Haifa-based Tactile Mobility (formerly MobiWise) has announced a $9 million fund-raising round led by German car maker Porsche and Israel's Union Motors, which imports Toyota vehicles. The system developed by Tactile Mobility analyses data from non-visual sensors built into a vehicle to help smart and autonomous vehicles "feel" the terrain under them in order to make informed decisions. This investment by Porsche, which maintains a scouting operation in Israel, follows an investment of $1.5 million in Israeli startup TriEye in August this year. Michael Steiner, head of research and development at Porsche, says, "The integration of Tactile Mobilty's software into mass production of Porsche vehicles is planned to take place in early 2020."
Private investors also participated in Tactile Mobility's current round, among them Moudi (Mordechai) Ben Shach's family fund BM Holdings. Altogether, the company has raised $18 million. It refused to state which round it was up to, but did say that in the past it had raised an A round and beyond that. The current round includes an option to expand it to $14 million.
Tactile Mobility was founded by its CTO Boaz Mizrachi, together with Alex Ackerman and Yossi Shiri, who no longer have executive roles at the company. Eighteen months ago, Amit Nisenbaum joined it as CEO, after eighteen years in the US. Nisenbaum was one of the first employees of Better Place, and led its strategic collaboration efforts in the US.
Tactile Mobility's offices are in Haifa. It employs 25 people. Following the current fund-raising round, it aims to expand its commercial activity in Europe and the US, and to double its workforce, with an emphasis on research and development.
Up until 2015, Tactile Mobility, which was founded in 2012, concentrated on development. From then and up to 2018 the company's products were at various trial stages with car manufacturers, and since mid-2018 it has started to invest in the commercial side as well. Nisenbaum says that its competitors are "startups like Swedish company NIRA, which have recently been joined by tier-1 companies such as Bosch and Continental, which we beat in tenders." Tactile Mobility's systems are already installed in Porsche vehicles, and will shortly start to be installed in vehicles of an additional manufacturer (OEM).
"Just as the unconscious mind takes information from the eyes and makes the best possible decisions - to slow down, to change direction, or to accelerate - in exactly the same way the vehicle's computer works with the aid of cameras and ladar. Until recently, however, the vehicle computer was unable to take into account other factors.
"People don't only look at the road. They also feel its dynamic, and the more the computer takes over decision making in a smart vehicle, the more it will need the same set of sensory data as human beings have.
Tactile Mobility's technology, Nisenbaum explains, "completes the familiar area of computerized vision such as that of Mobileye and other vehicle ladar companies, which is why we talk about tactility, the dynamics between two physical bodies.
"We leverage information from non-visual sensors that already exist on the vehicle, such as those that monitor speed and wheel angle, RPM and conversion ratios. We take the information in real time, clean it up, aggregate it, and then apply artificial intelligence to it, with the aim of producing insights concerning the dynamic between the vehicle and the road, which are fed back into the vehicle's computers, giving it a broader context for what is happening."
Today, says Nisenbaum, "no-one apart from Tactile Mobility and its few competitors outside Israel make it possible to sense the road."
Nisenbaum describes how this added information provides further dimensions to the vehicle's understanding of the world around it. "Think about a vehicle joining a main highway. As I'm about to drive onto the approach road, I look ahead and decide, for example, at what speed and at what angle I should do so, all with the aid of human vision.
"As soon as I get onto the approach road, however, other dimensions besides vision come into play. I start to feel the dynamic in relation to the road: if I'm going too fast, I'll feel that I'm going to be thrown off the approach road, and if I came on at too sharp an angle, I'll feel that I'm about to overturn. And if I hit a pothole, I'll feel a loss of control. Our system gives a smart vehicle this ability to sense things as well."
Another instance is black ice, frozen snow that becomes transparent and is a frequent cause of road accidents. "We all think of wheel speed as something clear cut, but there's a great deal of background noise," Nisenbaum explains. "It's therefore important to be able to look at the various relationships between the signals and neutralize noise. When you start to aggregate all four wheels together, you can distinguish in real time between the speed of a front wheel and a back wheel. If the vehicle drives onto black ice, wheel speed will rise momentarily and fast.
"Tactile Mobility's system does not require the installation of any additional hardware, neither at the sensing end nor at the processing end, and it is based on the infrastructure that already exists in smart vehicles," Nisenbaum stresses. "We utilize the information in the car and our algorithm to produce the insights. All the car manufacturer has to do is to install a small piece of lean software amounting to a few hundred kb in one of the vehicle computers, and it uses very little processor power as well."
And that's not all. The information from the vehicles does not remain within their systems but is aggregated with information gathered from other vehicles and is fed back to them in order to improve safety. "With the aid of all the information that we take from all the vehicles and upload to the cloud, and by cross-checking the journeys of different vehicles on a road, we can neutralize the effect of a road defect and map road conditions. In that way, we turn every vehicle that operates the software into a tracker that tracks road conditions. Then, road condition maps are fed back into the vehicles, enabling them to know what's ahead of them: where there are potholes, where there's ice, bumps, and so forth," Nisenbaum explains.
Tactile Mobility's customers are not just vehicle manufacturers. Its systems are also used by local authorities to monitor the state of the roads in their jurisdictions. "We work with municipalities and highway authorities and provide them with road condition maps so that they can improve maintenance and spot hazards in real time. It's a bit like Waze for road conditions." In this respect, Nisenbaum says, Tactile Mobility already works with the Haifa municipality and with local authorities in the UK, the US Midwest, and Asia.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 29, 2019
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