be available to members of the general public.
Volkswagen will contribute electric vehicles to the project, though company officials are not disclosing which models will be used.
Mobileye, an Intel subsidiary, will provide a self-driving system capable of Level 4 autonomous operations, one competent enough to require no involvement from a human driver. That turn-key system will contain the company's driving policy, safety software and map data.
A third member of the partnership, Champion Motors will handle fleet operations and maintain a control center for the business.
Based in Jerusalem, Mobileye has tested its technology on public roads in Israel for more than a year. Those tests have included ensuring the system can drive assertively enough to keep pace with the country's human drivers, who have established a reputation for their aggressive maneuvers behind the wheel, according to Mobileye executives.
While Mobileye has embarked on other autonomous-related partnerships with the likes of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and BMW, this marks the first use of the company's turn-key autonomous system, which was unveiled at the Citi Global Technology Conference in Dresden, Germany in September.
With the vehicles powered by electric batteries and under computer control, leaders of the venture tout it as one of the first real-world examples showcasing the convergence of autonomy and electric powertrains.
"We firmly believe that self-driving electric vehicles will offer Israel and cities around the world safe, clean and emission-free mobility, which is accessible and convenient," said Herbert Diess, CEO of the Volkswagen Group.