When a self-driving Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona in 2018, it marked the first time autonomous vehicle technology was involved in a fatality and set off warning bells across the nascent industry.
Industry insiders and concerned legislators asked: Are self-driving cars ready to be tested on real streets? How can the technology be improved to avoid devastating collisions?
Self-driving cars “see” through a variety of high-tech cameras and sensors attached to the vehicle. But even the best cameras can get tripped up in dark or inclement conditions.
Israeli startup TriEye is bringing to the consumer car market a dashboard-mounted SWIR (shortwave infrared) camera that can successfully navigate through snow, fog, dust and rain.
SWIR cameras have been around for several decades, deployed primarily in the military. “But they were too expensive to be used in mass-market applications,” Ziv Livne, TriEye’s VP of product and business development, tells ISRAEL21c.
TriEye’s technology is based on 10 years of research conducted by Prof. Uriel Levy, head of the nano-photonic lab in the department of applied physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Levy had been looking for ways to bring the price of SWIR cameras down by getting them to work using CMOS semiconductors. Those are the kinds of silicon chips used by most digital cameras today, rather than the much more expensive semiconductor technology – it’s called InGaAs – powering most SWIR cameras.
InGaAs stands for indium gallium arsenide, a chemical compound that doesn’t occur naturally in nature. That makes it harder to manufacture and commercialize. As a result, even a low-resolution InGaAs-based SWIR camera can cost over $20,000.
Putting a SWIR camera on a CMOS semiconductor reduces cost “by a factor of 1,000,” Livne explains. Levy’s student Avi Bakal saw the commercial opportunities and founded TriEye in 2016 with Omer Kapach as VP R&D and Levy as chief technology officer.
They attracted interest from high-profile investors such as Intel Capital, Marius Nacht (a cofounder of Check Point Software) and Grove Venture’s Dov Moran, inventor of the USB flash drive and TriEye’s chairman of the board. As of May, TriEye has raised $17 million.