There is Only One Eye in Mobileye: And It Saves Lives

By Shlomo Maital


Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram

     If 93 per cent of road accidents are caused by drivers, then there has to be ways to help drivers avoid crashes. The problem is a global one. Worldwide, there are 1.5 million road deaths yearly and 15 million injuries as a result of car accidents.

     An Israeli startup called Mobileye, founded in 1999 by two friends, one a Computer Science professor and the other, a CEO specializing in retail, seems to have the answer. Here is the story.

     Shashua recalls being asked at a conference in late 1998 by a car maker whether two cameras could identify the location of a vehicle.   Humans, animals and insects use two eyes to gain perception of depth.    Shashua answered, “Why two? It can be done with one.” He knew this from his computer science research; he had published a seminal article titled “3D visual recognition from a single 2D image” the year before.   The fact that there is only one “eye” in Mobileye was an iconoclastic idea initially rejected by all, and is today, a standard.    Shashua recalls, “We (Shashua and Aviram) decided to develop a company….. The decision was taken when we were on a motorbike trip in the Negev. The company was launched in mid-1999. The idea was to use a single camera along with advanced software to warn drivers. At the time no-one thought this monocular device was possible. It was unique.”

       Mobileye uses visual systems and software to warn drivers of impending collisions.   The device warns drivers if their vehicles are about to stray into another lane, and if they are dangerously close to a vehicle ahead. It has been installed in 12 million vehicles in the world, in Israel, US, Japan and Korea. And it works. In an age when many accidents are caused by drivers distracted by cell phones, it is definitely life-saving.

         Insurance company data audited by an actuary show the device cuts accidents by half. An Israeli Transportation Ministry regulation now requires all heavy vehicles over 3.5 tons to install this device, as of Nov. 1.

       Mobileye is based in Jerusalem, employs 700, will reach revenues of $350 m. this year and net income of some $200 m.   It is partnering with Intel and BMW to prepare the technology for future self-driven cars.  

    Here is the two entrepreneurs’ vision of the future for autonomous driving:

         “Robot cars do not drive like humans,” Shashua observes. “They are too slow, too conservative. Cities won’t agree to this. How can we teach self-driven cars to drive safe, but like humans?   We are proposing a solution. And our future includes this solution. This will be much bigger than the existing car industry. This is “wow” squared!”  

       Aviram adds: “18 years ago, we started a company that had vision-based technology to prevent car accidents.   Today our vision is much wider. We are a provider of infrastructure to enable autonomous driving systems. It will be very hard to produce such systems without Mobileye.     There will be a total change in how and what we drive. There will be no parking lots. People will not own cars. Sales of cars will fall by half. The brand of your car will be of no importance. You will summon a car when needed and it will drive you to where you’re going.”

       “In 20 years,” Aviram claims, “it will be illegal to drive.”   Considering the enormous human toll accidents take today, that may be a breakthrough.