Intel and BMW expand self-driving car alliance to include Delphi

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The logistical and technical challenges involved in producing autonomous vehicles are too large for any one company to tackle. As a result, the auto industry is seeing the emergence of alliances aimed at spreading out the work across the supply chain.

One of the most promising such partnerships is the collaboration that Intel Corp. and BMW AG struck last year, which they’re expanding today by bringing Delphi Automotive PLC into the fold. The British auto parts maker will support the companies’ effort to develop an affordable driving system for autonomous vehicles. Slated to arrive in 2021, the platform combines Intel silicon with software from Mobileye NV, the navigation provider that the chip maker acquired for $15.3 billion earlier this year.

The companies have already developed a prototype as part of an earlier collaboration with Delphi. The project, which was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, saw the auto parts maker fit an Audi with LiDAR equipment and Mobileye’s camera-based navigation system. Today’s new partnership will entrust Delphi with the task of customizing the design for any third-party auto makers that may wish to implement it in their cars.

For BMW, the decision to collaborate with competitors seems to stem from a desire to offload some of the expenses involved in the project. Company representatives said at a press conference that they expect the steep costs involved in developing autonomous driving technology will see the industry converge around a “fairly small number of” navigation systems.

BMW and the other members of the alliance are invested heavily to secure a seat at the table. Richard Rau, the head of the company’s sensors, control units and software group, stated that it’s in “very deep discussions” to bring other automakers aboard. He expects more members to start joining as soon as a few weeks from now.

Furthermore, BMW and Intel will likely also team up with other system integrators besides Delphi to speed up their plans. They should have no trouble doing so given that the agreement with the British company was deliberately made to be non-exclusive, according to the partnership announcement.

Delphi likewise can take the opportunity to expand its ecosystem and team up with other players working on autonomous navigation technology. Among them is graphics chip maker Nvidia Corp., which has scored partnerships with key suppliers such as Robert Bosch GmbH. and Paccar Inc. in recent months. It’s also collaborating with BMW’s Audi unit on a project that aims to produce a self-driving car by 2020, a year ahead of Intel.

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