Automotive supplier Magna joins race to self-driving cars

Magna, one of the world's largest automotive equipment suppliers, launches its Max4 Autonomous Driving platform, opening up more competition among self-driving car companies.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
2 min read

Self-driving car builders got another competitor as automotive equipment supplier Magna announced its own autonomous car system, called the Max4 Autonomous Driving Platform. The system represents serious competition, as Magna is one of the biggest automotive suppliers you've never heard of.

Magna Max4 Autonomous Driving platform

Magna hides a solid-state lidar and radar sensor in the bumper molding of its demonstration vehicle.


Part of Magna's focus for the Max4 platform is to make it nearly invisible on a production vehicle. That means no spinning lidar sensors on the roof, shooting lasers to build a 3D model of the world. The Max4 demonstration vehicle, a Grand Cherokee, hides its solid-state lidar and radar in the bumpers, and uses a couple of extra cameras in front of the rearview mirror.

Autonomous vehicle technology has become something of a gold rush, although the rewards won't arrive for years. Well-known tech companies such as Google, Nvidia and Intel, along with startups such as Drive.ai, and most of the major automakers, are engaged in building some form of self-driving car system. The technology promises to save many thousands of lives while providing a new form of transportation suitable for people who can't or don't want to drive.

The name of Magna's platform, Max4, comes from the definition of Level 4 autonomous cars, which can perform all driving tasks on their own, but still have controls that let humans take over.

However, the system is designed to be scalable, something that automakers can implement to offer near-autonomous features, such as self-driving in limited situations. A driver could, for example, let the car handle steering, acceleration and braking in a traffic jam or on a long highway trip.

The types of technology that make up Magna's Max4 platform can also enable automatic emergency braking and other active safety features, helping to prevent accidents before cars have full autonomy.

Magna CTO Swamy Kotagiri said, "Advanced safety is starting to drive sales." Safety organizations are already beginning to rate cars based on their active safety features, and a high safety rating can help sell a car.

Along with its sensors, Max4 uses a domain controller, a central computer that processes the sensor data and makes driving decisions.

Compared with some of the other entrants into the space, Magna has come in late. Yet the company can bank on its existing relationships with the world's automakers, supplying everything from car seats to four-wheel-drive systems, to give it a foothold in this new technology.