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Porsche joins forces with Israeli smart car startup to ‘feel the road’ better

German sports car maker to integrate Tactile Mobility’s software to give cars better road grip; announcement comes during EcoMotion smart mobility conference, held virtually

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

A motorist guides his Porsche convertible along a nearly-empty South University Boulevard, April 5, 2020, in Cherry Hills Village, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
A motorist guides his Porsche convertible along a nearly-empty South University Boulevard, April 5, 2020, in Cherry Hills Village, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Tactile Mobility, a Haifa-based startup that provides smart cars with the ability to “feel the road,” is joining forces with German sports car manufacturer Porsche to equip its cars with the company’s software and have the technology tested.

The collaboration was announced on Monday as part of EcoMotion 2020, a smart mobility conference that this year will take place virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the deal between Tactile Mobility and Porsche, the Israeli startup will provide the German car maker with software that will be installed in cars to make them “smarter, and more enjoyable and safer to drive,” said Amit Nisenbaum, the startup’s CEO.

The firm develops software that uses an autonomous vehicle’s built-in, non-visual sensors, analyzing input such as wheel speed, wheel angle, revolutions per minute, and gear position, to help it “feel” the vehicle-road dynamic — the intersection between the road and the vehicle and the conditions of the road beneath its tires — like human drivers do.

Tactile Mobility’s software includes an in-vehicle module and a cloud-based module, based on crowdsourcing, that provides cars with the ability to better ‘feel the road’ (Courtesy)

In 2019, Tactile announced an investment from Porsche and Union Tech Ventures, the technology investment arm of the Union Group, to help it develop its tactile virtual sensing technology.

Manuel Hoell, the general manager of Chassis SW-Development, a unit of the German car maker, said at the press conference on Monday that this kind of road-feel information is a key part of understanding how cars drive and is necessary information for smart cars to get a fuller picture of their environment. The data will be useful both for autonomous cars and for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), he said.

He added that there is no timeline yet for when cars equipped with the system will hit the road, but that the cooperation with Tactile will bear fruit “in the next few years.” Testing the technology will combine Porsche’s knowledge of traditional software development and chassis development with the software and data provided by Tactile, he said.

A Porsche showroom in Herzliya Pituah (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

Tactile later said in an email that the collaboration with Porsche “is not yet formalized.”

In January, Porsche said it was collaborating with Israeli startup TriEye, a developer of short-wave infrared (SWIR) sensing chips that enable drivers to see in adverse road conditions, to test and improve the performance of some of its products.

Tactile, founded in 2012, has raised $9 million from investors.

The EcoMotion event, seen here in 2019 in Tel Aviv, will be held virtually this year (Asaf Kliger)

The EcoMotion virtual event starts Monday and will last through the week. Speakers will include Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson; Prof. Amnon Shashua, president and CEO of Mobileye; Nikolai Ardey, executive director VW Group Innovation; NIO CEO William Li; and Zoox CEO Aicha Evans.

Speakers will be available to answer questions via live chats.

The event’s startup exhibition at the event will be replaced by a virtual one, with 175 Israeli and international firms. Among the Israeli technology companies presenting: Via, Arbe, NoTraffic, Otonomo, Neteera, Karamba Security, VayaVision, Trieye, UVeye, AutoFleet, AutoTalks, Enroute, Driivz, Innoviz, Foretellix, Hailo, Axilion, Actasys, Anagog. Each venture will have its own page where its work, photos and videos will be presented. Through this platform, viewers will be able to contact startups directly to ask questions and make appointments.

The conference and exhibit are part of the EcoMotion ecosystem — a community of entrepreneurs and investors in smart mobility that was set up by the Israel Innovation Authority, the Fuel Choices Initiative and the Economy Ministry.

The event was supposed to host some 5,000 people, said Orlie Dahan, the CEO of EcoMotion, but “reality shifted and changed” because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it was transformed into a virtual affair.

“To close a deal it is important to look a person in the eye, shake their hand,” Dahan said at the press conference held by video conference. This virtual platform will help “start a conversation” between parties that will hopefully lead to more mature relationships.

Israel, which has no car manufacturing activities to speak of, has become an unlikely leader in technologies that look set to transform vehicles as we know them, with tech giants like Google and Intel and car manufacturers including Honda, GM, BMW and Volkswagen investing in Israeli tech in this field. Last year, Renault and Nissan inaugurated their open innovation lab in Israel to tap into technologies and startups, and US carmaker Ford Motor Company opened a opened a research center in Tel Aviv.

There are currently over 500 Israeli startups operating in the autonomous and electric vehicle and vehicle connectivity sector, according to data provided by the Economy Ministry.

Mikael Ronnholm, head of Innovation Strategy and Ideation at CEVT (Courtesy)

At the press conference, the head of Innovation Strategy and Ideation at CEVT, Mikael Ronnholm, said the firm was setting up an Innovation Hub in Tel Aviv. CEVT is the innovation arm of the Chinese carmaker Geely Holding Group, which owns and controls a wide portfolio of brands including Volvo Cars. CEVT already has open innovation hubs in Sweden and Finland, and is adding Israel to its fold.

“We need to find the best startups in the world and combine them into solutions,” Ronnholm said at the virtual press conference. CEVT is setting up a presence in Tel Aviv to “tap into the ecosystem” that is home to “one of the most thriving startup communities.”

At the press conference, Netivei Israel – The National Transport Infrastructure Company Ltd., in charge of building roads and highways in Israel, said it was earmarking an annual NIS 10 million ($2.8 million) for research and development and for promoting collaborations and pilot projects with startups to make roads “better and wiser,” Hilla Haddad Hamelnik, head of Netivei Israel’s Innovation and Strategy Division, said at the press conference.

The company, responsible for 8,600 kilometers of intercity roads and highways, is launching the new division to bring tech to transportation and help make highways safer and reduce congestion.

To identify suitable technologies, the firm, together with EcoMotion, has already selected five startups to invest in and carry out technology demos to help monitor truck traffic, improve bridge maintenance and enhance road safety by analyzing driver claims regarding the physical conditions on roads.

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