Intel subsidiary

Mobileye CEO on solving the self-driving car problem

FILE PHOTO: Amnon Shashua, co-founder of Israeli start-up Mobileye, gestures during an interview with Reuters at his second high-tech company OrCam office in Jerusalem
If a self-driving car gets into an accident, is the hard drive to blame? Source: Reuters

Even before Intel bought Israeli sensor and chipmaker Mobileye in August for $15 billion, the company was the talk of the town in the car industry. The tech company previously struck a deal with BMW and Intel in 2016 to develop self-driving cars and bring them to market by 2021 and has also been working with many other big names in the car industry, including VW, Audi, Ford and Renault/Nissan.

Founded by Amnon Shashua in 1999, Mobileye developed a special camera technology that comes installed in most new cars. The cameras work measure the distance to the nearest obstacles and use the car’s speed to calculate if an accident is likely. Alarm signals then help prevent collisions. Carmakers see it as crucial technology for autonomous cars that let the passengers — including the person behind the wheel — relax, watch a movie or have a conference call.

Mr. Shashua, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of Jerusalem, is still Mobileye’s boss. He sat down with WirtschaftsWoche, a sister publication of Handelsblatt, to discuss the challenges self-driving cars face before becoming widely adopted. He believes better regulations and standards are required to make clear who bears the blame when accidents happen.

WirtschaftsWoche: Mr. Shashua, sceptics like VW CEO Matthias Müller have already declared that the self-driving car is nothing but hype. Customers are also apparently not prepared to let algorithms drive them from A to B. Your growth story is based on the expectation that autonomous vehicles will soon be reality. Did you miscalculate?

Mr. Shashua: I don’t know how one could make that assessment. However, I can tell you exactly what we plan to do, and even exactly when we will do it: Together with our parent company Intel and our partner BMW, we will be offering fully autonomous vehicles with the highest levels of autonomy, 4 and 5, starting in 2021. This means that you will no longer be driving yourself. Instead, you can read or write e-mails while sitting in a moving car.

Audi has only recently started selling a vehicle at level 3, which means that the driver must still be able to intervene if necessary. Most manufacturers are not even naming any specific dates for fully autonomous cars. Are you too ambitious?

Of course, the last percentage points on the way to 100 percent autonomy are the most difficult. But all the technical ingredients for a completely self-driving car are there. In your Audi example — with Mobileye technology, by the way — a congestion autopilot saves the driver the tiring task of driving in stop-and-go traffic.

Want to keep reading?

Subscribe now or log in to read our coverage of Europe’s leading economy.