Company / division: Mobileye
It’s striking to me that this piece never mentions Nvidia once, even though that chip company has been making much of the noise in the automotive space over the past year, especially when it comes to autonomous driving. That prominence is clearly a driver for this deal, with Intel signing some of its own deals but not getting nearly the buzz Nvidia has been. Mobileye, meanwhile, has been striking deals left and right with a variety of players (though it recently ended its relationship with Tesla). Just in the last three months, it’s announced partnerships with HERE and BMW over mapping, but it’s also in many of other car manufacturers’ existing cars and their autonomous plans. Given Intel’s ongoing struggles in the mobile space, its recent loss of the Microsoft server business to Qualcomm and the ARM architecture, and the ongoing stagnation in PCs, it needs some new drivers of growth, and in-car technology could provide that. Mobileye is also attractive as a business – it’s growing fast (almost 50% year on year in 2016) and profitable, with fairly high margins. So this isn’t an acquisition that will take years to contribute to Intel’s business, although its overall scale is still small. But it’s integration opportunity and the eventual opportunity to sell a joined up solution of chips and sensors which Intel will be focusing on here.
I’ve seen this announcement referred to as being about crowdsourcing in at least one place, and that’s exactly the wrong word to use, because this isn’t about a crowd of people at all, but about real-time data from vehicles. In contrast to crowd-sourced map data, which can easily be manipulated for humorous or nefarious ends, this is a closed-loop system in which anonymized data from BMW cars will help update HERE’s increasingly detailed and real-time maps. And that kind of up-to-the-minute map data will be critical for autonomous driving in future – it’s no good knowing what the road looked like six months ago (or even yesterday) if there’s construction, an accident, or a roadblock today. Putting this technology into one manufacturer’s new cars by itself isn’t going to generate that much data – there simply aren’t enough brand-new BMWs to be useful. But if HERE strikes similar partnerships with other carmakers, then over time it could end up with some of the best real-time map data out there. It’s a little hard to tell from HERE’s release, but the BMW/Mobileye release certainly suggests that the latter will also get to aggregate and use the data. This announcement also highlights the fact that, no matter how clever the technology from Silicon Valley startups, the companies with by far the most and best data will be the car companies and those that partner with them.
Autonomous tech supplier Mobileye wants automakers to crowdsource maps for self-driving cars – Recode (Jan 5, 2017)
Given that HERE is already owned by several of the automakers, you could make the argument that there’s a more natural player to aggregate mapping data from them, but Mobileye is making its pitch regardless. On the one hand, it’s easy to see the logic here – all the companies ultimately need basically the same data. On the other, however, these companies are fierce competitors and though they’ve occasionally cooperated too, they’re far less likely to cede control and exclusive ownership of something they consider strategically important. Ultimately, it may well be the premium and niche automakers who need such an approach more than the big guys.
There is so much change happening at once in the transportation industry that it’s impossible for any one company to stay on top of it all, which generally leads to a decent amount of focus. However, there are benefits to companies integrating their efforts to benefit from each other’s skills and advances, and HERE and Mobileye are doing just that around autonomous driving. It’s a smart move and one that should benefit both companies and their partners.