Intel wants to make the Atom processor the brains of the connected car

There are a lot of computer and smartphone chipmakers vying to embed their silicon into our cars’ increasingly sophisticated dashboards. Now Intel(s intc) is joining them. On Thursday, it announced its In-Vehicle Solutions product line, a myriad of compute and radio modules, software and developer tools designed to power the connected car infotainment system initially and eventually the decision-making of future autonomous vehicles.

At the center of it all is Intel Atom’s processor, its low-power X86-based chip line originally designed for portable and mobile computing devices. But Intel recently has been revamping its chip designs to meet the needs of the internet of things, even launching a new architecture called Quark last year. Intel says its internet-of-things division brought in revenues of the $482 million in the first quarter of 2014, driven in part by demand for silicon and software powering in-vehicle infotainment systems.

These new breed of Atom-powered modules, however, are clearly designed to power some of the more complex functions of the evolving connected car. As vehicles screens move from mere vehicle navigation displays and car control consoles to full-bore computing platforms providing tablet-like experiences, Intel wants to makes its X86 processors the the brains behind them, just as it is in the PC world. It also wants to use its radio technologies to provide the 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi links that connect the vehicle to the internet, cloud automotive services and devices inside the car.

An Intel  in-vehicle module (source: Intel)

An Intel in-vehicle module (source: Intel)

In-Vehicle Solutions will use a Linux-based middleware operating system on top of which automakers can build their infotainment user interface and apps. The idea behind this kind of approach is to help automakers cut down on their long development time when developing a new car model or vehicle infotainment system. When a new car model is close to debut, the automaker can plug in the latest Intel technology, instead of launching a car with silicon that’s already two-or three-years old.

While Intel didn’t go into too much detail about its autonomous driving plans, it appears its hope is that the same processors that can render a 3D map on your dashboard console could interpret the real-time data coming from the camera and laser-scanning sensors in future self-driving vehicles.

Intel, however, isn’t the only chipmaker with designs on the car. Nvidia(s nvda), Qualcomm(s qcom), Broadcom(s brcm) and Texas Instruments(s txn) are all retooling their product lines, taking aim at the same – quite literally – moving target.