Israelis suffer from ever-worsening traffic jams, insufficient public transportation – most of which doesn’t not run on the Jewish Sabbath – and, at the same time, steep taxes when they buy a new car. Most vehicles are not yet in sync with the modern world of connectivity.
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So it’s no surprise that over 1,000 entrepreneurs are working in the local transportation sector and trying to promote solutions to improve the ways we move from place to place.
The major event of the year for such people is the EcoMotion conference, which is holding its fourth annual event on Thursday, at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
EcoMotion is a nonprofit organization and a joint venture between the government and Israeli industry, aimed at “building an interdisciplinary community focused on ‘Smart Transportation.’”
What began as a young and lively initiative of the Israel Innovation Institute has now grown into a major event boasting the sponsorship of the Prime Minister’s Office’s Fuel Choices Initiative; the Science, Technology and Space Ministry; and the Economyand Industry Ministry.
The foreign delegations to EcoMotion, which began arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport on Saturday, include representatives of auto manufacturers such as Hyundai, General Motors, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, BMW and Audi. Also on hand will be representatives of other major companies in the automotive and transportation sectors, such as Bosch, Magna International, SNCF and Delphi.
“Many senior executives from the global transportation industry are coming. They understand that Israel is very interested in this realm, and that this is the place where they can discover their future technology,” says Boaz Mamo, CEO of EcoMotion and the Israel Innovation Institute. “Still, this annual conference is not a magic solution for startups. Anyone who seeks to create long-term cooperation must work all year long.”
A long list of developments and innovations will be on display at the event this year – among them, applications for ride-sharing, connected cars, cyber-related transport solutions and much more. Some 60 Israeli startups will be exhibiting their wares.
Eyal Rozner, director of the government’s Fuel Choices Initiative, says smart transportation initiatives – even if most are still based on fuels made from oil – could lead the way to a greener future.
“We believe that the business community’s support of the [transportation] sector is an important element in our ability to make Israel into a world center in the field, and the interest of players in the global industry in hundreds of startups and initiatives that will be presented at the conference testifies to our success,” Rozner says
Participants in such an event often find it difficult to present their developments to the broader public in a simple fashion, since many of them deal with software and algorithms that may streamline existing technology, but are not very photogenic.
The Israeli startup Roadix, however, doesn’t have this problem.
After years of planning and coming up with about 30 prototypes, Roadix will unveil a production-ready version of its MUVe, a new form of urban transport – a sort of electric scooter with three relatively large wheels and a 40-kilometer range. On top of that, it can be folded into a “suitcase” on wheels. To date two models have been developed.
“The idea was born when I sat with a friend in Tel Aviv and we complained about the transportation in the city for people who arrive there by train,” recalls Amir Zaid, the company’s founder and CEO, and a former designer for Ferrari and Fiat. “So the idea came up of a folding vehicle that can be used to travel to the train, brought on board and then used to ride to your final destination.”
Five years later, the idea —which has already received a good deal of media attention — may now finally be on the verge of a big breakthrough, but from an unexpected direction: shared transportation.
The idea is for the MUVe to be rented out by the hour from railway stations in metropolitan areas – thus constituting yet another link in the shared, short-term rental transportation infrastructure that now includes bicycles and vehicles, such as Car2go in Israel. The innovation is that instead of the racks of shared bikes stretching out along the sidewalks, the MUVe will be dispensed folded up, from a stack in a sort of vending machine – as easy as buying a can of Coke.
Roadix expects the French, and maybe the Italians and Brits, too, to be among the first to take an interest in the electric personal vehicle, even before the Israelis do. The company is already in advanced negotiations with the French railway company SNCF, one of the oldest partners of EcoMotion, which would offer the fold-up vehicles in its train stations.
Israeli consumers will be able to buy the MUVe, too, after it receives a final stamp of approval from the Israel Standards Institute. The price will be over 8,000 shekels ($2,100), rather expensive in comparison to the simpler electric-powered scooters made in China that are common in Israeli streets. As a result the company will likely target older, well-off customers.
Roadix will offer two models, which for now are being manufactured in Binyamina. If mass sales take off, production will most likely expand to Italy, to a factory which was once used to assemble cars.
Another way Roadix wants to break into the local market will be to sign deals with car-leasing companies, whereby employees with company cars (a very large sector in the country) – especially those who do not have reserved parking places near their offices, or deal with heavy traffic en route – will receive the electric fold-up scooter for a reasonable fee and stash it in the trunk, allowing them to leave the car itself somewhere convenient and cheap along the way, and ride to work.
Employees at the leasing companies themselves, and others, can benefit from the three-wheeled MUVe, too, Zaid says. For example, it can be used to allow these workers to move around large parking lots and garage spaces. “Today, companies dealing with car fleets need two employees to move a car, one to drive it and the other to drive the driver [to and from the car],” he points out.
The brand names of the two MUVe models have yet to be chosen, but for now they are known as “Lady” and “Ninja.” The former is smaller, lighter and easier to fold up.
After taking a test drive, we can say that it is fairly simple to operate, not cumbersome, solid and able to move easily. It can even climb up onto sidewalks. The aluminum frame is stabilized very well by shock absorbers. Steering is done by means of handlebars along with body movements – shifting one’s weight in the direction of the turn, similar to skiing, according to Roadix, but it’s quite intuitive even for those of us who don’t ski.
The second version is sportier and can accelerate to a maximum speed of 40 kilometers an hour, but in Israel the speed will be limited electronically to the legal maximum of 25 kilometers an hour for such vehicles. One stands with one foot in front of the other on the carbon-fiber deck, similar to a skateboard; the suspension allows leaning over farther.
The MUVe is great off-road too, for after work and on weekends. It weighs 15 to 19 kilograms, depending on the model – quite an impressive achievement considering its performance, quality and size. Still it may be rather heavy to carry around for something described as a “suitcase” vehicle.
Among other Israeli inventions on exhibit at EcoMotion this year, and here are some that stand out:
Cycuro: As vehicles become more and more computerized – especially in light of the trend toward connectivity between vehicles, and between the vehicles and various infrastructures – they become vulnerable to hacking, so users need to protect themselves.
Cycuro offers security solutions covering all data systems in a vehicle. Using sophisticated algorithms its application identifies intrusions and other cyber problems. The unique solution developed by the firm allows installation of protective mechanisms without intrusive control over the vehicle’s computer systems.
Vayavision: The automobile industry has set its sights on self-driving vehicles in the not-too-distant future. This strategy demands a great deal of knowhow, of course, and Israeli startup Vayavision aims to be in the forefront with technology allowing vehicles to monitor their surroundings.
Some solutions for autonomous vehicles include radar systems using lasers and heavy data processing, a very expensive proposition; others are based on cameras that can lose their reliability over time. Vayavision offers a different approach: an advanced system based on electro-optical technology with the same efficiency and effectiveness as the laser-based system, but at a much lower price.
Karpoolz: Ride-sharing and carpooling are convenient money- and time-saving innovations, but often suffer from communications-related problems. The Karpoolz app will enable carpooling between parents easily and efficiently, featuring automatic scheduling, timely messaging about cancellations or changes, and location-based services informing drivers of the optimal routes.
GreenQ: This is an app that is not afraid to get its hands dirty – and will make collecting municipal garbage cleaner, easier and more efficient. By installing this device on every garbage truck, it will be possible to track and monitor progress, and improve service. For example, instead of dispatching an entire truck and crew to collect a small amount of trash, a smaller vehicle can be sent instead – with large savings.