Nick Sugimoto, senior program director of the Honda Silicon Valley Lab, makes no bones about it. By 2020, he says, Japanese automotive manufacturer Honda will offer smart cars that have 50 percent fewer collisions. A decade later, Honda’s safety features will take into account not just other vehicles, but also road users and pedestrians, and by 2040, Honda’s connected vehicles will be collision-free.
It’s an ambitious goal, and to do it 68-year old Honda needs smart technology – and that’s why the largest car manufacturer in the world has announced its formal move into Israel.
“Traditional cars were big hardware products with a cabin, engine and tires, but going forward the car is a big computer, and the connected car is becoming a more and more intelligent machine,” Sugimoto tells ISRAEL21c.
“Honda has been very strong in our initial R&D with engines, but when it comes to that connectivity and intelligence, Honda needs help. We need partners to work with. The product is changing, industry is changing, and customer expectation is changing and that’s why we are now in Israel.”
Sugimoto was speaking yesterday at the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit in Jerusalem. The car manufacturer, which sells some 10,000 cars a year in Israel and 5 million cars a year worldwide, announced at the event that it is looking for new opportunities for collaboration, and has engaged crowdfunding equity platform company OurCrowd to access its portfolio companies and facilitate introductions to relevant innovators and entrepreneurs.
“They will be our eyes and ears in Israel,” Sugimoto tells ISRAEL21c. “They are already well networked within the tech community, and whenever they find an industry startup that might be interesting, they will make an introduction to Honda.”
Coming upstream to the source
Sugimoto, who has visited Israel several times, says that Honda has met many Israeli companies working in Silicon Valley, and is already working with Israeli companies like Waze and VocalZoom. The latter has developed a robust speech interface for cars and motorbikes, and could be integrated into cars by 2018.
“We wanted to come upstream, to the source of the flow to meet interesting tech companies that are younger and not quite ready for Silicon Valley,” explains Sugimoto. “We are ready to help them come to Silicon Valley; we have the financial resources.”
Honda is looking for startups developing vehicle intelligence technologies, apps and software such as human-machine interfaces that help machines understand a user’s intent. The multinational has also been in discussions with leading cybersecurity automotive companies in Israel and is looking for anything from acquisitions to joint ventures and licensing deals, according to Sugimoto.
“Israel is particularly well positioned to produce companies relevant to the auto industry given its strengths in embeddable devices, machine vision and related algorithm development and cybersecurity,” said Jon Medved, OurCrowd founder and CEO.
“Israel is an interesting country with very interesting technologies,” says Sugimoto. “It has a strong technology background coming from the defense industry and we see many disruptive technologies emerging from there.
“Also, the investment community is very strong here, and they are eager to support a wide variety of technologies,” he adds. “In Silicon Valley, investors tend to focus on one area. When clean-tech was hot several years ago, everyone in the investment community there was looking at clean-tech deals. It’s faddish.
“The Israeli investment community is more stable and steady. They are looking for disruptive innovation and look to the global market from day one. In that sense, Israel is very unique in creating new innovation and that’s why I have been very interested in this country.”
Representatives from two Honda open innovation initiatives – Honda Developer Studio, which enables app developers to work directly with Honda engineers to create road-ready apps quickly; and Honda Xcelerator, which provides innovators with funding for rapid prototyping — attended the two-day event in Jerusalem.
Will Honda one day open an R&D office in Israel? “We have no plans to open an office here yet, but who knows?” says Sugimoto. “I’m very impressed by the innovation and entrepreneurial support of the startup nation and we definitely want to join forces to develop disruptive technologies for the future.”