Israeli auto-tech company Oryx Vision, which has developed Lidar sensors for autonomous vehicles, has closed down, and will pay back to its investors the $40 million it still has in cash. Oryx Vision CEO Ram Wellingstein decided to close the company down, and notified its employees of his decision in the company offices last Tuesday. He said that changes in the autonomous vehicle market had hampered the company's ability to give its investors a return on their investment.
Oryx Vision was founded in 2009 by Wellingstein, a serial entrepreneur who cofounded Intucell, and VP R&D David Ben-Bassat, who was the company's technological brain until three months ago. Ben-Bassat was also a cofounder of RFWaves, which developed wireless communications technology based on radio frequencies. RFWaves was acquired by semiconductor corporation Vishay Intertechnology in 2004. Oryx Vision has raised $67 million, including a $50 million financing round two years ago. The company's most prominent investors are Maniv Mobility, Bessemer Venture Partners, and WRVI Capital.
The decision to close Oryx Vision down came after a period of nearly a year, during which Wellingstein and Ben-Bassat realized that the autonomous vehicle market in which the company operates is changing and going into a slowdown. They informed the board of directors, and the investors agreed to continue to participate in another financing round if it was needed. "I left the company three months ago because of material disagreements with Ran. I was not a party to the decision to close the company down," Ben-Bassat told "Globes." "I believed, and still believe, that there is an opportunity for other options for the company." No comment was available from Wellingstein.
Over the past year, Wellingstein advocated shutting down Oryx in opposition to Ben-Bassat, because he believed that there was no point in continuing to operate in a market experiencing a slowdown. Ben-Bassat believed that the company could continue operating on a leaner format and keep the investors from losing money on their investment, but now realizes that it will take longer than he originally thought. "The diagnosis is correct. The market is behind schedule and shrinking. The situation now is not the same as it was in 2016, and I really think that there was hype here. There was a bubble, and it hasn't finished deflating. We're barely a third of the way there," Ben-Bassat added.
Optimistic forecasts predicted that the autonomous vehicle market would ripen in 2020, but it now appears that this will take at least a few more years, and possibly as long as a decade, according to some forecasts. In an article published several months ago by Mobileye founder Prof. Amnon Shashua in the MIT technological journal, he cites three main obstacles to developing an autonomous vehicle: developing much safer sensor systems than the current systems, creating global legal regulation that will allow a driverless car to travel freely on public roads without the manufacturer being subject to lawsuits in the event of an accident, and a dramatic fall in costs.
Lidar is technology for measuring distance using a laser that illuminates various objects and a sensor that measures the wavelength and uses it to determine the distance. Oryx Vision began developing this technology for autonomous vehicles in 2009 under the radar and with independent financing. By the time that the company raised $50 million in 2017, there were other companies with similar developments. For example, US company Velodyne raised $150 million in its first financing round in 2016, and is now considered the leader in the global Lidar market. Israeli startup Innoviz Technologies also raised a great deal of money, including a $132 million round this year.
Giants like Google and Uber are also developing their own Lidar technologies, and in contrast to startups, they do not depend on the venture capital industry's timetables. While the technological developments needed to move the market forward are essentially software developments, Oryx Vision was a hardware company, and therefore depended on the maturation of these developments. The company's investors, on the other hand, expressed willingness to continue investing in it, until it was decided to terminate its activity.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on August 26, 2019
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