Self-driving cars occupy a bit of an odd position in technology at the moment. While the topic has been fairly popular, and spawned additional interest in concepts like machine learning and AI, the actual nuts and bolts of how various companies are implementing self-driving technology are hush-hush. Marketing presentations and high-level diagrams are common; in-depth explanations that spell out exactly how the various platforms work are not. That’s partly because even the firms working on the problem are presumably still defining their various characteristics, and partly out of a need to maintain corporate secrecy.
Either way, certain details are hard to come by. That’s why it’s surprising Intel and Waymo, the former Google self-driving car project, have recently announced they’ve been collaborating on autonomous cars for nearly a decade. Intel hasn’t exactly been disinterested when it comes to AI, deep learning, or IoT, but it hasn’t publicly made the area a major focus until the last few years. In a recent blog post, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich revealed that his company has been partnered with Waymo for years, and that Waymo’s newest Chrysler Pacifica hybrids “feature Intel-based technologies for sensor processing, general compute and connectivity, enabling real-time decisions for full autonomy in city conditions.”
Other reports indicate the Waymo vehicles contain custom silicon from Intel, with an integrated Arria FPGA, gigabit ethernet, and Xeon processors. Krzanich told Reuters the company combines these functions on custom silicon it built specifically for Waymo.
“Over time we’ll both learn we can bring more of the software … down onto the silicon, because you get performance, cost and power,” Krzanich said. “There will be a regular cadence of new innovation and new silicon that comes out. That’s really what we both get out of this.”
When Intel bought Mobileye, it argued the deal was a smart move into a new market.
Intel bought Mobileye earlier this year and is partnering with BMW to create a self-driving autonomous vehicle dubbed iNEXT with a planned launch set for 2021. Chrysler has also announced its intent to join the program, while Ford already uses Intel processors in its self-driving vehicle networks. Nvidia, probably Intel’s greatest competitor in this space, has deals of its own with Audi and Tesla, though these are brands with a fraction of the sales that more mainstream manufacturers enjoy. Then again, Nvidia has always had aspirations of Apple-hood, and would likely rather own the luxury market than the mainstream if it can use that position to its own advantage.
The Reuters report said the collaboration between Intel and Waymo dates back to 2009, when the project was just gearing up at Google. Despite the Intel-Mobileye connection, Google isn’t using that company’s technology for its own self-driving vehicle efforts. BMW and Chrysler are working with Mobileye technology, which implies that when the first self-driving vehicles start to hit market, they’re going to deploy a wide range of technical platforms to deliver their capabilities. If past markets are any indication, it’ll take a few years for these platforms to be winnowed out until a few major players are left standing. Intel, it seems, is determined to be one of them.
Now read: Best Cars of the 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show