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."

 

Terrorist bomb attack kills 22 at UK pop concert

Trump says Israelis, Palestinians ‘can make a deal’

Bahrain police raid Shiite sit-in killing one protester

US forces raid Al-Qaeda in Yemen, kill seven jihadists

Faz3a, a local NGO mobilising young people to help Mosul refugees

Prominent Egypt rights lawyer detained

Oil producers to extend output curbs at OPEC meeting

NATO aims to break Turkey-Austria partnership deadlock

Tunisia tensions simmer after protester's death

Five dead in Syria car bomb attacks

Syria civilians suffer deadliest month of US-led strikes

Islamists to join Algeria cabinet despite poor results

Tunisia's 2.1% GDP growth marks economic upturn

Trump meets Palestinian leader in Bethlehem

Istanbul demolishes nightclub targeted in New Year attack

WHO says 315 cholera deaths in Yemen in under one month

Trump seeks Israeli-Palestinian peace, lashes out at Iran again

Tunisia police use tear gas on protesters

Palestinians protest for hunger-striking prisoners

GCC and Arab League call for Yemen unity

Turkey's alleged coup ringleaders stand trial

Iran’s reformists sweep to power across major cities

Israel makes concessions to Palestinians 'at Trump's request'

Ivanka hales Saudi progress on women’s rights

Looming showdown between Egypt’s president, judges

Netanyahu says will discuss peace efforts with Trump

Bahrain sentences Shiite cleric to suspended jail term

Trump scandals no issue for Saudi says minister

Saudi women celebrate easing of guardianship system, call for more freedoms

Hamas sentences three to death for commander assassination

Rouhani faces fight with hardliners in US, Iran after election win

Trump to urge Muslim leaders to fight extremism in major speech

Trump tells Sisi he will soon visit Egypt

US, Saudi agree arms deals worth almost $110 billion

Iran's Rouhani wins re-election

Egypt marks MS804 crash with ceremony and no information

Trump lands in Riyadh on first foreign tour

IS bombing kills 35 in Iraq

US Pentagon plans to 'annihilate' IS

Dictator's nephew apologises to Tunisia for corruption

Trump heads to Saudi Arabia as domestic scandals mount

Ebrahim Raisi: hardline challenger in Iran

US and Saudi Arabia blacklist Hezbollah 'terrorist'

UN envoy slams deadly attack in Libya's south

Syria, allies condemn attack by US-led coalition