It started with the idea of designing a system police and other security agencies could use to check vehicles for weapons, explosives and drugs. But along the way, UVeye’s founding brothers, Amir and Ohad Hever, realized they were on to something much, much bigger.
The two had begun testing their new technology with every conceivable kind of vehicle they could rent in Israel to ensure the technology could detect suspicious objects no matter what kind of car they were hidden in.
They found two things, recalled Amir Hever on Monday: “First, we succeeded in revealing irregularities inside the body of every car, which was great. Second, we realized we were getting false positives.” They realized that the system was detecting not only drugs and explosive material but ordinary problems like oil and water leaks, cracks and rust.
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The result is that UVeye’s technology is poised to potentially become a major player in the automobile market, a way of checking cars before they leave the factory and along their entire lifetime – when they change owners, undergo annual inspections or are being checked by an insurance adjuster after an accident.
On Monday, UVeye got a double vote of confidence from the automobile and insurance industry. The Tel Aviv-based startup raised $31 million from a Toyota Motors subsidiary, Volvo Cars and the U.S. insurer W. R. Berkley. FIT Ventures, which had earlier invested in the company, joined the round.
In addition, Volvo and Toyota’s Tsusho unit said they would use UVeye’s inspection systems at sites internationally, including Volvo’s factory dealerships. For Toyota Tsusho, a car-related services unit of the Japanese auto maker, UVeye systems will be deployed at used-car centers and in other applications.
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The startup already has partnerships with the automaker Skoda and Daimler and its aim is to see its system being deployed throughout the global auto market supply chain – on production lines to catch faults before manufacturing is complete, at logistical centers and at dealers.
Operators of public buses and taxis could also use the system for regular vehicle maintenance as could rent-a-car businesses.
UVeye uses digital cameras to detect external and mechanical flaws and identify anomalies, modifications or foreign objects whether they are in the undercarriage, the exterior of the vehicle and or in its tires. Using computer vision and artificial intelligence, UVeye’ s systems instantly read the scans to detect for anomalies.
The company says the scanning process can be completed in a matter of seconds even if the vehicle is travelling at speeds of up to 40 kilometers an hour.
The idea for the technology got its start when Amir Hever was at his previous job, as vice president for research and development at Visualead, an Israeli mobile-marketing startup that was sold to China’s Alibaba two years ago.
“We were visiting a high-security office in Israel. As we entered with our car, the security guard got down on the ground to try and see if there was anything suspicious in the car’s undercarriage,” Amir told TheMarker.
“When we asked him ‘Do you see anything?’ he answered, ‘No, but if it blows up later, the security camera will show I did my job.’ We realized something wasn’t right here,” he said.
Amir, 36, and Ohad, 34, did market research and discovered a sector where technology was relatively primitive, sometimes involving no more than a mirror on a long stick used to check the underside of a car entering an embassy compound or a defense plant. They worked alone for two years on solutions and financed development of their first product from Amir’s share of the Visualead exit. “It was a gamble, but a good gamble,” he said.
Their chief challenge was developing an algorthm that was generic enough to detect anomalies, like drugs stored in a gas line, on any and all makes and models of vehicles, ranging from private cars to big trucks.
The company now offers a range of products including its original undercarriage application (Helios), its 360 solution (Atlas) and a targeted tire application (Artemis)
UVeye, which had raised about $4 million, now has about 100 installations for security applications and 80 employees. The capital raised this week will enable it to double its manpower, the Hever brothers said.