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Israeli tech firms revving up engines for self driving cars

Last week, Intel acquired Israel firm Mobileye in $15 billion deal.

As the world moves toward an era of self-driving cars, Israel is positioning itself to be the Detroit of the future.

The country has emerged as a global leader in the fast-growing field of driverless cars, as illustrated by Intel’s more than $15 billion acquisition of Israeli firm Mobileye this week.

Israel is now home to hundreds of startups that provide everything from sensors to cybersecurity to data collection for autonomous vehicles, putting it alongside Silicon Valley at the forefront of an industry that many expect to take off over the next decade.

“In the last 12 months, the global interest is rising more and more,” said Lior Zeno-Zamansky, executive director of EcoMotion, a non-profit group that promotes the smart transportation sector in Israel. “Everyone is looking for the next Mobileye.”

She said the Israeli smart transportation sector has attracted some $4 billion in investment over the past four years, roughly half of it driven by two industry leaders, Mobileye and Waze. During that time, the number of Israeli startups in the sector has grown from 87 in 2013 to over 500.

Virtually every major auto maker has established a foothold in Israel, and senior executives visit the country regularly. General Motors has already opened a research centre in Israel, while Renault and Daimler are opening facilities as well. Other companies, including Ford, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, BMW, Mazda, Hyundai, Volvo and Audi are all active in the Israeli market.

In a sign of this interest, EcoMotion’s annual conference in May is expected to attract over 150 investors, up from just 10 in 2013, said Zeno-Zamansky. EcoMotion is a joint venture of the Israel Innovation Institute, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Economy Ministry.

Michael Granoff, president of Maniv Mobility, Israel’s only venture firm dedicated exclusively to automotive technology, said the auto industry is “ripe for change.” He cited the high cost and inefficiencies of owning a car and sitting in traffic, as well as the large numbers of road fatalities around the world.

He said Israel is well positioned to lead that change, not as a builder of cars or engines, but as a technology superpower.

“What we are witnessing is the digitization of transportation, and digitization is something that Israel has been a leader in,” he said.

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P.
Transcontinental Media G.P.