FCA joins BMW's self-driving car development group

August 17, 2017

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and BMW are teaming up to develop a platform for fully autonomous vehicles with the intent of using it in production vehicles by 2021, according to a joint statement by both companies.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne, a longtime proponent of efficiency through mergers and collaborations, points to, “the synergies and economies of scale that are possible when companies come together with a common vision and objective,” as a defining factor in the decision to join the partnership.

The group will see FCA, which has existing autonomous vehicle development ties with Google spinoff Waymo, and BMW, already intimately involved with Intel and self-driving tech startup Mobileye, cooperate in complementary areas as they look to establish technologies and regulations that will form the bedrock of a pending autonomous car revolution.

Mobileye CEO and CTO, Professor Amnon Shashua, considers “the combination of vision-intense perception and mapping, differentiated sensor fusion, and driving policy solutions,” to be the areas where the partnership will excel.

This points to a combination of each technology partner’s core competencies merging together into a single, standardized autonomy platform that could pave the way for industry standardization.

BMW and Mobileye are already working on high definition maps generated by the various cameras and sensors installed on vehicles, while FCA and Waymo’s self-driving Pacifica minivan— ahead of most in terms of tying the sensors together from a software standpoint—is currently testing in Arizona with members of the public as passengers.

Mobileye is an established leader in making the sort of sensor systems that autonomous vehicles rely on, and it was at the center of a public spat last year with Elon Musk over Tesla’s overreliance on its systems, just months after signing on with BMW. The difference highlights both a general lack of regulation surrounding the emerging technology, and the various philosophical differences over how best to implement it.

In a very related matter, Waymo just hired the policy director of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. David Quinalty will be Waymo’s Head of Federal Policy and Government Affairs, beginning next month.

As the companies in the newly expanded group refine and develop their self-driving technologies, they can leverage their considerable economic power to drive political clout, and with a well-respected government insider on board, they’re well positioned to steer public policy in the direction most congruous with the emerging tech.

-- by Aaron Miller

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