MobilEye CEO Ziv Aviram displays the technology he hopes will propel the company to the top of the automotive security pack. (Photo: Flash 90/Sharon Perry)Today it sounds like something out of science fiction, but in just a few years, it will likely be standard safety equipment in any car.
An Israeli company MobilEye Vision Technologies Ltd. in Jerusalem has developed technology that will allow cars to be even more alert than their drivers – making sure that they don’t drift out of their lane, automatically adjusting their speed to that of the car ahead, both in highway driving and heavy traffic, and preparing emergency restraints when it becomes clear that they will be facing an unavoidable collision.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration first asked for ‘intelligent transport systems’ that could alert drivers to surrounding dangers in a January 1997 report. The report requested technology that could help “monitor the driver’s own state of fitness, enhance driver situational awareness … provide advance warnings of potential danger, intervene and assist with emergency controls if a crash is imminent and perhaps eventually automate the driving process….”
But today, apart from some cruise control systems in high-end vehicles, companies have been hesitant to install ITS systems because manufacturers and government agencies want proof that the technology won’t cause more crashes than it was designed to prevent.
The MobilEye technology has solved that problem by evaluating road safety based on images captured by a camera pointed in front of the vehicle. The use of only one camera is what sets MobilEye apart from the competition – and more attractive to the automotive industry, because it drives down costs.
“What we have succeeded in doing is obstacle detection with one camera. This is the breakthrough,” company CEO Ziv Aviram told the Israeli paper Ma’ariv last week.. “This is so unusual that the market didn’t believe we could do it.”
The one-camera system, makes “automated on-board driver assistant systems,” as it is known in the automobile industry, a realistic possibility for the near future. The technology uses three algorithms to evaluate road safety based on images captured by a camera pointed in front of the vehicle.
The first is road geometry, whereby the system looks ahead approximately 150 meters to see how the road bends. The system can identify which vehicles are in the same lane and which are in adjacent lanes, even when the road curves considerably.
The second technology is ego-motion, which could be used to help alert drivers if they are tired or driving while impaired. Ego-motion evaluates the current motion of the vehicle to predict which way the car is likely to move next.
Lane-departure technology identifies lane markings, even in the dark or in bad weather conditions, and warns if the vehicle is veering off course. The most complex task is obstacle detection, whereby the camera surveys the landscape and picks out which objects are vehicles. This is done by an on-the-fly comparison of all the objects in the frame of the camera’s vision with a large database that MobilEye has prepared.
Last month, MobilEye just signed their first contract with Denso Corporation on the joint development of advanced driver assistance systems combining MobilEye’s Video processing technology with other sensory systems including laser and radar.
The first phase of the agreement has begun with an advanced development contract, which is expected to lead to a serial production contract by the end of 2003, making it a possibility that the technology will be included in vehicles in model years 2004 or 2005.
The story of MobileEye began when Amnon Shashua, dean of the school of computer science and engineering at Hebrew University, and a specialist in computer vision was giving a speech to a car manufacturer in Japan. He was asked if such a camera was theoretically possible. He answered that it was – and shortly afterwards, began developing the idea into reality.
The company was incorporated in May 1999 by Aviram and Shashua, and as it grew, chose a unique and somewhat risky business strategy.
Although at the beginning of 2000, MobilEye first had a prototype that worked in real time, they chose not to go the conventional business route and develop their technology into a single product they would try to sell to the industry.
Instead, knowing that their technology could have countless applications, and they couldn?t develop them all, they decided to become the automotive equivalent of Intel: creating a chip with their technology folded inside that they would sell to anyone in the industry, without making any exclusive deals with any one manufacturer.
To this end, they went into partnership with the Philips company. Together with Philips, the company has developed a system-on-a-chip called EyeQ which offers a highly integrated single chip platform.
The chip’s significance is in its potential role as an enabler of so-called “adaptive cruise control” systems. Such systems use cameras or radar to keep a safe distance between vehicles in the same lane, providing a rudimentary form of autonomous vehicle control. Automakers say they are planning to introduce adaptive cruise control systems, then to follow them with other devices that provide lane departure warnings and forward collision warnings. Ultimately, they hope to mix such systems with drive-by-wire techniques that would enable vehicles to autonomously take control of their brakes and steering wheel in order to avoid collisions.
Pascal Langlois, vice president for Philips Semiconductors’ Global Market Segment Automotive division, explained that the Phillips and MobilEye will speed the development of cost-effective electronic safety systems.
“This is a great development in bringing active safety devices into the car,” he said.
The amount of faith in the future of MobilEye is evident by the scale of investment of the company, and who those investors are. Among those Israeli investors who have put some $40 million into the company, is the Machshirei Tnua company, the Israeli importers of Chrysler, Suzuki, and Porsche, as well as the Meir Group, importers of Volvo, Honda, and Jaguar, and Delek Motors, importers of Mazda and Ford.
Should the product develop as expected, and become a standard piece of equipment in the 40 million automobiles manufactured annually worldwide, the investment will certainly pay off. The EyeQ system is expected to become a standard feature in the way that airbags and ABS brakes did – in the first stage, it will be offered only on high-end luxury vehicles, while later, it will be installed on every car that rolls off of the assembly line.