Car safety systems developer Mobileye Vision Technologies Ltd. has unveiled its flagship product, a car that can drive itself, or more precisely, a software and video cameras-based system which enables a car to navigate through congested streets without human intervention (if the driver has nerves of steel and can avoid hitting the brakes before a traffic light).
In a sophisticated public relations move, possibly ahead of another financing round or even perhaps a Nasdaq IPO, in April, Mobileye invited "The New York Times" technology correspondent John Markoff to try out the company's self-driving car. He came, he drove, and he has published his impressions. The article is not a paean, but nor is it a lethal critique; all in all, it gives Mobileye a push and positions it at the forefront of robotic car developers.
Markoff writes, "Last month, on a freeway from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, I sat in the driver’s seat of an Audi A7 while software connected to a video camera on the windshield drove the car at speeds up to 65 miles an hour - making a singular statement about the rapid progress in the development of self-driving cars."
Markoff compares Mobileye's system with Google Inc.'s (Nasdaq: GOOG) autonomous robotic car, and other robotic cars, which are equipped with radar and laser range finders (lidars). He says that Mobileye's system "is distinctive because of the simplicity and the relatively low cost of its system - just a few hundred dollars’ worth of materials. He quotes Mobileye SVP R&D Gaby Hayon as saying, “The idea is to get the best out of camera-only autonomous driving."
"The Mobileye car does not offer the autonomy achieved by Google’s engineers," says Markoff. "The Google car, which has been tested for more than 300,000 miles in California traffic, will merge onto freeways, drive safely through intersections, make left and right turns, and pass slower vehicles.
"By contrast, the Mobileye vehicle is capable only of driving in a single lane at freeway speeds, as well as identifying traffic lights and automatically slowing, stopping and then returning to highway speeds. But by blending advanced computer vision techniques with low-cost video cameras, the company is demonstrating how quickly autonomous driving can be commercialized."
“You cannot have a car with $70,000 of equipment,” said Amnon Shashua, a computer scientist at Hebrew University and a founder of Mobileye, referring to Google’s lidar system, “and imagine that it will go into mass production."
"The company was founded in the 1990s, after developers persuaded General Motors to buy an inexpensive camera that could detect vehicles in adjacent lanes," "The New York Times" writes, "Since then it has grown into a major supplier of automotive safety technology, all based on designing advanced algorithms that add “intelligence” to inexpensive cameras." It adds that Mobileye has recently begun offering the third generation of its technology to Volvo and Nissan. "As soon as this summer, the first limited systems offering a feature known as “traffic jam assist” will begin arriving from more than five major automobile makers. Those cars will drive safely in stop-and-go traffic, but will require that drivers keep their hands on the steering wheel."
Markoff says that Mobileye told him that it will introduce more advanced systems as early as 2016. Markoff tested the company's autonomous car on a drive from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. He says that, during the ride, Mobileye engineers "told me that by the end of the month, the single camera would be supplemented with an array of five more: a wide-range camera and additional side-mounted and rear-facing cameras. The goal, they said, was to build a system with the same capability for autonomous driving as the Google car’s.
"The demonstration was not as eye-popping as my Google ride, but it gave me a clearer understanding of what the automobile industry has in its sights," Markoff concludes.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 28, 2013
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