Intel's Mobileye Looking to Build Own Lidar to Bring Down Costs

The company's CEO says a recent autonomous vehicle test is 'a critical milestone.'
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Intel  (INTC) - Get Report subsidiary Mobileye on Tuesday shared its plans to develop a self-driving car system for 2025.

The Jerusalem-based mobility software company said its system could use in-house developed Light Detection and Ranging (lidar) sensors rather using lidar units from Luminar Technologies LAZR. 

Mobileye said it is making rapid progress toward a full autonomous driving system using cameras and a custom-made processor chip, but the company plans to augment its cameras with lidar and radar sensors that will capture a three-dimensional view of the road. 

Amnon Shashua, CEO of Mobileye and an Intel senior vice president, told Reuters that data now allowed the company's test vehicle to autonomously navigate the streets of Munich with only a week of setup and without flying any engineers from Mobileye headquarters in Israel to Germany.

"This is a critical milestone -- this is what you need for scalability. If you want to have a system at the consumer level, it has to be able to drive everywhere," Shashua told Reuters after the company posted footage of the successful test, which used a human safety driver as a backup.

The company has deals to supply its current camera-based driver assistance systems to BMW  (BMW.DE) , Volkswagen Group  (VWAGY)  and Nissan Motor Co.  (NSANY)

Those systems help with tasks such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping but also generate and transmit mapping data for Mobileye as they drive.

Mobileye plans to demonstrate its camera-based systems using safety drivers in several more cities before rolling out a test fleet of 100 completely driverless vehicles augmented with lidar and radar in Tel Aviv in 2022. 

Mobileye  said the Luminar-based systems will be targeted at robo-taxis, which are commercial vehicles that can spread the cost of the system over many trips. 

For 2025, however, Mobileye is developing its own lidar sensor that works on a principle called frequency modulated continuous wave, or FMCW, which is different from Luminar's technology. 

Shashua said the FMCW technology will benefit from Intel's silicon photonics manufacturing expertise and will drive costs low enough to be used in consumer cars.

Intel purchased Mobileye in 2017 for $15.3 billion. Shares were up 0.39% to $50.67 on Tuesday afternoon. Luminar ended down 17.62% to $22.87.

"We agree achieving high-performance lidar at a sub-$1,000 cost is key for production vehicles, and the fact that we’re the first and only company to make that happen has enabled us to land the first production deals in the industry for autonomy," a Luminar spokesperson said. "Mobileye partnered with us directly for that reason, with Luminar contractually delivering lidar that exceeds these cost and performance requirements for their 2022 launch and beyond.”