International vehicle technology powerhouse Delphi is opening its first offices in Israel, making it the latest in a list of car manufacturers to set up shop in the country. The move is yet another sign that Israel is on its way to becoming a hothouse for smart transportation technology, even though the country was never a significant player in the traditional transport industry.
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Delphi is following in the footsteps of Daimler-Mercedes, which launched a research and development center in the country, along with a massive investment and the mapping company Here.
While Israel was never a significant player in the transport field until now, the industry’s transition to developing automated vehicles that run on on high-tech systems has given Israel an in. Beyond systems for viewing the road and artificial intelligence, automated vehicles need fast data processing and transfer, data storage and protection from cyberattacks.
“We want to get closer to the Israeli market,” said Eran Sandhaus, Delphi VP of software and services, and the most senior Israeli at the company. “From what we’ve seen, there are some 500 companies operating in the field of transport and mobility in Israel, most of them very young — and that interests us. Generally we don’t invest in very young companies, but we want to be exposed to them and work with them.”
Delphi has been particularly active in Israel over the past half year. In April the company was part of a $60 million investment in Valens, which develops microchips for the fast transfer of data over simple cables. It also led a $25 million investment in Otonomo, which developed a platform enabling vehicle manufacturers to communicate with service providers and application developers. A month ago, it led another major investment, of $65 million in total, in the young startup Innoviz Technologies, which develops laser-based LiDAR sensors designed to enable the commercialization of autonomous vehicles.
At this stage, Delphi’s new activity in Israel rests on the shoulders of one person, who was appointed to work with local partners including Mobileye, and to look for new opportunities in the local market. Delphi has also launched a partnership with smart mobility accelerator Drive.
“This is the beginning,” says Sandhaus. “I don’t want to make promises, but our idea is to increase our presence.”
Sandhaus insists that his being Israeli is not what fuelled Delphi’s interest in Israel. He says the company began investing in Valens and Otonomo before he was with firm. He notes though that as a fellow Israeli, the local entrepreneurs feel more comfortable with him.
“There is real action in the field of mobility here, beyond what’s proportionate to the size of the country,” he says.
Sandhaus came to Delphi within the past year, and worked most recently at Qualcomm. Delphi wanted him for his experience working with various technology trends over the years — initially data communications and routers, then the mobile industry, and most recently the Internet of things. Vehicle technology is undergoing similar transitions, he explained.
He is currently in Israel for a conference organized by the Prime Minister’s Office’s department for fuel alternatives and smart transportation, which is drawing some 2,500 participants.
Delphi was initially founded as a parts department within General Motors, and in 1999 spun off as a separate company for supplying vehicle parts and technology. The company nowadays employs some 170,000 people around the world, including 20,000 engineers and programmers.
Delphi makes and sells sensors, and integrates various technologies into vehicles, Sandhaus notes. The company’s role includes determining the placement of the computer within the vehicle and protecting it from motion-induced damage.
Delphi’s products are based on the technology of Intel and Mobileye, as opposed to Nvidia, currently considered the leader in artificial intelligence and automated driving. Sandhaus explains that while Nvidia is based on artificial intelligence, Delphi combines artificial intelligence with rule-based programming.
“We want to ensure that when you instruct the vehicle to do something, it does exactly what you defined. It’s what the regulators demand. It’s more challenging with artificial intelligence. Identical circumstances can lead to different outcomes ever time, and that problem hasn’t been solved yet,” he says.
One of Delphi’s major partnerships in Israel, with Mobileye, dates back 10 years, Sandhaus says. Mobileye develops the technology and Delphi packages it and adapts it for vehicles.
Automated driving is currently focused on two fields — public transport and private vehicles. Sandhaus notes the advantages in public transport — the routes are fixed, the vehicles generally stick to major thoroughfares, and they make a large number of trips along these routes, enabling plenty of data collection to better predict various scenarios.
What will be the impact of filling the roads with driverless vehicles?
“It’ll be better here. We’re working on a pilot with the Singaporean government and they have problems similar to those in Israel. It’s a small country boxed in by its borders, with a growing population, and they don’t want to increase the number of roads. Their conclusion was that they need to redesign their transport system.
“As part of our experiment we’re doing with automated cars — staffed by drivers for backup — we’re picking up people from their homes and dropping them off at the train station. It’s a revolution. When everything works with precise timing, traffic is diminished and parking spots become available.”
How will people be convinced to forgo private vehicles?
“I don’t need to convince anyone,” insists Sandhaus. “The younger generation doesn’t want private cars. San Francisco residents are happy with Uber and Pilot. Currently these services are relatively expensive, but most of that is due to the cost of the driver, so an automated car would make it cheaper — and then it would pay off outside of the cities as well. Maintaining a private car is expensive, and there’s no parking in city centers. If these services cost half what they do nowadays, you’d toss out your car keys.”