A woman was killed last week in the US after the self-driving system of an Uber car failed to detect that she was crossing the street. One Israeli startup’s night vision technology could have prevented that entirely.
“BrightWay Vision’s technology would definitely reduce the probability of such accidents... [like the] specific Uber incident,” said chief operating officer Sharon Lifshits.
Founded in 2011, BrightWay Vision is developing a night-vision technology to make driving easier and safer – with multiple sliced images and sensors that can allow a driver to pinpoint a pedestrian crossing up to 200m. down the road.
“Imagine that you are driving in the dark, at night, and you see nothing in front of you,” said CEO Ofer David. “With this system, you can see everything. Everything from a brick to an elephant.”
What’s driving BrightWay Vision is the disproportionate number of traffic-related fatalities that occur in the dark and during inclement weather – despite there being much less traffic on the roads.
This is where the Israeli start-up comes in – offering a multi-functional vision and ranging system. It relies on active gated imaging that can work during all types of visibility and weather conditions, enhancing a driver’s vision with multiple screens.
The screen can also be modified with lasers, which shows certain distance ranges. Shifting from a short-range to a long-range image slice can obfuscate the background while pinpointing and isolating potential pedestrians.
Arizona police release video of fatal self-driving car collision (REUTERS)
“You can see the difference between detecting with regular images and detecting with our video,” David added. “We have a special sensor to build our image, not one taken of the whole range at once. It takes a slice of the range and builds it [in]to a single frame... And we’re not blinded by headlamps coming in the opposite direction.”
Giant automakers like General Motors, Volvo and Peugeot have already expressed interest in adopting BrightWay Vision’s technology. Its main customer is Daimler AG – the parent company of Mercedes-Benz – along with Chinese automakers.
In terms of how driverless technology will evolve over the next decade, the Israeli firm’s technology “is a critical element” of expanding class-4 and class-5 vehicles – or fully autonomous driving.
The company is partially a spin-off of Elbit Systems, where David headed its electro-optics division for nearly 18 years, and like many Israeli tech products, BrightWay Vision’s technology was first developed for the battlefield.
“I got acquainted with night vision in the army,” he said. He served in a technical unit that cannot be named for security reasons.
The system can also identify objects strewn on the road at night as well as during non-ideal driving conditions – such as rain and fog.
“Even if I put a small box on the road, you’ll see it from the distance of more than 100m.,” David added. When The Jerusalem Post
went along for a test drive, David’s claim proved true.
Night-vision products are hitting the market but they still don’t come preinstalled. The Israeli start-up is offering a competitive price of around $100 for the laser and sensor, one it hopes will cajole a major automaker to use its system.
“Eventually, it will be mandated and regulated to have nighttime safety... Just like today, trucks are required to have lane departure warning and forward collision warning. It’ll be the same thing,” David said, predicting the system would be integrated into vehicles in three years.
The company is currently looking for Series B funding, after a development-phase round that took a few years. When developing software, it’s a much quicker process to get established and raise funds. With hardware, it takes longer for start-ups.
BrightWay Vision has already raised millions of dollars, though David declined to specify the number.
After the concept-development phase has been completed, BrightWay Vision is continuing with prototype planning. The company has some 24 patents to its name, including on its sensor and laser chips.