Mobileye gives sneak peek into ‘robotaxi’ ride ahead of Israel, Germany launch

Jerusalem-based Intel subsidiary marks ‘major milestone’ as it looks to debut ride-hailing services; Israel Innovation Authority earmarks $6m for autonomous transportation pilot

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

An autonomous taxi powered by Mobileye's driving tech with Moovit's ride-hailing app in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, September 2021. (Mobileye/Intel)
An autonomous taxi powered by Mobileye's driving tech with Moovit's ride-hailing app in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, September 2021. (Mobileye/Intel)

Intel’s Mobileye, the Jerusalem-based maker of self-driving technologies, unveiled a 40-minute autonomous car ride around Jerusalem this week ahead of the company’s expected launch later this year of a full-on pilot for autonomous taxis and ride-hailing services in Munich and Tel Aviv.

The video shows the vehicle operating in autonomous mode “while mimicking the multi-stop behavior of a ride-hailing service with humanlike skill,” Mobileye said, and demonstrates its Mobileye Drive system with Level 4 Autonomous Vehicle technology, which provides high automation without the need for human intervention in limited areas (also known as geofencing). Humans can still manually override if necessary.

The footage, filmed from inside the vehicle, shows the car maneuvering through narrow streets in the capital at night, stopping at traffic lights while mindful of motorcycles and scooters, navigating around jaywalking pedestrians, and even waiting patiently at a green light at a busy intersection as a human driver in another car performs an illegal u-turn.

Mobileye said in an announcement Tuesday that tests such as these marked a “major milestone” for the Intel subsidiary ahead of the debut of robotaxi (robotic/autonomous taxis) services in Israel and Germany.

The company partnered with German-headquartered international car rental and mobility service giant Sixt SE and Israeli smart transit data company Moovit (bought by Intel in 2020 for $900 million) for the ride-hailing services.

Mobileye will own the fleet of vehicles — orange NIO SE8s, electric seven-seater SUVs made by Chinese electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer NIO powered by Mobileye Drive, and developed specifically for commercial, driverless ride-hailing services, while Sixt will maintain and operate them in Israel and Germany.

Riders will be able to access the service on the app developed by Moovit, as well as the Sixt app, which combines ride-hailing, car rental, car-sharing and other offerings.

Mobileye has started the permit and regulatory approval process in both Israel and Germany to move ahead with its plans. Last month, the Knesset passed legislation that will allow Mobileye and other companies to pilot autonomous shared transportation, with passengers in the vehicle but without a safety driver on Israeli roads.

Germany adopted legislation last year that allows Level 4 autonomous driving on public roads in specific areas.

Mobileye currently has the largest international fleet of autonomous vehicles with pilots in Munich, Detroit, New York City, Tokyo and most recently Paris. The Intel company has been testing self-driving vehicles in Israel since 2018, and in Munich since 2020.

An autonomous taxi powered by Mobileye driving tech with Moovit’s ride-hailing app driving along the coast in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, September 2021. (Mobileye/Intel)

Mobileye has bet on commercial robotaxi services, as well as self-driving shuttles for public transportation across Europe and delivery vehicles in the US as a first introduction of autonomous cars on the roads.

Mobileye system

Mobileye’s self-driving system Mobileye Drive is comprised of three parts. The first is the advanced vision sensing technology, which Mobileye calls True Redundacy, comprised of two perception sub-systems that the company says allows for better safety and validation as they work independently from each other.

The second is Mobileye’s crowd-sourced Road Experience Management (REM) mapping technology,  which creates high-definition maps of road infrastructures worldwide to serve as a basis for safe autonomous driving. Mobileye says this technology generates data about more than 15 million kilometers (roughly 9.3 million miles) of roads daily.

A Mobileye system in the upcoming fleet of autonomous taxis by Mobileye in Tel Aviv and Munich. September 2021. (Mobileye/Intel)

The last element is Mobileye’s “pioneering” Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) driving policy, which the company’s co-founder and CEO, Amnon Shashua, has said “supports fast scaling to all regions around the world with different driving cultures.”

Johann Jungwirth, vice president of mobility-as-a-service at Mobileye, said that Mobileye Drive “defies industry norms with separate sensing subsystems that act as backups to one another. The very normal way in which the vehicle navigates very complex scenarios proves the value in this approach.”

​Mobileye Vice President Johann Jungwirth takes viewers on a virtual drive through the streets of Jerusalem with the Mobileye Drive-equipped autonomous vehicle, April 12, 2022. (Mobileye, an Intel Company)

$6 million for autonomous transportation pilot

Separately, on Wednesday, the Israel Innovation Authority together with the Ministry of Transport and Road Safety, the National Public Transport Authority, and Ayalon Highways, announced that they are launching a NIS 20 million ($6.21 million) national initiative to conduct autonomous public transportation pilots in Israel.

The initiative is aimed at examining the feasibility of integrating autonomous vehicles in the public transportation system in Israel and connecting between transport operators and innovative technology companies in Israel and around the world.

“The initiative will also allow for the mapping of the infrastructure needed to operate an autonomous public transportation system, and support and test the business plan of public transportation operators, with the intention that within a year or two, companies successfully completing the pilot will be given the opportunity to commercially operate public transportation services in Israel,” said the Israel Innovation Authority.

Michal Frank, director-general of the Ministry of Transport and Road Safety said in the announcement that the initiative was “a direct continuation of the legislation recently passed in the Knesset, enabling the commercial operation of autonomous vehicles.”

“The smart transportation initiative is expected to help dramatically with one of the biggest challenges facing the State of Israel: road congestion,” said Dror Bin, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority. “Moving to fleets of autonomous, driverless buses will help streamline the public transportation system, improve the level of safety, and deal with the shortage of drivers – all within a few years.”

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