According to the World Health Organization, road traffic accidents are on track to becoming the seventh leading cause of death globally by 2030 unless some action is taken. More than 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road accidents.
Some 50% of these deaths occur at night, even though just 25% of drivers are on the road at that time, meaning that in the dark, under more difficult lighting conditions, driving is four times more dangerous than driving during the day.
An Israeli startup, BrightWay Vision, has set out to change those statistics using night-vision technology that was initially developed at Elbit Systems Ltd., the nation’s largest non-government owned defense company. The startup has developed a system that extends the vision range of drivers, or the autonomous vehicles of the future, in all weather and lighting conditions.
“I started developing the technology at Elbit, where we had expertise in night vision systems and long-range observations systems for military purposes,” said Ofer David, the founder and CEO of BrightWay. Because the technology he developed was for civilian use and didn’t fit the mold of a defense company, a new company was created, in which Elbit today holds a majority stake, David said.
The Tirat Carmel, Israel-based startup, set up in 2011, has developed a vision technology that the company says can help cut back on the number of accidents that occur as a result of poor visibility on the roads, low lighting, glare from rain and snow, and approaching headlights.
The system — which uses a so-called gated vision technology — includes a camera with a chip that is placed on the windshield, behind the rear-view mirror. At the front of the car — within one of the light sources, an infra-red wave is placed, that constantly scans the surroundings and interacts with the camera. By continuously switching on and off, the camera controls the intensity of the light and the range of vision, explained David.
While the average range of headlight vision is between 50 to 120 meters, BrightWay’s technology enables drivers to get images at least 250 meters (820 feet) ahead, and in all lighting conditions, he explained.
The company, which comprises scientists and engineers, says its technology can be either used as a standalone, integrated into cars but can also be integrated into other existing advanced driver-assisted solutions and automated driver-assisted solutions.
A screen within the car shows the driver images that the car’s computer is receiving, allowing drivers to identify objects and people that the human eye otherwise would not be able to see — like pedestrians or, in Israel, camels on the side of a dark road in the Negev. It also automatically flags potential dangers.
“You wouldn’t have to be looking at the screen all the time,” David explained. “You’d glance at the screen just as you’d look at a rear-view mirror.” In addition, similar to the other advanced driver-assistance systems that are in many cars today, the system would alert you of a hazard ahead, telling you to look at the screen to see what is going on. In the most advanced stage of the implementation of the technology, said David, when there are autonomous vehicles, there would be no screen and the car’s computer would be fed the images directly.
The company has already sold hundreds of its systems to customers including car manufacturing giants Daimler AG and Continental AG as well as Tier-1 companies and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in Western Europe and the Far East.
“Daimler has included our products in its test cars,” David said. Without expanding, he added that the firm is in talks with the German car manufacturer for future cooperation. BrightWay has also signed a contract with a Chinese firm to supply it with 10,000 units in 2019 for trucks.
“We are the only company that has developed a technology that allows clear vision, real images at night and in tough conditions,” he said.