First Published: 2017-03-17

Intel takeover may fuel Israeli driverless car tech
Computer chip giant Intel’s 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."

 

UN Security Council calls for Polisario pullback from Guerguerat

UK warns of ‘increased level of terrorist activity’

Merkel warns EU-Turkey ties 'severely hit' by Ankara developments

Pope Francis flies to Egypt as 'pilgrim of peace'

420 tonnes of plastic bags seized in year in Morocco since ban

Erdogan to rejoin Turkey ruling party next week

Germany urges EU not to break off Turkey accession talks

OPCW says chemical weapons allegedly used 45 times in Syria

Netanyahu slams German foreign minster as 'insensitive'

Erdogan hopes for 'new page' with US under Trump

UN envoy to Libya to visit Sudan for peace talks

Tunisian PM booed out of town hall meet

Russian spy ship sinks off Turkish coast

London police arrest ‘terror act’ knifeman by parliament

Palestinians strike in support of protesting prisoners

Two Saudi soldiers killed in rocket attack near Yemen border

German soldier plots attack under refugee disguise

Iraq forces retake town of Hatra from IS

Syria accuses Israel of strike near Damascus airport

10 dead after strikes on rebel-held hospitals in Syria

Turkey’s AKP to hold special congress readmitting Erdogan

EU reviews Libya request for naval equipment

Jail terms over death of Moroccan fishmonger

UN appoints Syrian Olympic swimmer as ambassador

Bahraini activist on hunger strike behind bars

Calls on Saudi social media for jobless protest

Tunisian coastguards no match for high-speed smugglers

US wants 'strong, democratic' Turkey: ambassador

Israeli tank trades shots with Hamas in Gaza

Syria says France 'hiding truth' about chemical attack

NATO chief warns Turkey to respect ‘rule of law’

Exiled Turkish journalist urges EU to confront Erdogan

Mass funeral for dozens slain in Syria bus attack

Qatar insists Baghdad had ‘full knowledge’ of hostage deal

UN eyes new Yemen peace talks

Erdogan resumes Gulen arrests after referendum win

Turkey opposition heads to European court to challenge referendum

Turkey says informed US, Russia prior to Kurdish strikes

Iraqi forces liberate ancient city of Hatra from IS

Saudi fire stops explosives-laden boat from Yemen

50 Syria migrants stranded on Morocco-Algeria border

Libya asks EU for patrol boats to stem migrant wave

Bangladesh approves Saudi-funded mosque project

German Chancellor regrets Israel snub of foreign minister

Global leaders call for ridding world 'forever' of chemical arms