In a keynote speech during the LA Auto Show today, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said his company will spend $250 million over the next two years toward the development of autonomous vehicles. It’s a significant sum of money and a clear sign that the computer chip manufacturer is serious about playing a large role in the future of automobiles.
But that doesn’t mean that Intel is about to create its own fleet of self-driving cars. After all, the process of building a car from scratch is incredibly complex and expensive. Intel sounds like it’s more interested in what goes into the technology that powers a self-driving car than building the car itself.
In a statement, Intel says the investment will help “push the boundaries on next-generation connectivity, communication, context awareness, deep learning, security, safety and more.” In other words, Intel wants to be the company that processes the data powering the self-driving cars made by auto manufacturers like BMW. Previously, the German automaker said it was partnering with Intel and Mobileye, the Israeli supplier of driver assistance systems and sensors that supplies a large percentage of the auto industry, to produce fully autonomous vehicles by 2021.
"Fully" is the key word in Intel's news today. Production vehicles today already offer various forms of partial automation like dynamic cruise control and lane assistance, and more advanced systems like Tesla's Autopilot and GM's Super Cruise. But a fully self-driving car — something akin to the Google car — is an entirely different level of capability and complexity where you simply summon your vehicle, get in, and let it take you wherever you want to go without needing to intervene or pay attention.
Intel isn’t the only tech company investing heavily in self-driving cars. Practically every automaker and tech startup is working on the technology as well. Nvidia, the GPU manufacturer, and Baidu, the Chinese search giant, are working on a self-driving car platform. And the federal Department of Transportation under the Obama administration has said it aims to spend $4 billion over 10 years on pilot programs to test (and create regulations around) connected and autonomous car technologies.