“The advantage that silicon photonics can bring is a small form factor solution that can lead to the compact size of the device in the car at the end,” said Kiul Young, a doctoral researcher at Stanford University who focuses on photon hardware. Today, many companies use a lidar system based on rotating mirrors, says Yang, which requires the production of discrete, expensive components. “If everything can be integrated into a chip with a small form factor, then everything can be produced at a low cost,” he says.
Again, Mobileye is not the only company to bank on FMCW or leader chips more broadly. But there is a clear advantage, as Intel already has a silicon photonics plant in New Mexico. “The ability to build an FMCW lidar requires know-how, but also, if you don̵
Even if Mobileye’s production roadmap remains stable, the uncertain regulatory outlook could slow the schedule. Still, it is making closer progress, announcing today at CES that it will extend its autonomous car tests to Detroit, Paris, Tokyo and Shanghai in 2020 (locations are strategic; each is close to a carmaker that Mobileye delivers and uses millions of cars with Mobileye on board for crowdsourcing on a map of nearly 1 billion kilometers of world roads to date, processing 8 million kilometers every day. driving.
This reputation and deep pockets of Intel will help him against the smaller competitors in the lidar SoC race. “I respect that in the automotive industry, reliability is a big differentiator,” said Mike Ramsey, an automotive analyst at Gartner. “Can I trust this supplier to deliver on time, to deliver quality? And Intel has the very important feature of being a very big throat to choke on if something goes wrong. Don’t underestimate the value in this. “
Mobileye accounts for a small percentage of Intel’s total revenue. But together with the client computing group – ie. chips that go into computers and neighboring products – this is the only segment that has grown in the last quarter of the company. Exactly the type of new territory Intel must bet aggressively to avoid another smartphone-style omission.
“If you look long-term, a company like Intel has to look for new domains to grow. It is not easy to find one. You want to look for a new market worth hundreds of billions of dollars, ”says Shashua, as well as one that uses Intel’s strengths. “These domains are rare. We are in this domain. “
XPU marks the location
Mobileye’s lidara SoC is the clearest example of what Intel calls its “XPU” strategy – that is, looking outside the CPU at calculations in all its many forms. The company released its first discrete graphics card last fall, has a dominant position in data center processors, and in 2019 acquired AI chip maker Habana Labs, which a few weeks ago won a business from Amazon Web Services to use its accelerators to training models for deep learning.
“We’re a computer company at our heart,” said Gregory Bryant, who heads Intel’s customer computing team. “We see this world where more and more things need computers, more and more things look like a computer, not only the server or the computer, but also the car, the home, the factory, the hospital. All these things need calculations and they need intelligence. “
This expansion comes at a time when Intel is facing more challenges than ever before its traditional business lines. Delays in production keep it in a 10-nanometer chip-making process, while competitors move to smaller forms. The company’s chief engineering officer, Marty Renducintala, left last summer. And the Third Point hedge fund issued a burning public letter in late December, urging Intel to “retain a respected investment adviser to evaluate strategic alternatives, including whether Intel should remain an integrated device maker and potentially take away some failed acquisitions.”