First Published: 2017-03-17

Intel takeover may fuel Israeli driverless car tech
Computer chip giant Intels purchase of Israeli firm Mobileye may further ignite manufacture of car brains in Jewish state.
Middle East Online

Intel, Mobileye bosses with Netanyahu

JERUSALEM - Intel's $15-billion purchase of Israeli firm Mobileye could help fuel the country's rise in the driverless car industry -- not as a builder of vehicles, but as the brains behind them.

Monday's deal, the largest ever in Israel's tech sector, could help boost trade despite the fact no commercial cars are assembled in the country.

The self-styled "startup nation" has no real tradition of auto manufacturing: an ignoble previous stint in the 1960s and 70s produced the fibreglass Sussita car, parts of which, according to legend, were edible for camels.

But the rise of new technology including driverless cars has opened space for the tech-savvy country to excel.

In 2013, Google paid more than $1 billion (900 million euros) for Waze, an Israeli crowd-sourced app that plots the quickest journeys in real time, followed by Monday's $15 billion Mobileye deal.

The company makes advanced driver assistance and accident avoidance systems for car manufacturers, and has already collaborated with Intel and BMW on self-driving car technology.

It was founded in 1999 but Yossi Vardi -- considered one of the fathers of Israel's high-tech startup scene -- said the automobile industry's growth in Israel really began in 2007 when General Motors established a research and development centre.

"It surprised everybody that a company like General Motors would go to Israel to source innovation and technology."

In the last three years, Vardi said, Honda, Ford, Volkswagen, Volvo and others have followed suit.

Most Israeli companies in the field don't involve production, but ways to make driving more efficient.

Among them are Otonomo, which provides in-depth data on car usage; Argus, one of the market leaders in protecting cars from cyber hacking; and VocalZoom, dubbed "Siri for cars."

Elan Zivotofsky, general partner at the OurCrowd equity platform that invests in a number of companies working on autonomous cars, compared it to smartphones, laptops and other sectors where Israeli technology is heavily used but the final products are still made elsewhere.

"Israel is not going to be in the business of building cars," he said.

"Israel is in the business of building some of the most important core elements that will enable autonomous driving."

- 'Doors will open' -

Vardi said the country's military experience, with some of the world's most advanced monitoring, laser-guiding and other technologies, place it in a good position.

"When you drive a car, you cannot stop the car and wait 15 minutes for the computer to process. It has to be immediate," Vardi said.

"This kind of talent you find in the military -- in airplanes etc."

The impact of Mobileye could be significant, said Yaniv Feldman, editor-in-chief of the Israeli Geektime tech blog.

There are dozens of companies in the sector and Feldman reckons Israel is already one of the leading players in autonomous driving behind the United States and China.

In 2016, around $70 million was invested in automotive tech in Israel, he said, but that will increase by "somewhere between 25 to 40 percent."

"We will probably start seeing much more activity in the space and investor interest rising," he said.

None of the other companies were as advanced as Mobileye, though, he added.

Aquarius Engines, an Israeli firm that claims to have developed a radically improved combustion engine, is currently seeking $10 million in a second round of funding.

Chairman Gal Fridman said they had already noticed a change.

"Since Mobileye happened, our phone is ringing all the time," he said.

"Until now, when I came and told (car companies) I was an Israeli developing an engine, it was a bit odd as the country has no history of automobiles," he said.

"Now, after Waze and Mobileye, we have more credibility, I think, and doors will open easier."

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai

Iraq sentences over 300 people to death for IS links

Syria chemical weapons visit delayed after gunfire