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Intel Buys Mobileye in $15.3 Billion Bid to Lead Self-Driving Car Market

In the world of driverless cars, household names like Google and Uber have raced ahead of rivals, building test vehicles and starting trials on city streets.

But when it comes to what is under the hood, an array of lesser-known companies will most likely supply the technology required to bring driverless cars to the masses. And in a $15.3 billion deal announced on Monday, Intel moved to corner the market on how much of that technology is developed.

The chip maker’s acquisition of Mobileye, an Israeli company that makes sensors and cameras for driverless vehicles, is one of the largest in the fast-growing sector and sets the stage for increasing competition between Silicon Valley giants as well as traditional automakers over who will dominate the world of autonomous cars.

The likes of Google and Uber have already invested billions of dollars in their own technology, signing partnerships with automakers like Chrysler and Volvo and sending test vehicles onto the road in a bid to cement their place in the industry. The sector is estimated to be worth $25 billion annually by 2025, according to Bain & Company, a consulting firm.

Faced with an existential threat to its legacy computer business, Intel — alongside competitors like Qualcomm — has focused on autonomous cars as a new and potentially lucrative market. Many of these driverless vehicles, experts say, will require immense computing power, including the latest microchips able to crunch reams of data in seconds to keep the cars safe, and on the road.

And by acquiring Mobileye, whose digital vision technology helps autonomous vehicles safely navigate city streets, Intel aims to broaden its offerings beyond just chips to a wider suite of products that driverless vehicles will require. It hopes, as a result, to appeal to automakers that want to offer autonomous driving but lack the in-house expertise and do not want to rely on the likes of Google.

“Scale is going to win in this market,” Brian Krzanich, Intel’s chief executive, told investors on Monday. “I don’t believe that every carmaker can invest to do independent development into autonomous cars.”

Intel has a history with such strategic moves. It cornered the personal computer market over more than three decades, supplying hundreds of millions of desktop computers with much of their internal architecture, after dominating which microchips were used in the industry. But in recent years, Intel has struggled to find its feet as people’s habits have increasingly turned to the mobile world, where the company’s chips have lost out to rivals.

Last year, for instance, the company announced that it was laying off 12,000 people, or 11 percent of its global work force, as demand for personal computers continued to decline.

While Intel still earns more than half of its annual revenue from traditional computing chip-making operations, the company’s sales from its “internet of things” division, a unit that includes its burgeoning automaking team, grew 15 percent in 2016, to $2.6 billion, according to regulatory filings.

Over the last 18 months, Intel has signed partnership deals with BMW and Delphi Automotive, an auto parts supplier, to expand its presence in the field. It also acquired a 15 percent stake in Here, a digital mapping business owned by a consortium of German automakers, and announced last year that it would invest $250 million in start-ups working on driverless car technologies.

Mobileye, founded in Jerusalem in 1999, has signed deals with several automakers, including Audi, for the use of its vision and camera technology, which uses machine learning and complex neuroscience to help drivers — and increasingly cars themselves — avoid obstacles on the road.