BARCELONA -- Intel CTO Justin Rattner predicts that driverless cars will be available within 10 years and that buyers by then will increasingly be more interested in a vehicle's internal technology than the quality of its engine.
Intel, the world's largest chip maker, is looking to equip autonomous smart cars with low-wattage Intel Atom chips, as well as higher-powered Core processors.
"I think in the past the automakers expressed a lot of doubt about the long-term viability of [autonomous auto] technology," Rattner said in an interview with Computerworld prior to the start of Intel's European Research and Innovation Conference here this week.
"Some were more dismissive than others," he said. "But I would say the automobile industry is definitely warming up to the idea. [The car companies are at] the point of presuming that, if not in this decade then early in the next decade, we'll be able to go out and buy a car that can take you where you want to go."
Rattner, set to keynote the Intel event tomorrow, said his next car will be a BMW 7 or 5 Series with Intel chips in the in-dash entertainment center.
"Buyer decisions are increasingly made based on a whole new set of criteria," said Rattner, who spoke to auto executives last week in Detroit. The engine and transmission are important to buyers, but a "speech driven interface or collision-avoidance technology" could soon be more important.
Work on building autonomous cars has been widely profiled in recent years.
For instance, Google's development efforts have been in the headlines for a while. The company has already road-tested a driverless car.
Google executives have been meeting with their counterparts at various automakers in an effort to find a partner to help get an autonomous car on the road within the next decade, Anthony Levandowski, head of Google's self-driving car project, said earlier this year.
Google CEO Sergey Brin showed even more optimism last month, predicting that driverless cars will be available within five years.
Rattner hopes that Brin is correct in predicting that driverless cars will be safer than those piloted by humans.
"God help us when one of them runs into sombody or runs over somebody," he added. "There would be a lot of noise about that."
When asked if he is eager to buy his own autonomous car, Rattner smirked and said, "I don't know." He noted that he likes to drive too much to look forward to giving it up.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.