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Mobileye touts bright future while Nvidia, Qualcomm win over automakers

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear

Analysis Mobileye, Intel's autonomous driving unit, offered a rather rosy outlook on the company's advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), with CEO Amnon Shashua claiming more than $17 billion in bookings through 2030 during his CES keynote this week.

However, the autonomous vehicle market remains in its infancy with many of the enabling technologies still under active development. Israel-based Mobileye may have won early credibility among automakers like BMW, Nissan, Volkswagen, and China's Zeekr, but it's not the only chipmaker eager to claim their share of the autonomous vehicle hype.

At GTC last fall, Nvidia unveiled its next-generation autonomous driving platform called Drive Thor. Based on the company's Hopper microarchitecture, the system will reportedly deliver 2,000 TOPS (trillion operations per second) of inferencing performance when it rolls out to automakers in 2025. That's about the time Mobileye plans to launch its sixth-gen EyeQ chips.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon Ride Flex SoC, announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas this week, is expected to hit the road a year earlier. Much like Nvidia's Drive Thor, the chip integrates multiple vehicle domains, like infotainment, ADAS, and autonomous driving into a single platform.

According to a Gartner report from September, these autonomous vehicle AI chips, which ingest and process the streaming data from vehicle sensors, are among the more accessible technologies necessary to realize the dream of fully autonomous vehicles in the near term, but they're only part of the equation.

Qualcomm, Nvidia gain share, steal customers

In the six years since Intel acquired Mobileye for $15 billion, the division has gained steady traction, growing revenues quarter over quarter often by double-digit margins. After much anticipation, Intel spun off the division in an initial public offering (IPO) last October. However, the IPO mustered just $16 billion, a fraction of the nearly $50 billion valuation the division had hoped to fetch earlier in the year.

Despite a somewhat lackluster entrance to the public market, the company still leads Nvidia and Qualcomm, at least when it comes to revenues. During Mobileye's first quarter as a publicly traded company, it posted revenues of $450 million. Including the three quarters leading up to the company's IPO, its 2022 revenues topped $1.66 billion. By comparison, Qualcomm's automotive business managed $1.4 billion, while Nvidia's netted just $566 million during the 2022 fiscal year.

And while Shashua was quick to highlight the company's $17 billion in bookings, Qualcomm claims its order pipeline is nearly twice that with General Motors, Renault, Volkswagen, and BMW lining up to purchase its Snapdragon Ride Flex platform.

If some of those names sound familiar, that's because many of the same companies buying Mobileye's products today are also eyeing its competitors. Nvidia is also poised to steal customer share away from Mobileye. During his keynote Thursday, Shashua touted automaker Zeekr, which has already put 70,000 vehicles using its ADAS platform on the road. But, as we learned at GTC, Zeekr was also one of Nvidia's launch partners for Drive Thor.

Robotaxis first, autonomous vehicles later

Interest in autonomous vehicles is gaining momentum quickly, stoked by ever-improving ADAS systems, like Tesla's Autopilot or GM's Super Cruise.

Looking ahead, Gartner predicts that by 2028, the number of assisted autonomous vehicles – think lane keeping, automatic cruise control, and braking – will increase to just under 75 percent, up from 60 percent in 2020.

Analysts expect more capable systems, which Gartner refers to as partially autonomous, will jump from 1.5 percent of vehicles in 2020 to a quarter of all vehicles by 2030. This class reflects the kinds of hands-off autonomous driving capabilities available in some premium vehicles today.

Where Gartner expects to see the most advanced, fully autonomous systems first isn't in a vehicle you'll be able to buy. Instead, analysts believe that the first fully autonomous vehicles will show up in the form of robotaxis. Today a handful of companies have fielded autonomous taxis, usually with a driver on board as a failsafe. Waymo and Sixt are just two examples. By 2025, Gartner expects robotaxis will be fairly common with services available in at least 25 cities in North America.

But just like autonomous vehicles, robotaxis face safety concerns. In 2021, a Waymo robotaxi went rogue, evading support staff, while Autopilot-related crashes continue to be a source of controversy for Tesla's Muskmobiles. ®

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