Intel's venture capital arm Wednesday announced a $100 million fund to invest in "connected car" technology.
"The car is the ultimate mobile device," said Staci Palmer, general manager of Intel's Automotive Solutions Division. To that end, the Intel Capital Connected Car Fund over the next four to five years will make investments in companies around the world that develop hardware, software and services to help cars connect with computers and mobile devices.
Among the areas in which the new fund will invest are in-vehicle "infotainment" systems and apps; advanced driver-assistance systems such as GPS and night vision; and capabilities including speech and gesture recognition and eye tracking.
In tandem with the new fund, Intel CEO Paul Otellini on Wednesday announced in Karlsruhe, Germany, the opening of a new automotive product development center.
Car industry analysts said the chip giant is plugging into a growing movement.
"Between navigation systems, Internet connectivity, hard drives for music and rear-seat DVDs/video games, there will be plenty of demand for Intel's processors," said Mike Omotoso of LMC Automotive in Troy, Mich.
Aaron Bragman of IHS Automotive in suburban Detroit added that increased connectivity in cars is "not just luxury car territory." He said Ford's THINK system, which includes a voice-on-command interface for drivers, is available in $15,000 Fiestas and is one of the carmaker's most popular add-ons.
In addition, Bragman said, cars are increasingly being wired to communicate with one another: So called V2V, or vehicle-to-vehicle, technology can help drivers avoid oncoming traffic, accidents or weather.
The increasing availability of in-car Internet access has prompted worries in some quarters that distracted driving could be taken to a whole new level.
But one Southern California lawmaker said putting Silicon Valley technology in cars can make roads safer while creating jobs.
"It's just an indicator that this is where technology is going," said state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima. On Thursday, the MIT-trained engineer plans to introduce a bill developed with Google officials that will direct the California Highway Patrol to develop safety guidelines for self-driving cars.
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