Toyota is one of the investors in Israeli startup Guardian Optical Technologies, which has announced that it completed its first financing round, in which it raised $5.1 million. Guardian Optical, which was founded in 2015, has developed an optical sensor for the interior of a vehicle that makes it possible to detect very small movements and create video data and a depth map of the vehicle. Guardian Optical founder and CEO Gil Dotan says that the sensor's quality and diverse uses make it possible to reduce the number of sensors installed in each car. Reducing the number of sensors is expected to save $20 on the production of each car and $200 million a year in total savings for the auto industry.
Toyota invested in the round through the Mirai Creation fund, which it founded two years ago with the SMBC bank and the Sparx investment group. Toyota provides most of the fund's financing, but the fund's manager is Sparx CEO Shuhei Abe. Following the financing round, Abe said, "Our task is to support innovative companies with clear growth potential that are likely to lead the field decades into the future. We expect the technology developed by Guardian Optical to continue developing and succeeding, and we expect to be part of its success."
Speaking about the financing round, Dotan told Globes," This is the first time that they are investing in an Israeli company, and it makes me feel very proud. Toyota is a very intriguing and supportive investor." Beyond the pride and the improved access to the auto manufacturers market, the investment is also important as an early sign of a possible future acquisition of Guardian Optical by Toyota, similar to the acquisition of Herzliya-based Visualead by Alibaba two and a half years after Alibaba first invested in the Israeli company.
About the product itself, Dotan said, "There are many great sensors companies providing the automakers with eyes for understanding what is happening outside the vehicle. We're giving the automakers the ability to understand in depth the situation within the vehicle. Our vision is to create the ultimate sensory platform within the vehicle that will enable the manufacturers to be better aware of the passengers, and thereby to improve the travel experience, offer services during the time we spend in the vehicle, and improve safety."
According to Dotan, Guardian Optical is in constant contact with several manufacturers with the aim of installing its sensor early in the next decade. One of the challenges is to write a specification to which other suppliers of auto manufacturers will adapt themselves. "What is special about our sensor is that it makes it possible to eliminate special sensors for each system, for example the sensors for air cushions and seat belts," Dotan explains. "We are able to achieve high resolution for a very large amount of information, and this has great business value. For example, one of the uses is monitoring the behavior of passengers in the autonomous cars that will soon be on the road in order to adapt the passenger compartment to the new way in which travel will take place. Another use is for autonomous vehicle fleets, which will be able to tell remotely exactly when passengers entered and exited from their cars. Still another possible use of the sensor is making sure that no one has been left inside the car, such as children in the back seat."
Tel Aviv-based Guardian Optical has 14 employees, most of them physicists and algorithm developers. The company chairman is Alon Atsmon, former VP technology strategy at Harman International, whose Israeli branch has acquired companies in cyber security and software updating for the auto industry in recent years. Guardian Optical plans to increase its staff to at least 30 in the coming year, a challenge that the company calls "good troubles," given the intense competition for technology personnel. The company hopes that the technological challenge and high profile of the autonomous vehicle industry will tempt the best physicists and algorithm developers, "because we're doing something good in the world."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on December 4, 2017
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017