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The Race for Autonomous Cars

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Why Israel Is A Fast-Moving Force In Smart Transportation

June 3rd 2017

Israeli battery vehicle MIA

In June 2013, 250 Israeli smart-transportation visionaries flocked to the inaugural EcoMotion “unconference” to share their crazy fantasies about the future of moving people from one place to another.

Only four years later, leaders of the global automotive and transportation industry were among 1,500 participants at the fifth annual EcoMotion Main Event at the Peres Center in Jaffa last month.

It hasn’t taken long for Israel to emerge as a significant source of innovation for autonomous  and connected vehicles, navigation, public transportation,  alternative fuels, super-efficient engines, urban parking and environment-friendly personal and mass transportation.

Moshe Rackach of ParKings, an Israeli startup with an app for reserving parking spots, with his display at EcoMotion. Photo by Asaf Kliger

More than 500 Israeli companies involved in this sector have raised a combined nearly $20 billion over the past four years.

“Five or six years ago, who’d have thought Israel would be a potential player in the global industry of transportation? We don’t even have any automakers,” says Lior Zeno-Zamanski, executive director of EcoMotion, a nonprofit community initiated by the National Program for Alternative Fuels and Smart Transportation and the Israeli Innovation Institute, with the support of the Ministry of Economy.

“The megatrend in this world is electric, connected and autonomous — and that put Israel in the center because those are things we are really good at,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
AutoTalks’ booth at EcoMotion on May 18, 2017. The Israeli company specializes in vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Photo by Asaf Kliger

EcoMotion’s year-round workshops, competitions, hackathons, meetups and investor events have helped grow its community to more than 700 affiliated organizations. About 200 startups were represented at the all-day conference, which drew 250 prominent overseas attendees.

“Everyone is coming to see Israeli technology for smart mobility. Our smart-transport ecosystem is becoming a global center together with Silicon Valley. We even met a lot of people from the Valley at our event,” Zeno-Zamanski notes.
Airscort, an exhibitor at EcoMotion 2017, developed a docking/recharging station for commercial drones to enable fully autonomous missions. Photo by Asaf Kliger

The conference showcased innovative solutions for autonomous and connected vehicles,  cybersecurity,  ride-sharing, bike-sharing, drones, electric motorcycles and racing cars, fast-charging automotive batteries and much more.

“Now we need to bring all this innovation to the market and change the world of transportation through collaborations with corporations and municipalities,” says Zeno-Zamanski.
SoftWheel was at EcoMotion showing its Fluent bicycle wheels for smooth riding off-road, down and up curbs and down stairs. Photo by Asaf Kliger

Waze and Mobileye

Two well-known Israeli names in smart transportation are Waze and Mobileye.

Not long after that first EcoMotion unconference, Google bought the Ra’anana-based crowd traffic-navigation pioneer Waze  for $1.03 billion.

Jerusalem-headquartered Mobileye, which developed vision-based driver-assistance systems and is prominent in the engineering of self-driving cars, was acquired by Intel in March 2017 for a record $15.3 billion.

Now, Mobileye is partnering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and corporations including Microsoft to establish an international transportation lab in the Israeli port city of Ashdod.

Mercedes Benz, General Motors, BMW, Ford, Honda, Uber, Volkswagen and Volvo have opened R&D centers in Israel and/or invested in Israeli technology since 2016.

The Honda Silicon Valley Lab, Volvo, Hertz International and Israel’s Ituran are sponsoring DRIVE,  a new smart-mobility accelerator, coworking space and prototyping lab in Tel Aviv headed by Boaz Mamo, founder and former head of EcoMotion. Renault’s Open Innovation Lab was established in Tel Aviv last June to work with local startups.

Time to deliver

It’s not only the success stories that focused the transportation world’s attention on Israel, Zeno-Zamanski points out. Electric-car network Better Place, meant to position Israel as a model for the rest of the world, helped put Israel on the map for transportation innovation before going bankrupt in May 2013.

EcoMotion, started around the same time, receives government, philanthropic and industry funding to support knowledge-sharing, networking and collaboration in smart transportation.
Israel’s EViation Aircraft is developing electric propulsion. Photo by Roi Rochlin

“We’re constantly looking at the ecosystem to see what is missing,” says Zeno-Zamanski. “The gap now identified has to do with implementation and POCs [proofs of concept] and collaboration. That’s the hard part. You can honestly say Israel is a global center for transportation innovation and now it’s time to deliver.”

Anat Bonstein, head of the National Program for Alternative Fuels in the Prime Minister’s Office, said she hopes to see pilots and projects in technologies from autonomous vehicles to ride-sharing by the end of this year.

“The State of Israel recognizes the huge potential and the great opportunity to promote an area which will develop into a trillion-dollar market,” she said.

Oded Distel, director of the Israel NewTech program in the Foreign Investment and Industrial Cooperation in the Ministry of Economy and Industry, said EcoMotion’s 2017 conference “is living proof of the attractiveness of the Israeli industry and technology and the faith that foreign and Israeli investors have in it.”


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