What Intel Sees in Mobileye

Intel’s $15.3 billion acquisition of Mobileye, the leading maker of microchips for outward-facing cameras in cars, is the largest acquisition related to self-driving car software yet. And it’s an indicator of how big a role Mobileye will have in the field, thanks to the data Mobileye will harvest from those cars and keep for itself.

Today, Mobileye, an 18-year-old Israeli firm, sells chips alongside image-recognition software aimed at recognizing other vehicles, lanes and pedestrians. The chips and software together  power high-end features like lane-departure and collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. Mobileye has also developed more sophisticated chips and software for self-driving vehicles on highways and, eventually, in cities. And it recently announced deals to install those chips in vehicles made by major carmakers like Audi, BMW and Volkswagen.

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Mobileye, however, already has a big footprint in the auto industry. It’s chips and software for the high-end features like adaptive cruise control are installed in 15 million vehicles. Its newer deals with carmakers including BMW ensure that its more advanced systems will be in several million cars within the next five years.

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Not all carmakers are OK with Mobileye’s ability to keep the data, since they don’t want to outsource key parts of the “brain” of a self-driving car.