Analysis: Israel's biggest ever tech deal is science fiction come to life

Equipped with built-in navigation systems, it will also solve parking problems, since it can lead itself to spots far from congested commercial centers.

Intel buying Israeli driverless car-tech firm Mobileye for $15 b. (credit: REUTERS)
The biggest foreign takeover in Israeli financial history is obviously a landmark for Israeli business and innovation, but even more than that – it is a milestone in the rapidly evolving revolution of the driverless car.
As a deal, Intel’s $15.3 billion purchase of Mobileye dwarfs anything Israeli that was ever bought, eclipsing, for instance, Google’s purchase of the driving navigation system Waze for $966 million, and exceeding by 50% last year’s combined foreign purchases of Israeli firms.
The Mobileye deal is big not only in terms of cash, but also in terms of its place in Israel’s history of technological innovation.
The 18-year-old Jerusalem-based Mobileye has established itself as a major producer of driving assistance systems that are now built into cars, warning drivers of approaching vehicles, pedestrians, obstacles and road margins.
Mobileye holds 70% of this vital innovation’s global market. The system, which deploys cameras and sensors, is in the same league as such famous Israeli inventions as drip irrigation, the computer flash drive or the Iron Dome missile interceptor.
Still, pivotal though such technologies were in many respects, they could not be classified as historic inventions on par with, say, the telephone, the radio or the steam engine.
Mobileye’s current focus, the driverless car, is on par with such landmark inventions, though it should be noted that, as an abstract idea, the driverless car is not Israeli. It has been around for decades and is now part of a global industrial race for technological posterity.
That race – which also involves Tesla, Google and Apple – has already generated cars driving autonomously on highways from Silicon Valley to Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin highway, where Mobileye’s driverless car has already made successful test drives in actual traffic.
Initially using a lone chip-bearing camera placed on the windshield, Mobileye’s system is now in the process of morphing into eight cameras and sensors that will surround the vehicle and scan its surroundings so comprehensively that it will nonchalantly change lanes and pass cars, much like ordinary Israeli drivers, only more responsibly.
The driverless car’s revolution will be about much more than comfort. Equipped with built-in navigation systems, it will also solve parking problems, since it can lead itself to spots far from congested commercial centers.
Demand for vehicles will thus also plunge, and with it car prices, since the autonomous vehicle will drive by itself between parents’ workplaces and their children’s schools. This will enable many households to shed their second car.
This is in the nearer future. Soon after that, the one remaining car will also vanish, because the typical way to get somewhere will be to order a car through a smartphone app, board it at one’s doorstep and then let it return to its operating company.
Most strikingly, the autonomous car will drastically cut road fatalities, because it will remove from the roads the reckless driver who is one of modernity’s most efficient killers, harvesting annually 1.5 million fatalities and injuring a further 50 million people worldwide. Consequently, car insurance fees will plummet, as will car maintenance costs.
This may sound like science fiction to many people, but to the automotive, computer and financial industries this future is just around the corner, as the Intel-Mobileye deal attests.
Whether Mobileye’s role in this revolution will indeed justify the hefty bet Intel has just made remains to be seen. As of now, it can already be said that Israel’s technology sector is today at the forefront of the race for the creation of the industrialized world’s next big thing.