March 1, 2012 1:17 am

Intel launches $100m car technology fund

Intel Capital is launching a $100m investment fund that will finance companies developing technology used in cars, such as in-car entertainment and navigation systems.

The move by the investment arm of Intel is an attempt by the PC chipmaker to ensure that its technology is adopted by carmakers, as the market for traditional PCs gradually declines. Intel’s x86 chips have dominated the consumer industry but have failed to make substantial inroads into mobile phones and tablet computers. Intel is looking to ensure that it does not suffer a similar fate with cars.

“The car is the ultimate mobile device,” said Staci Palmer, general manager of Intel’s automotive solutions division. “By 2014, automobiles will be among the top three fastest-growing areas for connected devices and internet content.”

Intel has announced agreements with BMW, Hyundai, Toyota, Kia and several Chinese car manufacturers, aimed at getting its technology into cars. The company is also establishing a product development centre in Karlsruhe, Germany that will focus on this field. The company expects to employ about 60 people at the centre.

The Intel Capital connected car fund will invest in hardware, software and services companies over the next four to five years.

Investments could include technologies such as enhanced driving assistance with gesture recognition, speech recognition and eye tracking. Technologies might also be able to notify the driver of an accident ahead or warn him of a wet road. Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital and Intel executive vice president, said that the fund would “turbo-charge” development in this sector.

Intel has a history of pouring heavy investments to try to influence the development of an industry. However, these have not always been successful. The company invested $1.6bn in Clearwire, a wireless broadband company, in the hope of establishing Wimax wireless as the next generation of mobile telephony. However, a rival LTE standard has largely been adopted by the industry, and Intel has quietly stopped pushing Wimax in the past year.

The fund is among several funds managed by Intel Capital, including the Ultrabook fund focused on lightweight computing, and the AppUp fund focused on applications for computers and mobile devices. The company also has geographically-focused funds for investments in China, Brazil, India and the Middle East.

Intel Capital has invested more than $10.5bn in 1,218 companies in the past 20 years. A total of $526m was invested in 158 companies last year.

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