Mobileye announces autonomous vehicle pilot programs in Tokyo, Shanghai, and Paris
January 11, 2021
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At the all-virtual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) today, Intel subsidiary Mobileye announced four new locations where it plans to test its autonomous vehicle technologies. In a briefing with reporters, Mobileye cofounder Amnon Shashua revealed that Mobileye’s vehicles began driving autonomously in Detroit in late 2020 and are expected to be on the roads in Tokyo, Shanghai, Paris, and potentially New York City (pending regulation) in the first part of 2021. Shashua also previewed new radar and lidar sensor technologies Mobileye is developing, which he believes will able to detect weak targets far away in the presence of “strong” nearby targets like a motorcyclist obscured by a semitrailer.

The pandemic and its effects, including testing delays, has resulted in consolidation, tabled or canceled launches, and shakeups across the autonomous transportation industry. Ford pushed the unveiling of its self-driving service from 2021 to 2022; Waymo CEO John Krafcik told the New York Times the pandemic delayed work by at least two months; and Amazon acquired driverless car startup Zoox for $1.3 billion. According to Boston Consulting Group managing director Brian Collie, broad commercialization of AVs won’t happen before 2025 or 2026 — at least three years later than originally anticipated.

But while the health crisis curtailed all travel for Mobileye engineers, the team began two completely new pilot programs in 2020, in Munich and Detroit. In July, German certification body TÜV Süd awarded Mobileye a recommendation for a permit to drive its autonomous vehicles on public roads in Germany, including urban and rural areas as well as the Autobahn at up to 130 kilometers (~80 miles) per hour in real-world traffic. Mobileye’s deployment in Michigan, which aims to test the company’s products in the ice and snow over a six-month period, was unveiled last November by the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

Custom sensors

Mobileye, which Intel acquired for $15.3 billion in March 2017, is building two independent self-driving systems. One is based entirely on cameras, while the second incorporates radar, lidar sensors, modems, GPS, and other components. The former runs on two of the company’s EyeQ 5 systems-on-chips processing 11 cameras, along with lidar and radar for redundancy. The next generation of the chip, EyeQ6, is expected to arrive in 2023 and will continue to be made by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. using its 7-nanometer chipmaking process, according to Shashua.

Mobileye’s system isn’t unlike Tesla’s Autopilot, which uses eight cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and front-facing radar in tandem with an onboard computer to achieve a level of high-speed autonomy. (Tesla “shadow-tests” its cars’ autonomous capabilities by collecting anonymized data from hundreds of thousands of customer-owned vehicles “during normal driving operations.”) Tesla’s cars, however, omit lidar; CEO Elon Musk has called the laser-based sensors “a crutch.”

Mobileye’s system-on-chip lidar system features digital and “state-of-the-art” signal processing, different scanning modes, rich raw detections, and multi-frame tracking, Using AI algorithms, the company claims its technology can reduce computing requirements while allowing autonomous vehicles to recognize up to 500,000 detections per second.

“This is really game-changing,” Shashua said of the lidar system-on-chip, which is expected to come to market in 2025. “And we call this a photonic integrated circuit, PIC. It has 184 vertical lines, and then those vertical lines are moved through optics. Having fabs that are able to do that, that’s very, very rare. So this gives [Mobileye and Intel] a significant advantage in building these lidars.”

Mobileye has previously demonstrated that its perception system can detect traffic lights and signs, enabling it to handle intersections fully autonomously. But it also relies on the alluded-to high-definition maps of transportation lines, light rail lines, and roads themselves captured by the company’s Road Experience Management (REM) technology. Harvesting agents, the Mobileye-supplied advanced driver-assistance systems embedded in vehicles from automakers who agree to share data with the company, collect and transmit maps with driving path geometries and stationary landmarks around them. Software running within cars automatically localizes within the maps via real-time detection of recorded, stored, and annotated landmarks.

Mobileye claims it’s mapped more than 7.5 billion kilometers (~4.66 billion miles) of roads. It expects to map more than 1 billion kilometers (~0.62 billion miles) of roads daily by 2024, up from 8 million kilometers (~4.97 million miles) as of today.

In partnership with Moovit, the mobility-as-a-service startup Mobileye acquired in May for $900 million, Mobileye aims to build end-to-end ride-hailing experiences with Luminar lidar-equipped vehicles using Moovit’s platform and apps. The company previously said that by the end of 2020, it expected to scale open-road testing in countries including Israel, France, and South Korea.

Mobileye is aiming to deploy robo-taxi fleets in three major cities by 2022, including 100 cars with lidar and radar in Tel Aviv, with the hardware cost per robo-taxi coming in at $10,000 to $20,000. Shashua recently told Reuters that Mobileye could eventually use the in-house-developed lidar sensors based on frequency modulated continuous wave technology rather than units from Luminar; the in-house sensors could benefit from Intel’s silicon photonics manufacturing expertise and drive costs low enough for off-the-lot consumer cars. By 2025, Mobileye expects to bring the cost of a self-driving system below $5,000.

In the interim, the company plans to deploy dozens of vehicles with unrestricted travel between destinations in Israel, followed by a rollout across the country. This could potentially play out alongside the launch of Mobileye’s China-based service in partnership with Beijing Public Transport Corporation and Beijing Beytai as well as services in Dubai and Daegu City.

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