Self-driving cars that allow drivers to take their hands and minds completely off the road won't come cheap if they go on sale in the next decade or two. But a Dutch and Israeli company called Mobileye envisions its relatively inexpensive driver assistance technology becoming widespread by 2016.
Mobileye has raised $400 million to back its development of semi-autonomous driving technology in partnership with automakers such as General Motors, BMW, and Volvo. The company, valued at $1.5 billion, aims to deploy technology that can take over for drivers during stop-and-go traffic or handle long stretches of highway driving—features that won't cost nearly as much as Google's famous self-driving cars, according to the New York Times:
"In some ways, the goal is not dissimilar to the already famous Google driverless cars, though the search giant’s systems allow for completely hands-off driving. But Mobileye is aiming to get most of the functionality into cars for much less, with fewer cameras and computer equipment that cost hundreds of dollars, rather than the tens of thousand of dollars that Google’s array of sensors is estimated to cost at the moment."
The existing Mobileye technology can already alert drivers to road dangers and automatically brake when necessary. Future features scheduled for deployment in 2016 include the ability to read traffic and street signs or help cars automatically keep their distance from other vehicles, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Over three million cars will have used Mobileye's technology by the end of this year, says Ziv Aviram, co-founder and CEO of Mobileye, in the New York Times story. He added that fully driverless vehicles would likely not become practical for another 15 or 20 years.
The gradual roll out of smart car technologies makes sense for Mobileye and many other companies: why wait on the fully autonomous car package when driver assistance technologies already exist? But don't count Google out for being obsessed with the self-driving car concept. The U.S. internet giant is well positioned to profit from the rise of smart cars—a $200 billion opportunity—by the end of the decade, says Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray.
Jeremy Hsu has been working as a science and technology journalist in New York City since 2008. He has written on subjects as diverse as supercomputing and wearable electronics for IEEE Spectrum. When he’s not trying to wrap his head around the latest quantum computing news for Spectrum, he also contributes to a variety of publications such as Scientific American, Discover, Popular Science, and others. He is a graduate of New York University’s Science, Health & Environmental Reporting Program.