Driver-assist growth helping to lay groundwork; new partnership with Nio will tackle robotaxis

A big bet on the proliferation of driver-assistance systems is paying off for Intel in more ways than one.

The company said Tuesday that revenues from its Mobileye subsidiary achieved record growth in the third quarter, underpinned by sales of chips that power driver-assist features. For company executives, that’s providing reassurance that a $15.3 billion acquisition of Mobileye two and a half years ago was a prescient move.

But it’s also fueling optimism that over the long haul, Intel will be positioned to be a dominant force in a fledgling robotaxi market.

Along those lines, Intel said Tuesday that it had established a partnership with Chinese EV maker Nio to deploy fully automated vehicles in a robotaxi fleet. Under the agreement, Nio will develop a “specially configured variant” of electric AVs that Mobileye will outfit with its self-driving technology and use in ride-hailing services across the globe.

Intel unveiled the partnership and issued its latest financial results and projections at an event for investors held Tuesday at Mobileye’s headquarters in Jerusalem. Among the noteworthy figures: The company notched year-over-year revenue growth of 20 percent in its driver-assist technology, which is now used by 27 automakers around the world.

“They’re killing it,” said Jack Weast, principal engineer and chief architect of autonomous driving solutions at Intel.

Even amid industrywide headwinds in the self-driving realm, Intel said it foresees a bright future for the self-driving market, estimating it will be worth $160 billion by the end of the next decade.

The company’s approach to developing both driverless and driver-assistance features is something of an outlier in the technology realm. Rather than eschewing one for the other, Weast says that tech initially intended for self-driving technology is trickling down to boost the performance of its driver-assist systems.

In turn, data gathered from those driver-assist systems is providing more granular information on which to build the autonomous future — not to mention providing revenue today that Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua said is “funding the future of driverless cars.”

Far from the future, those efforts are delivering results now, some of which are unexpected.

Using data from driver-assistance systems has allowed Mobileye to crowdsource the process of building maps that establish a blueprint for autonomous driving.

“We can deploy globally and learn now, and enhance and mature our algorithms,” Weast told Automotive News. “That’s a huge advantage. If you are starting from scratch, where do you get that experience?”

The companies said Tuesday that roads in the European Union will be fully mapped by the first quarter of next year and that the majority of roads in the United States will be mapped by the end of 2020. Mobileye harvests map information through partnerships with the likes of BMW, Volkswagen and Nissan, along with three other OEMs the company has not publicly named.

While those maps can be used in both driver-assist and driverless applications, Intel has also built a burgeoning data-collection business. More than 20 companies are using data generated in a Mobileye partnership with UK mapping company Ordnance Survey. Overall, Intel projects a driver-assistance and data market worth $72.5 billion by 2030.

“Mobileye has expanded its ambitions in data,” Weast said. “It’s an entirely new business line, and it’s given us use cases where we can reuse and monetize data from our current ADAS vehicles. That’s a whole new opportunity that’s developing adjacent to other traditional business, and we’ve come to realize that and are aggressively exploring it.”

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