Intel to invest heavily in car technologies

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Intel Capital has announced it is launching a $100m investment fund that will collaborate with companies developing automobile technologies, such as in-car entertainment and navigation systems.

The computer chip manufacturer’s decision to diversify its investments comes at a time when it is trying to become a leader in several hi-tech industries and stem the tide of declining revenues. Intel’s x86 chips have long dominated the PC industry but the chipmaker failed to translate that lead and make a foray into mobile phones and tablet computers. The California-based company is making sure it does not suffer a similar fate with cars.

“The car is the ultimate mobile device,” said Staci Palmer, general manager of Intel’s automotive solutions division. “By 2014, automobiles will be among the top three fastest-growing areas for connected devices and internet content.”

Over the next 4 to 5 years, Intel’s car fund will support hardware, software and services acquisitions and research to develop cutting-edge automobile technologies.

Intel has announced tie ups with BMW, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota and several Chinese car manufacturers, aimed at getting its technology into cars. The company’s new product development centre would be opened in Karlsruhe, Germany, where about 60 people would be employed.

The fund is among several others managed by Intel Capital, including the Ultrabook fund focused on lightweight computing, and the AppUp fund focused on applications for computers and mobile devices. The company is also managing investment funds in Brazil, China, India and the Middle East.

Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini explained that the opening of ‘Automotive Innovation and Product Development Centre’ is deepening its understanding of how people interact with their cars and how innovations can enhance the automotive experience.

Intel is interested in technologies such as enhanced driving assistance with gesture recognition, eye tracking and speech recognition. Reports suggest a team is working on advanced technologies that would be able to notify the driver of an accident ahead or warn him/her of challenging road conditions. “The fund would turbo-charge development in this sector,” Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital and Intel executive vice president, said in a statement.

HUMAN MACHINE COLLABORATION

The company claimed its technology is focusing on leveraging existing and new vehicle sensors to provide real-time recommendations based on the in-vehicle behaviour. It is also using a Human Machine Interface (HMI) to interact with the car through video, voice, or gestures.

intel in-car tech
Intel's in-car infotainment concept technology. Photo - Intel

The concept employs cameras and sensors within the car and uses face recognition algorithms to identify the driver in real-time as he/she approaches the car and gets access through authentication. It also detects the driver and passengers and adjusts heating, mirrors, seating and communication configurations based on personal preferences.

This system can be a powerful safety enhancer. One example of this idea is that if you are driving and someone cuts you off, the car can sense the driver’s head orientation. If the car system senses that the driver is looking forward, it will give him/her a subtle warning. If it finds out that the driver is looking to the side or down for any reason, a more aggressive alert will warn about the car in front of the driver.

However, some people are skeptical about Intel’s new technologies. Joanna Bright, leading California-based anthropologist, expressed her concerns to Arabian Gazette. “Somehow such a technology would not only boost Human-Machine relationship, it might make machines more important in our lives, thus isolating and alienating us. This sounds like a good Steven Spielberg movie, but based on what we have seen so far, it might end up harming more than helping us. We need to tread very carefully while introducing and implanting such technologies.”

Many others are pretty excited to learn about Intel’s latest endeavours.

“This technology is vital for a country like the UAE, where traffic accidents are increasing year by year,” Mohammed Al Awatif, an Abu Dhabi-based human rights activist, told Arabian Gazette.

Intel Capital has invested more than $10.5bn in 1,218 companies in the last two decades with a total of $526m invested in 158 companies last year alone.

(Written by Rizana Shah Jahan with input from Financial Times; Edited by Moign Khawaja)

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