The World Cannot Afford Traffic Accidents
Autotalks is working on the development of communication between objects on the road. Valens is developing smart chips that solve the problem of too many cables. "Everyone agrees that in the future children will ask 'what is driving?'. The only question still open is when that will happen."
Autotalks was founded in 2008 with the aim of developing chips that would enable communication between numerous vehicles and between the vehicles and objects located in their proximity. "The basic idea is to allow vehicles to 'talk' with each other", explains Onn Haran, the company's CTO and Co-Founder. "So that each vehicle can understand all the surrounding dangers, thereby alert the driver to possible dangers. In the future, when driving is autonomous, this communication will enable the vehicle to make correct and safe decisions."
"Aside from the subject of independent and safe driving, our technology provides a solution to the important need for better coordination between vehicles, which in turn, allows for better traffic flow all around", Haran explains.
In contrast to other companies, Autotalks' chips allow for sensing that is based, not on sensors' "vision" but rather, analyzes communication between vehicles (known in short as V2V) and between vehicles and different objects on the road such as traffic lights, motorbikes, pedestrians and others (referred to as V2X). This communication will significantly aid the improvement of traffic for mankind.
"Every vehicle transmits its location's information, speed, and what the driver is doing via radio waves", Haran says. "The information is shared at any given moment with all the drivers in the area. Our thinking is focused on the desire to provide the driver with focused and reliable alerts without overloading him with unnecessary information."
"What Autotalks does is to create a chipset that contains everything required from a V2V system. The assembly manufacturer receives a comprehensive, low-cost, small-sized solution. Volkswagen, for example, already announced that they would install this technology in all their vehicles. The first generation of this product operated in a temperature of up to 85 degrees, but the vehicle manufacturers asked us to upgrade it to operate in 105 degrees in order to be installed on the vehicle's roof."
"Our first generation products are used in tests and installations in a specific area, such as improving the safety of vehicles in mines, but this will not reach mass production. However, the second generation is every manufacturer's dream component. The difference between a new startup – an Israeli company seeking to enter the automotive industry – and an experienced company is the progression to mass production and the precise understanding of market demands."
Which stage are you at currently?
"As of now, we are a company with a product that is ready to begin mass production. In the automotive industry, the time gap between winning the customer and recording income, is 2-3 years. Today we have a significant number of customers with a respectable market share, and income is expected to be recorded from 2019 onwards. The only company whom we have officially declared as a customer is Denso – the second largest manufacturer of auto parts in the world."
"We launched the second-generation technology last year. The company has grown considerably and we have opened two offices in Japan and another in Korea. We need to be close to the customers and that requires a lot of work. This also entails a large financial investment but thankfully we have raised sufficient funds to meet these costs. We are now continuing to grow and are recruiting more engineers."
"The Innovation Authority has been supporting us from the very outset – before we generate any income. I think that it is difficult to understand the long period that elapses between development and income generation. If the people at the Authority would have been unreceptive, they could have said 'you're not making money – why should we invest?'. That is the challenge in the automotive industry. To understand that it has a very long sale cycle. All credit goes to the team at the Innovation Authority who understood that, and who decided that the building of a large and successful company was important to them."
"Our innovation is in the fact that today there are no other communications systems such as the ones we produce. This is an untouched field and one cannot underestimate our contribution in advancing this entire market. Our chips solve many problems for the motor vehicle manufacturers – for example, security problem. The average person's immediate association when hearing about an autonomous vehicle, is of hacking – of someone maliciously taking control of the vehicle or manipulating the traffic lights. Cyber security must be designed with the ability to be upgraded during the vehicle's lifespan, just as a computer's anti-virus program is constantly being updated. We knew that security must be uncompromising and therefore put up solid foundations. There is no point in putting an armored door on a flimsy cabin and our product is as safe as a fortress."
"Our sets of secured chips for the autonomous vehicle are called Craton and Secton. They are suitable for any vehicle architecture and are manufactured by the European chip giant STMicroelectronics. These chipsets deal comprehensively with the task of securing V2X communications technology."
"By the way, the communication we are developing can also lower the high risk involved in riding two-wheel vehicles. Statistically, the chance of a motorcyclist being involved in an accident is thirty times higher than any another driver – partly because they are difficult to observe when approaching from the side. This is also the case with regard to bicycles, both regular and motorized - all vulnerable users of unprotected modes of transportation can benefit from our technology."
What is your vision for the smart vehicle?
"The biggest challenge for the autonomous vehicle is integration with non-autonomous vehicles", says Haran. "There will be no way for a person to understand what an autonomous vehicle with a super-complex computer can do. Communication has an important role here: it eases the integration of autonomous vehicles onto the roads."
"The broader question is 'how do we make transportation more efficient?'. For example, in Israel, in the event of a blocked traffic lane, everyone continues driving until they reach the obstruction and then try to push into the other lane. The traffic just stops. It's not supposed to be like this. The optimal solution acts like a zipper – it opens up spaces – and then everyone benefits. If people work in harmony instead of arguing, the potential for good traffic flow is high. That's what communications can do. That's the vision. At present, we are only seeing the first signs. However, in the future, we will all experience the full capability of our technology to enhance people's quality of life."
A Car is a Data-Center on Wheels
At the entrance to Valens offices in Hod Hasharon stands an "Emmy" statue, probably not something you would expect to see in an Israeli startup company active in the field of computer chips. Valens, this year celebrating a decade since its inception, makes sure to be surprising and unexpected.
Micha Risling, Senior VP Marketing and Business Development and Head of the Automotive Business Unit, says that originally, Valens' technology was developed for the professional audio-video market. The idea was to get rid of the piles of cables, then an integral part of trying to transfer data files from a video source to the screen.
Valens has developed a technology called HDBaseT that enables the high-speed transfer of large files via one single cable without impairing their quality. The company subsequently defined a standard, used by technology companies worldwide when they embed the unique chips in their products, thus enabling different devices to communicate efficiently with each other. Valens' contribution to improving the quality of television viewing was so remarkable that it won them the Emmy Award.
"In general, technology should ideally solve a real problem", says Risling about the company's development. "There is an obvious problem here and it's simple: if you look at a television installed at home, you see it surrounded by a large number of cables. Today they can all be replaced by one single cable."
"The beauty of this technology", Risling continues, "is that it can be adapted to additional markets. Two years ago, we identified the automotive market as an additional target market for which our technology can provide a solution. "In the automotive market, the problem stemming from an abundance of cables is even greater and focuses on their weight. As the vehicles' technology continues to develop, the problem will only heighten. The number of elements requiring connection in future vehicles will increase considerably to include cameras, radar for autonomous driving, screens, antennas and computer units that will enable the car to drive itself."
"Everyone is occupied with the 'cool' features and overlooks the problematic element – the cables needed to connect all these things. To make matters worse, this infrastructure also needs to contend with much larger files – from tens of megabytes to gigabytes. The inconceivable reality is that the autonomous vehicle will contain exponentially more lines of software code than the most sophisticated fighter plane. So how could the number of cables be reduced while simultaneously allowing for connectivity and the complex architecture that transforms the vehicle into a data-center on wheels? We understood that we possessed this capability and we analyzed the required adaptations: different cables, different distances – but with the same concept. We achieved rapid progress and began to sign agreements to collaborate with the industry's leading corporations."
"We worked in close cooperation with the Innovation Authority starting from the first chip, and through the various stages of development through the years. It's a 'win-win' situation from all perspectives. I believe that the Innovation Authority's support is very important. Belief in a small company beginning operation and fulfilling its dream is also extremely significant – and not just financially. Occasionally, substantial vision is required and I am happy that the Innovation Authority possessed this vision."
What characterizes the automotive world?
"The automotive industry is a world of its own that is unlike any other. There are several aspects to this: the less pleasant one is that it is a very conservative market – a field in which everyone is aware of the very high risk. Human lives are at stake so nobody wants a malfunction that causes a car accident. It is an industry in which the laws and principles are extremely rigid and this poses difficulty for young technology companies. Everything is rigorously measured and scrutinized – just like in the pharmaceutical industry. This is the reason that processes in the automotive industry are extremely slow compared to other markets, although it's gradually improving. A further challenge in this field is that all investments are made in advance, and then you need to wait for income to be generated. These are processes that require a lot of luck and patience therefore many companies refrain from entering this market."
"On the other hand, there is a huge market segment, currently undergoing revolution, one with tremendous commercial potential, and this has definitely tipped the scales in our case. Our activity is profitable and the company is financially stable so we could afford to embark on this adventure."
Which stage are you at currently?
"We have concluded developing the first chip that is supposed to be integrated into a motor vehicle by 2019. The chips are already in production and there are already manufacturers waiting to integrate our solution into their systems. Objectively, we are at a very advanced stage in relation to the time we have been engaged in this area. On the other hand, in relation to our dreams and vision – we have only just begun."
"We reached this stage faster than any other company. In order to move quickly, we constantly monitor the financial side of operations and collaborations. Several months ago, we concluded a capital recruitment cycle of 60 million dollars which was the second largest such cycle in Israel this year. The new partners in the group join the existing investors with the declared objective of assisting us to accelerate development."
"With regard to the standard and the activity with the investors, we are trying to implement a type of power house - a company that will produce technologies that are connected to each other and that will eventually result in better cars. The fact that we are located in Israel constitutes an advantage in this market because Israel is known to be at the forefront of cyber defense technology. We are examining options to connect between different sources of knowhow, thereby enhancing the overall solution."
What is your vision for the smart vehicle?
"I believe that the question is not whether the future vehicle will indeed replace the vehicles we are familiar with today, but rather when will this change take place. In the future, children will ask 'what is a driver's license'? or 'what is driving?' Everyone agrees that it will happen. The only question still open is exactly when."
"The changes will occur in motor vehicles themselves as well as in their integration with aircrafts or any other mode of transportation. This is a huge challenge; technologically, psychologically and from the regulatory perspective – but the motivation is so great that there is no doubt it will happen."
"The need is absolutely clear and stems primarily from the desire to provide a solution to avoid deaths and injuries that are a result oftraffic accidents today, which claim more victims worldwide than any war and entail astronomic costs. The numbers are completely unreal. The solution is not far away. Even today, with the existing technologies, if the entire world made the transition to autonomous vehicles there would be less accidents."
"On a personal level, it's clear to me that people will still want to drive. Will I prefer to sit back in a chair and admire the view? There will be times when I will want to drive but I suppose that I'll overcome that desire. The world simply won't be able to afford the accidents once there is a solution."
Aharon Aharon, CEO of the Innovation Authority: "The Innovation Authority has undertaken to support technology companies that have a high chance of success,maturing and growing in Israel. A technological breakthrough, creating a unique niche with high added value, and leading the market on a global level, are just some of the conditions necessary in order for Israeli companies to succeed in penetrating global markets while strengthening and expanding their economic activity in Israel."