Mobileye shifts focus to safety systems

Amnon Shashua Photo: Intel Walden Kirsch

At CES, Amnon Shashua did not mention autonomous cars but stressed the business potential of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

Every time I write about Israeli auto-tech, I am struck by the size of this miracle. Israel with its congested highways, lack of driving culture, hobbled by over-regulation and high taxes and with public transport lagging decades behind the developed world, is nevertheless leading the global transportation revolution. How did high-tech companies, which a few years ago did not put airbags and stability control systems in employees' cars to save money, become global leaders in auto safety? The "global leaders" description is not a patriotic exaggeration; it is based on solid fact.

Mobileye charging ahead

For example, take the annual hour-long presentation by Mobileye founder Prof. Amnon Shashua at the CES exhibition in Las Vegas. He began making these presentations when Mobileye was an independent company listed on the stock exchange, not the Intel subsidiary that it is now. His lecture is a rare opportunity to get an up-to-date picture and hear predictions by this introverted and secretive company. The numbers disclosed in this year's presentation are indeed impressive on a global scale.

According to the presentation, Mobileye's systems are currently installed in 32 million vehicles manufactured in 2014 or later worldwide. The company posted 42% growth in 2018, close to its average growth rate over the four preceding years.

The most conspicuous thing we notice about this year's presentation was the absence of any mention of a driver-less car, commonly referred to as an autonomous car. In 2019, a year before the decade ends, Mobileye did not even give us a projected timetable for massive presence of driver-less cars on the road. Even the professional term, L5 rank autonomy, was barely mentioned.

On the way to negligible likelihood of an accident

What was emphasized this year was that the business potential of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) at low autonomy levels is far from exhausted. Shashua noted that adoption of ADAS systems was a global trend; the penetration rate for the systems jumped from 13% in 2016 to 26% in 2018.

According to Shashua, camera-based safety systems are gradually entering vehicles in developed countries and are spreading to motorcycles. They will also become a mandatory regulatory requirement in the European Union. Shashua said that ADAS systems at a relatively low autonomy level were currently leading the "life-saving revolution" in the auto industry, and were continuing their development.

Shashua added that the likelihood of accidents could also be reduced to near zero in human-driven cars equipped with ADAS systems. He said that technologies such as automatic "smart braking," perception of the car's surroundings, and a combination of peripheral camera sensor with a mathematical model for responsible-sensitive safety analysis make it possible to manufacture a human-driven car that would prevent the driver from entering hazardous situations in the first place, provided that all vehicles are equipped with such technologies. The cost will be only a few hundred dollars, and the regulatory and psychologically demanding problem of driver-less cars will be avoided.

Israel as a testing ground

The sole mention of an unmanned vehicle (albeit at a more limited 4 level of autonomy) was in the part of the presentation that concerned the joint project by Volkswagen, Mobileye, Intel, and Champion Motors in which a driver-less rides service will be operated in Israel starting in 2022, based on Volkswagen's electric taxis.

Mobileye is designated to lead the development and integration in this project. Shashua indicated that the company was treating the entire subject of autonomous mobility as a new area of business development for both Mobileye and Intel.

This attitude puts the autonomous vehicle project in the right context. Although all of the parties involved officially claims that the aim of the project is to be "commercial and making a profit," it is fairly obvious that a dozen, or even a few hundred, electric taxis playing in the violent conditions on Israel's roads will have great difficulty in making back the cost of the project, which is projected in the tens of millions of dollars. Another problem is whether the all-powerful tax drivers' lobby, which has the backing of Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz, will allow even one wheel of a driver-less taxi onto Israeli roads.

On the other hand, if the Tel Aviv project provides Mobileye and Intel with proof of concept (POC) in this area, it is likely to become an outsourcing contractor for an autonomous vehicle in multi-billion-dollar global projects for customers such as Google, Uber, Baidu, and others. Needless to say, these projects will take place in "normal" countries with heavy government subsidies, which is a prior condition for making a profit on this type of "mobility."

Uncomplimentary to small companies

Mobileye is a renowned company in the global auto industry. It always took pride in being an Israeli company, and still does, and is well nourished by the local auto market and support from the Israeli regulator.

Mobileye could therefore be expected to open doors in the auto industry to all of the young Israeli auto-tech companies offering unique vehicle technologies, which are reaching their achievements the hard way. If Mobileye does not provide them with a business springboard, it could at least take advantage of important global platforms like CES to praise the local ecosystem.

For the first time, Mobileye this year mentioned an Israeli startup as an example of Mobileye's ability to extend the use of its system through third party development. The company in question is Eyesight, which developed a visual technology for monitoring the state of the driver in the vehicle.

No other local technologies were mentioned, however. On the contrary, key areas in the Israeli auto-tech ecosystem, such as development of radar sensors and advanced lasers, were patronizingly given indirect mention only.

Far be it from me to offer business advice to a $15 billion company, but I would recommend that Mobileye consider several disruptive Israeli technologies presented at CES on their own level, not from a distant ivory tower perspective.

Several examples: multidimensional laser and radar sensors with artificial intelligence (AI) on the way to mass production at a target price of a few hundred dollars or less, a revolutionary algorithm for streamlining AI that has already been put on a chip according to auto industry standards, and cheap processors likely to turn the hungry processing monsters of Intel, Nvidia, and the like into extinct dinosaurs.

In short, every disruptive company reaches a stage in its life in which it becomes a target for disruption. Mobileye may already be there.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on January 23, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

Amnon Shashua Photo: Intel Walden Kirsch
Amnon Shashua Photo: Intel Walden Kirsch
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