Ecomotion, the smart transportation conference, took place last week and it was hectic. Startups, investors, manufacturers, tier 1 companies and others descended on Tel Aviv, where they connected, pitched, presented and shared their thoughts.
Unsurprisingly there was no clear single voice. Entrepreneurs were advised to dream and to stop dreaming. Fully connected and autonomous cars were championed as the future and dismissed as a distant fantasy. Entrepreneurs were instructed to listen to what customers want (i.e. market demand), while Bill Ford quipped that if his grandfather (Henry Ford) had listened to his customers, they would have asked for a faster horse.
What was clear, however, is that while congestion may be a global problem, mobility is a local issue. There is no one size fits all. Each city, suburb and country is different. Customers are different. Demands and needs are diverse. This I imagine, is music to an entrepreneurs ears, as the fierce competition can be overwhelming.
Tips were shared. Seek a strategic fit as well as a cultural fit with partners, ensure you are answering a technology gap, build a strong team (it being the investors’ strongest indicator) and be persistent, tenacious, focused – but careful not to blindly fall in love with your product. It was acknowledged that it is easy to get lost in the bureaucracy of manufacturers and tier 1 companies, difficult to locate the correct person to approach and that these companies can sometimes move frustratingly slowly. However, the message was – bear with us, we do want to work with you. After all, to quote Bill Ford, “the companies who get it right and integrate all these technologies will change people’s lives,” and those that don’t will be “consigned to the dustbin of history.” It was noted that in the autonomous space, safety and trust are paramount, you are asking the consumer to relinquish control and put their lives in your hands. 70% accuracy is not going to cut it and second chances are not given lightly. In other words bide your time until your tech is perfect.
Dr. Ami Appelbaum, the Chief Scientist of the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA), stressed that mobility is a human right. Indeed it is the foundation of a healthy economy. For its part, the IIA together with the Ministry of Transport last year launched a specific pilot program to support R&D in this space, which includes grants of 20-50% of R&D budgets (increasing to 75% in exceptional cases). In addition to the financing, the pilot program is set to offer participants certain exemptions from the current regulatory restrictions, a place to test their products and solutions, and opportunities to co-operate with local municipalities.
The plethora of legal questions that this space raises, including the complex allocation of liability in autonomous vehicle accidents (“driver”, manufacturer, software and MAAS (Mobility-as-a-Service) providers, etc.), which is likely to be complicated by an interdependent web of connections in smart cities, were not answered. It was however noted that regulation would have to play “catch up”. Regulators cannot plan for what they do not know and are typically slow to move. Put differently, there will be an inevitable legal risk and cost to new solutions, as new standards and regulations come into effect. Startups would be wise to seek to mitigate these risks. As for collection and use of the wealth of data generated from these technologies, aggregation and anonymization were offered as the solution to preserve the right to privacy and limit entrepreneurs’ liability.
Better Place first put Israel firmly on the map in the automotive tech scene, Waze, Mobileye, Gett, Moovit among others have kept us in the spotlight, and the scene has since exploded with 500-600 automotive-related companies in Israel. Everyone is watching closely. Will an Israeli entrepreneur create the tipping-point tech in mobility and was he/she at Ecomotion?