Volkswagen and Mobileye, the computer vision firm owned by Intel, announced Monday a plan to launch a commercial self-driving ride-hailing service in Israel in 2019. It’s an aggressive move by the German automaker that could propel it to the front of the pack of companies working to commercialize autonomous driving, along with Alphabet’s Waymo and GM’s Cruise.
“a turn-key, driverless solution”
As part of the deal, Volkswagen will supply a fleet of electric cars, Mobileye will handle the self-driving technology, and Champion Motors, Israel’s second largest car importer and distributor, will run fleet management operations. The vehicles will be fitted with Mobileye’s AV kit, “a turn-key, driverless solution comprised of hardware, driving policy, safety software and map data,” the companies said. And the project will start in early 2019 with a few dozen vehicles and scale to “hundreds of self-driving electric cars” by 2022.
“This is not a pilot project,” an Intel spokesperson said in an email. “The joint venture is the first of its kind targeting Level 4/5 commercial MaaS.”
For the uninitiated, MaaS stands for “Mobility as a Service,” the catch-all phrase used to describe the shift away from personally owned vehicles and toward a tech-enabled transportation utopia. And Level 4 / 5 describes the top two levels of vehicle automation as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers: Level 4 is no human driver within certain parameters; and Level 5 is no human driver without restrictions. (To be sure, many experts predict that Level 5 automation will be impossible to achieve.)
“This is not a pilot project”
Other details, such as in which city the new service will first launch, weren’t immediately available. But the Israeli government is supposedly on board, ready to supply regulatory and infrastructural support as needed, the companies say.
To be sure, Volkswagen is not a member of the super group comprised of BMW, Intel, Mobileye, and Fiat Chrysler that is working on the development of semi-autonomous and fully autonomous technologies for production vehicles. The companies are already testing AVs on public roads, and have said they want to develop “scalable architecture” that can be adopted by other automakers and designers to plug into vehicles of different brands.
“The VW and BMW relationships are different,” the Intel spokesperson said. “In the case of New Mobility in Israel with VW, we are forming a joint venture AND providing a turn-key AV Kit that will be retrofitted into existing VW cars. In the case of BMW we are working with company to design an [autonomous driving] solutions that will be customized for future Level 4-Level 5] BMW AVs.”
That collaboration, though, is nonexclusive, freeing up each company to pursue its own projects — one which clearly is this Israeli ride-hailing venture with Volkswagen.