Intel/Mobileye and Ford pair on driver assist tech despite car sales slump

While car sales are in crisis mode from the pandemic, Intel’s Mobileye unit is boosting its driver assistance technology prowess and, indirectly, its higher-level autonomous vehicle work.

On Monday, Mobileye announced its EyeQ chips and software will support Ford’s Co-Pilot360 technology to help precisely identify what the windshield camera in a vehicle can see. 

The announcement comes just ahead of Intel’s next earnings announcement on Thursday, and is clearly intended to show Intel’s commitment to future vehicle technology involving artificial intelligence and related advancements.  Intel’s earnings come a day after Tesla earnings will be announced on Wednesday; Ford has been actively attempting to compete with Tesla on electric and other next-generation vehicle technology.

The announcement also builds on an existing relationship between Ford and Intel/Mobileye at a time when new car sales among all brands are down more than 30% as COVID-19 has limited mobility and wrecked economies while savaging car sales as consumers limit their spending.  Ford’s second quarter vehicle sales were down 33.3%. 

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“The deal…appears to be a commitment by Ford to spread this technology across its entire lineup and seems to open the door to an updateable safety system,” said Michael Ramsey, an analyst at Gartner via email.  “Mobileye continues to dominate in computer-vision-based safety systems in automotive. Even if higher levels of vehicle autonomy aren’t near at hand, there is a lot of opportunity in the remainder of the fleet.”

Mobileye counts 13 of the top 15 vehicle makers as its customers for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) chips and software and ADAS revenues help fund more advanced autonomic vehicle (AV) development, a spokesman said.

Mobileye’s tech will be used in new Ford production vehicles to identify pedestrians and other vehicles as well as traffic signs and lane markings.  The tech enables features such as lane keeping, auto high-beam headlamps, pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking and intelligent adaptive cruise control as well as active drive assist hands-free driving for the all-new Mustang Mach-E and F-150.  

The Mobileye EyeQ devices and software will support Level 1 and Level 2 driver assistance systems in Ford vehicles globally.  Level 1 as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers provides automation for a single part of driving, such as steering, while Level 2 can be defined to support both steering and acceleration/braking.  In both cases, the driver retains supervision of the vehicle.

In addition to bringing EyeQ to its vehicles, Ford will include the Mobileye logo in its SYNC driver-assist displays.   EyeQ supports complex vision processing from multiple processors with low power.

Mobileye called the collaboration a “high volume agreement” but none of the terms were specified. 

Nearly all major car manufacturers and the largest semiconductor makers are pumping billions of dollars into driver assist and autonomous vehicle tech, although several chipmakers said in April that with the emergence of COVID-19, there might be some lag in how fast new car-related tech rolls out in finished vehicles.

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Ramsey said AV tech development is a long game and companies like Intel stand to benefit from continued investment with research.  “Intel is doing pretty well,” he said. “When things get tough economically, if you can keep investing in R&D, you open up a bigger lead on the competition which may have to sacrifice spending simply to stay afloat.”

Back in November when Ford announced the Mustang Mach-E as its first all-electric SUV, the anticipated price was $44,000 compared to Tesla’s Model Y, with a starting price of $39,000.  The new Mustang is due out later this year.

Mobileye’s announcement with Ford sought to assure investors it has aggressively pushed forwards on its AV ambitions .  In May, Mobileye announced a $900 million acquisition of Moovit, a mobility-as-a-service provider that helps Mobileye with its robotaxi research and development.

In early July, Mobileye partnered with Willer on an autonomous robotaxi service for Southeast Asia. Willer already offers robotaxi services in France, Israel and Korea.

Last week, Mobileye announced it has an automated vehicle testing permit in Germany, in both urban and rural areas as well as on Autobahn at driving speeds of 130 kilometers per hour. The first tests will be conducted in traffic in Munich.

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