Mobileye envisions strong share of vehicle safety arena
Jerusalem company offers 3-in-1 camera-enhanced driving aid.
By AVI KRAWITZ
Jerusalem-based Mobileye Vision Technologies launched its accident warning and control system this week as it looks to take the bulk of the multi-billion dollar global market that is expected to develop for camera-enhanced visual warning systems in vehicles.
"There are currently two companies using visual technology in their safety warning systems but ours is the only one with three applications in one," said Meny Benady, vice president marketing and business development at Mobileye. "Next year we expect a big increase in this market when we will introduce six of our models."
While the market for visual warning systems currently stands at only $11 million, it is widely expected to boom in the coming years with the US National Transportation Safety Board anticipating market growth to $2.4 billion by 2010, according to Mobileye.
Using photo processing technology through a single camera connected to the front windshield of the car, the system, known as AWACS, captures an image of the traffic ahead and transmits dynamic information through sound signals and a visual monitor to warn the driver about possible negligence on the road.
The three applications offered in the system include a lane departure warning (LDW) that notifies when the car veers out of the lane without indication; headway monitoring and warning (HMW) as the car gets too close to the vehicle ahead; and forward collision warning (FCW), which signals that the car is in danger of colliding with the vehicle in front of it and urgently needs to brake.
Mobileye claims its system will drastically increase driver awareness on the road, and there is little doubt that local drivers could do with a system that enhances their safety - in the first six months of the year, 202 people died in some 8,474 road accidents country wide, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Meanwhile, the company brought research showing that 91 percent of collisions are caused by a lack of attention by the driver and that 60% of accidents could have been avoided if the driver was given a half-second warning - statistic it took into account in the design of AWACS, which initiates a signal the driver as the car enters a 2.5-second distance from the vehicle ahead.
Alleviating concerns that the system might be more annoying than useful given that one changes lanes or drives close to the next vehicle out of necessity at times, the system only goes into effect at 55 km per hour on the LDW and 40 km per hour for the HMW. The forward collision warning, however, is activated at as little as 5 km/hour given the prevalence of such accidents at slower speeds.
"The system is designed to reduce negligent driving and a good responsible driver will not notice it," Benady said.
Some, however, expressed doubt about whether the Israeli consumer would prioritize the system in their vehicle gadget spending, especially since the product was still in its early stages and had not yet been fully proven in the market.
"When deciding whether to spend money on a new stereo system or the AWACS, consumers will choose the stereo," said one observer at the product launch. "They also will be skeptical if they are not obligated to use it."
At $2,480 for the system, the price also may present an obstacle to the product's immediate penetration, although the company has presented a leasing option for the Israeli consumer, whic makes AWACS avaliable for NIS 149 per month for a 45-month period.
The company has two potential areas to give its market share the boost it needs, Benady explained. First, to work with regulators to make the system a requirement in vehicles. The second and less bureaucratic and more likely option, is to work with insurance companies to offer discount premiums on cars equipped with the system.
"Good drivers are a profitable market for the insurance industry and we are talking to several companies to work with us in subsidizing the system," Benady said.
Mobileye expects to sell 200,000 of its AWACS in Israel alone, setting itself a goal of 20,000 in the first year. It also has signed various distribution agreements across Europe, the US and Japan, and is working with tier-one manufacturers to bring the product to the global market in the coming year.
It also continues to develop new products to add to its portfolio. Some of the other technologies Mobileye is working on at its Har Hotzvim facility include a pedestrian detection system; an automatic high-beam operator that will switch the headlights' brightness as oncoming traffic approaches; and automatic break systems - all using visual camera technology.
Considering its portfolio and the outlook on the market, Mobileye is confident it has the product and the business plan to bring a real return to investors and establish itself as the next big Israeli hi-tech phenomenon.
"We have raised $50m. in five fundraising rounds since our establishment in 1999 and are currently valued at a few hundred million dollars," Benady said. "We will possibly bring the company to IPO in the next two years, but we have other options too. We believe we will be the next Mercury [Interactive Corp.] in the coming years."
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