mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Israel Takes the Wheel on Self-Driving Cars

A pair of stories about the Israeli auto industry reveals global implications for the future of driving. On Sunday, the Israeli electric vehicle manufacturer Better Place called it quits after struggling to gain a foothold and producing fewer than a thousand cars—a far cry from the 100,000 it predicted would be here by 2010.

Better Place failed for a wide variety of reasons, from mismanagement to tepid government support to lack of consumer demand. Its failure is extremely bad news for the electric car industry as a whole: Better Place was launched in a small, dense country with a strong motivation to reduce its dependence on oil. That electric vehicles failed to take off in such favorable circumstances suggests that they won’t be displacing gasoline-powered vehicles en masse anytime soon.

But while EVs are crashing and burning, a different kind of futuristic driving technology is on the rise in Israel: driverless cars. The NYT reports:

[B]y blending advanced computer vision techniques with low-cost video cameras, the [Israeli company Mobileye Vision Technologies] is demonstrating how quickly autonomous driving can be commercialized. “You cannot have a car with $70,000 of equipment,” said Amnon Shashua, a computer scientist at Hebrew University and a founder of Mobileye, referring to Google’s lidar system, “and imagine that it will go into mass production.”

Though Mobileye is still only capable of driving in a single lane on the highway, its material costs are measured in hundreds of dollars rather than Google’s tens of thousands. In that sense, the Israeli company seems like a better harbinger of the driverless future than the hyper-expensive (and, admittedly, much sexier) Google car.

Google has given us a proof of concept; Mobileye is taking the first steps towards making this kind of technology a viable reality.

[Electric fueling image courtesy of Olga Besnard/Shutterstock]

Features Icon
show comments
  • Philopoemen

    I’m not sure that shoehorning old, cheap technology, and trying to make it work like the new technology that actually does the job right, is the road to success here.

    It seems more logical to me that we try to drive down the cost of the equipment that Google uses, as happens with every other technology. Google’s hardware may cost $70 000 now, but what will it cost in five years?

    Plasma televisions were very expensive when they were released, but no one said “let’s try to build something similar with CRT”. Instead the price of plasma units was driven down to commodity levels.

  • Derek Brown

    I worry about safety and also about the future of driving schools like mine.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service