Tony Cannestra, Omer Keilaf, Dor Skuler and David (Dede) Goldschmidt at the second Jefferies Mobility Technology Conference

When will Israeli roads see fully autonomous vehicles? According to leading experts participating in the Jefferies Mobility Technology Conference, the answer is probably not as soon as some in the industry expect.

The second Jefferies Mobility Technology Conference, held June 13 in Herzliya, Israel, hosted an audience of more than 450 car makers, Tier-1 suppliers, entrepreneurs, CEOs and investors to discuss the state of mobility technology, future outlooks, and investment perspectives.

The event, co-hosted by Samsung Catalyst Fund, included representatives from Ford, GM, BMW, Toyota, Hyundai, Samsung / HARMAN, DENSO, Lear, LG, Continental, Verizon, Shell, Bessemer, OurCrowd, Maniv Mobility, Autotalks, Innoviz, otonomo, Hailo, Intuition Robotics, Skytran, Optimal+, and many others.

In recent years, the Israel mobility technology landscape has grown significantly. More than 600 Israeli companies are attempting to disrupt the space, and Israeli auto-tech startups have raised more than half a billion US dollars since the beginning of 2019.

David (Dede) Goldschmidt, vice president and managing director at Samsung Catalyst Fund, moderated a panel titled, “2019: Autonomous Driving—Time for a Reality Check?” Panelists included Tony Cannestra, director of corporate ventures at DENSO, a global manufacturer of automotive parts; Omer Keilaf, CEO & co-founder of LiDAR leader Innoviz Technologies, a Samsung Catalyst Fund portfolio company that recently announced the closing of new $170 million financing; and Dor Skuler, CEO and co-founder of Intuition Robotics, creators of a cognitive AI platform.

The panel discussed the state of affairs of driving automation, the reliance of OEMs and Tier-1s on early-stage companies as they attempt to accelerate autonomous vehicles and Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) development and innovation, and current state of the art of man-to-machine driving interfaces.

“Just a few years ago, autonomous driving surged into prominence and grand public awareness, with a strong sense of urgency,” says Samsung Catalyst Fund’s Goldschmidt. “And there are numerous actors today. In California alone, as of January 2019, more than 60 companies have received autonomous vehicle testing permits from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).”

Still, following the 2016-2018 hype years, the automotive ecosystem acknowledges it will take longer than originally expected before fully autonomous passenger cars will hit the roads. Players are changing strategies and new partnerships are being formed and forged. The new expectation is for bifurcation in driving automation adoption, with passenger cars adopting lower levels first (Level 2+, meaning that drivers are in control but that at least one driver-assisted function is handled automatically), with full automation (Level 4+) likely to be introduced initially for specific use cases such as automated freight trucking, geo fenced low speed vehicles, and more.

“We are seeing diverse opportunities and use cases for different levels of driving automation, ranging from passenger cars to trucks and shuttles,” says Innoviz Technologies’ Keilaf. Commenting on the relationship of car makers and Tier-1s with early-stage companies, he added, “We established partnerships with large players, such as HARMAN, and we gained exceptional experience with BMW. They taught us a lot. Working closely with such an innovative early-adopter car maker helped Innoviz tremendously in the learning curve across many aspects of the automotive world, ranging from planning to quality assurance and beyond. They helped us go through the mindset change that is critical for young companies.”

“Most of the industry is focused on the hard engineering issues in building a safe autonomous vehicles. But there are human aspects required to drive adoption,” said Intuition Robotics’ Skuler. “Lower levels of automation basically mean co-driving with the machine. It is a new state of affairs. Humans are not predictive, and human reaction to machine intervention, such as in emergency braking, cannot be anticipated. We need sensors to monitor and track not just the physical condition of the driver as well as the cognitive state of the driver.”

“Autonomous systems are still far from meeting human-level performance”, said DENSO’s Cannestra. He quoted a blog by Edwin Olson (CEO of May Mobility) that analyzed California DMV data, suggesting applicability of Moore’s Law to autonomous driving and projecting that it will take at least until 2035 to reach full autonomy in passenger cars. “And even when technology is almost here, there will still be many other regulatory, infrastructure, and consumer adoption challenges to resolve,” he added. “There are many pieces to this puzzle.”

Panelists at the Jefferies Mobility Technology Conference discussed the idea of ADAS systems learning the driver’s behavior to imitate it whether the driver is aggressive or calm.

In the end, panelists debated but could not agree on a timetable for when to expect to see fully autonomous passenger cars in Israel.

“We will never sacrifice performance and compromise safety,” Tony Cannestra concluded. “So fully autonomous vehicles might still take some time to come.”

The Jefferies Mobility Technology Conference is just one of many events worldwide in which Samsung Catalyst Fund participates. We’re always interested in talking with potential VC partners and startups about the possibility of working together. Stay up-to-date with our event schedule, and find out how to be invited to one of our networking receptions, by signing up for our newsletter.