Cortica sets up autonomous car venture with investors including Toyota, BMW

Joint company, called Cartica, will further develop the Israeli startup’s AI-based tech to make self-driving industry safer; end 2020 targeted for solution to hit the roads

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Cartica AI is a joint venture set up by Israeli startup Cortica and Continental, a German manufacturer of automotive parts, Toyota - AI Ventures, the VC subsidiary of the Japanese car manufacturer's R&D arm, BMW - i Ventures, and Jerusalem-based VC fund OurCrowd (Courtesy).
Cartica AI is a joint venture set up by Israeli startup Cortica and Continental, a German manufacturer of automotive parts, Toyota - AI Ventures, the VC subsidiary of the Japanese car manufacturer's R&D arm, BMW - i Ventures, and Jerusalem-based VC fund OurCrowd (Courtesy).

Israeli startup Cortica is setting up a joint venture with subsidiaries of such car-making giants as Toyota and BMW to develop autonomous vehicle technologies using the startup’s AI-based approach, which allows computers to see and understand their surroundings by mimicking the function of mammalian brains.

Partners in the new firm, called Cartica AI, include Continental AG, a German manufacturer of automotive parts; Toyota – AI Ventures, the VC subsidiary of the Japanese car manufacturer’s R&D arm; BMW  i Ventures; and Jerusalem-based VC fund OurCrowd, the firms said in a statement on Wednesday.

The joint company will focus on increasing car safety and reducing casualties on the global motorways, the firms said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

Cortica will bring its AI-based technologies to the venture, while the partners will invest in further developing the technology for the autonomous vehicle industry, Cartica AI co-founder & CEO Igal Raichelgauz, who is also the co-founder of Cortica, said in a phone interview. He declined to disclose the amount the partners will invest in the joint venture.

Israeli startup Cortica says it has developed an AI-based technology that allows cars and computers to see and understand their surroundings by mimicking the function of the brain of mammals (Courtesy).

“Our goal is to introduce a novel, yet proven, AI approach to the automotive industry, which will pave the way for a safer and more autonomous transportation,” said Raichelgauz, a graduate in electrical engineering from Haifa’s Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and a veteran of the Israeli army’s elite 8200 tech unit, in the statement.

“Our strategy is to build strong partnerships with leading automotive players in order to bring our solution to the high-volume automotive marketplace by the end of next year. Joining forces with these leading players is another substantial validation of our unique technology and business strategy,” he said.

Cortica says it is bringing to the market not just a new product but a new approach to AI, by developing a mathematical model that mimics what the brain of mammals can do.

Cortica’s co-founders Igal Raichelgauz and Karina Odinaev at their offices in Tel Aviv (Courtesy)

The technology, according Raichelgauz, can be an alternative to that of Mobileye, Israel’s leading maker of self-driving car technologies, which was acquired by Intel Corp. in 2017 for a whopping $15.3 billion.

With machine learning — the technology used by companies like Mobileye to teach computers to recognize objects — computers are manually fed millions of images, a process that teaches them to recognize and distinguish objects. The process is labor intensive and needs very high computational power.

Cortica’s technology, modeled on the neuron activity and learning mechanisms occurring in the brain, enables the technology to learn by itself — i.e., unsupervised learning — in real time and from real-world data, the company says.

This results in “unprecedented accuracy in edge cases and challenging scenarios,” the statement said. The computational power required for Cortica’s technology is also far lower than that required by other machine learning applications — just 0.5 watt vs 5-10 watts, the company says.

Cortica’s technology is based on research done at the Technion by Cortica co-founders Raichelgauz; Karina Odinaev, a specialist in brain sciences; and their computer vision and neuroscience professor Josh Zeevi.

The Tel Aviv office of Israeli startup Cortica; Feb. 12, 2019 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

The new firm, Cartica, will use Cortica’s technology and focus on the autonomous vehicle industry, Raichelgauz said in the interview. The other applications of the technology will continue to be developed by Cortica: for medical purposes, such as reading CT scans, and for defense applications, such as drones.

Cartica “pursues an entirely novel approach to autonomous perception and enables a wide range of compelling use cases that have the potential to transform mobility solutions in automotive and beyond,” said Nils Berkemeyer, venture capital manager at Continental, in the statement.

“Cartica AI introduces a series of important technological advancements” for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), including low compute requirements and low energy consumption, said Kasper Sage, a partner BMW i Ventures, in the statement. “Updates to the system can be included within minutes without the need to re-run vast amounts of training data like neural network-based approaches.”

“We believe Cartica will thus play a key role” in the development of autonomous driving and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS)” developed by OEMs and car manufacturers, “allowing them to design safe and predictable solutions that fulfill the strict requirements of the market,” BMW’s Sage added.

Cartica has already recruited 45 workers in Tel Aviv and the team will move to new offices, also in Tel Aviv, in November and further expand to some 100 R&D employees, the Hebrew statement said. The new firm will also open an office in Munich, Germany, to be closer to the car manufacturing industry.

Cortica, founded in 2007, employs some 120 people in Tel Aviv and New York.

In January, Cortica said it would start collaborating with Renesas Electronics, a Japanese maker of chips and processors for the automobile industry, to put the startup’s AI-based autonomous technology into chips for the front cameras developed by the Japanese firm, which will be installed into new cars.

The technology is already being installed into the chips and serial production has started after millions of miles of testing, the Wednesday statement said. The target is for the chips to hit the roads by the end of next year.

Toyota-AI Ventures was launched in 2017 with a $100 million fund focused on early stage investments in AI, autonomous mobility, robotics, data and the cloud. BMW i Ventures is a California based VC fund that invests in mobility services, and is the venture arm of car maker BMW.

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