As China enters the field of automotive tech, the emerging Israeli smart mobility industry could provide vital technology and experience to further broaden Chinese innovation. Autonomous vehicles are currently being developed through partnerships between Chinese and Israeli tech companies. Self-driving cars entering the market promise to transform methods of transportation for the countries of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and improve urban life. Intelligent and connected vehicles shift the focus of the global transportation industry to wide-ranging international economic cooperation to promote connectivity, efficiency, environmental improvement, and quality of life.
The cultivation of smart mobility startups across Israel provides further potential collaborations that could continue to enhance Sino-Israeli relationships. Israeli cutting edge technology startups could help China reach its goal of creating a commercial market of intelligent, autonomous vehicles not only in China but in BRI nations. Israeli-Chinese partnerships in this sector furnish opportunities for the cyber-economy to be expanded. These partnerships can also help build competition in national monopoly sectors. Enhancing competition and expanding economic development in the cyber sphere are both goals of the 13th Five-Year Plan.
Israel: The Hub of Smart Mobility
Israel is at the center of the smart mobility industry which seeks to transform the transportation industry. By creating solutions that make commutes and the transportation of goods easier, more efficient, and eco-friendly, smart mobility could alleviate many problems of our highly developed and modernized societies. Smart Mobility aims to transform both public and private vehicles to be connected to the internet. The efforts of this industry would allow for the vehicles to drive themselves and provide solutions to pollution problems, traffic congestion, and other urban challenges – all while increasing road safety. Autonomous vehicles will become another device in the “Internet of Things” creating vast data sets, and improving rider experience in real time.
Israeli aptitude in Smart Mobility stems from the connection between the academic and the business worlds with smart mobility research labs at major universities such as Tel Aviv University (TAU) and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Israeli government also sponsors research into the creation of intelligent, autonomous vehicles through its National Program for Alternative Fuels and Smart Transportation (NPAFST). The NPAFST created a nonprofit community called Ecomotion, which led a conference for over 1500 global automotive and transportation leader in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, Israel in May.
“Everyone is coming to see Israeli technology for smart mobility. Our smart-transport ecosystem is becoming a global center,” commented Lior Zeno-Zemanaski, executive director of Ecomotion during the event. “The megatrend in this world is electric, connected, and autonomous–and that puts Israel in the center because those are things we are really good at.”
Due to public and private forces which propel Israel’s smart mobility industry, 500 Israeli companies have raised $20 billion in this sector over the past 4 years. Smart Mobility success highlights the potential of teamwork between businesses and universities, and this model of technological development could be implemented to connect Israel, China, and BRI nations.
Autonomous Vehicles: Futuristic AI within Reach
Chinese and Israeli companies that are currently focused on the earlier stages of AI development could make the visions of AI that we see on our movie screens a reality in the near future. This could become a reality if China and Israel combine their talents, resources, and innovative ideas. Autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars and trucks, are an example of the cutting-edge technology that these firms could develop and consumers and commercial enterprise could buy within the next decade. While Chinese companies in general focus on “big data AI,” Israeli companies tend to specialize in other sectors of AI such as the creation of sensors and intelligent objects. The complementarity of these technological fields could hold the key to the successful development of safe and cost-effective autonomous vehicles.
China represents a huge base of internet users who generate massive amounts of useful information. Large Chinese internet companies, such as Baidu, and online shopping portals, like Taobao, are constantly collecting data to create better, more personalized ads. Autonomous vehicles will utilize the vast extent of information created by internet users to understand and react to the constantly changing reality of driving on roads. Israeli startups are creating algorithms, devices, and apps to be implemented in autonomous vehicles, and these startups still need larger amounts of data to make their innovation effective.
Israel business and academic autonomous vehicle technology worlds collide with startup accelerators like Capsula at Tel Aviv University. At innovation incubators like Capsula, scholars and venture capitalists work together to develop the technology that intelligent, connected vehicles could utilize to make travel safer, easier, and more eco-friendly. This model of shared information, expertise, and experience can contribute to technological innovation in China and BRI nations and enhance academic connections between universities and research institutions in each nation. Multinational corporations around the world, including many from China, see the promise of Israeli startups working on smart mobility initiatives and are eager to collaborate with or acquire Israeli companies. On the other hand, Israeli startups working in the smart mobility industry must access larger swaths of information to make their algorithms more efficient and to successfully integrate their technology into vehicles.
Chinese Goals for Autonomous Vehicles
The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has set many ambitious yet achievable goals for the next decade in this field. This ministry expects 10%-20% of vehicles to be highly autonomous by 2025 with at least 10% of cars to be fully autonomous by 2030. China wants to be a world leader in the smart mobility industry in order to create a commercial market of intelligent, connected vehicles that will also demonstrate to BRI nations the benefits that autonomous vehicles can bring to communities and urban centers.
By collaborating with Israeli startups, China can reach many goals of its 13th 5-Year plan, including the creation of improved competition and cyber-economic expansion as Chinese technology becomes implemented in autonomous vehicles. Sino-Israel collaborations could lead to more university-level cooperation between Israel and China as well as increase the financing of green technology in both nations. Autonomous vehicles will be the transportation products that the Chinese market demands and a resource that China could implement to create moderately prosperous societies through infrastructure development and collaborations in many BRI nations.
Examples of Israeli-Chinese Technology Collaborations
Mobileye is perhaps the most famous startup focusing on autonomous vehicles to come out of Israel. Data chip manufacturer Intel announced its intent to acquire Mobileye in March 2017 for $15.3 billion dollars. Mobileye exemplifies the potential of the connection of academia and business in Israeli society. Ammon Shashua, the founder of Mobileye, was a researcher at Hebrew University when he developed the unique, effective sensors that Mobileye produces. Intel’s purchase of Shashua’s company was the largest exit in Israel’s high tech industry. Mobileye had previously become the largest Israeli IPO on the New York Stock Exchange at $890 million.
At the same time, Intel is also striving to become a leader in 5G development by experimenting with 5G in China. Intel has teamed up with Chinese companies like China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile carrier by subscribers, and Huawei, a major telecom equipment creator, for a 5G trial in China. The goal of these Chinese companies is to create an “internet of vehicles” that will make internet connection consistent and efficient over large areas for the benefit of intelligent, connected vehicles.
Intel views China Mobile and Huawei as developing “the brain” of the autonomous vehicle while Mobileye develops “the eyes” of these vehicles with its processor chip called the EyeQ chip. This device recognizes vehicles, signs, pedestrians, and lane-lines and currently influences emergency braking and lane keeping. Intel wants the EyeQ chip to eventually plot a car’s path and make real-time driving decisions, but this sensor will need the large amounts of data as well as 5G internet connection provided by Chinese companies.
Mobileye and its partner car manufacturer BMW forecast that a fully autonomous vehicle will be ready for 2021 through these various partnerships. Through technology from both Israeli and Chinese firms, BMW will provide a product that will in turn accomplish the goals set out by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. In the next few decades, Israeli technology such as Mobileye’s EyeQ and sensor technology could be implemented in vehicles in both China as well as BRI nations. Mobileye’s success underscores Israel as the center of the Smart Mobility Industry and attracts more Chinese firms to invest in Israeli innovation.
At the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2017, Volkswagen China Group presented a model of a future vehicle called “Sedric.” This vehicle would be a Level 5 autonomous driving car, meaning that it would contain neither pedals nor a steering wheel. Essentially, a human driver would no longer be required or even possible. In order to compete with high-profile names in the smart mobility industry like Uber and Google, which acquired the Israeli smart mobility company Waze, Volkswagen has begun to invest in the Israeli technology company Gett in order to create Sedric for the Chinese market.
Gett, an Israeli on-demand mobility company for calling taxis, will allow Sedric to plan and execute the optimum route from a certain location to a specific destination. Volkswagen president and CEO of Volkswagen Group China, Jochem Heizmann, announced that Sedric would improve city life as well as make vehicles more eco-friendly and safe. In order to achieve their dream of a fully realized “Sedric,” Volkswagen has entered partnerships with both Israeli and Chinese companies.
Volkswagen believes that Gett could lead to optimizing traffic loads and intelligent direction of transportation in cities and around countries. An interconnected fleet can alleviate the inconveniences of commuting into and traveling around a city, mitigating traffic delays and decreasing the time everyone in a city spends commuting. Volkswagen currently couples its investments in Gett with investments in Chinese companies in order to develop advanced solutions for transportation management. If interconnected fleets of intelligent vehicles help improve the quality of life in Chinese cities, BRI nations could follow, implementing the China-tested systems. This could be done through regional cooperation projects across China borders.
Volkswagen joined with Mobroi Inc, a Chinese technology company, in a 50:50 joint venture with the purpose of developing artificial intelligence and voice recognition for Sedric.
According to Heizmann, “Artificial intelligence is poised to transform the way businesses operate by automating tasks in every field, making life simpler and easier, and providing a gateway of mobility for everyone.” A fully realized Sedric merges the Chinese and Israeli tech industries, strengthening Sino-Israeli connections and promoting a new type of technology to BRI nations. Gett is just another example of Israeli innovation that can be coupled with Chinese technology to produce solutions to modern challenges.
Smart Mobility advancing Sino-Israel Relations
A stronger China-Israel connection created by technology utilized in autonomous vehicles could advance the transportation infrastructure that will be connecting China and BRI nations. Moderately prosperous economies are developing across the Belt & Road with the help of China’s infrastructure investment carried out by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. These economies will require technology that improves living conditions for all. As China seeks to become a leader in the production and consumption of autonomous vehicles, it can be well positioned to bring the benefits from this burgeoning smart mobility industry in Israel to Central Asia and across the Belt & Road.
Right now, companies around the world are working to gain access to the future vehicle and transportation market as firms want their own innovations and technology to be integral parts of autonomous vehicles. Israel stands out as a nation that can support these goals. As such, many multinational corporations are looking to Israeli startups to develop the needed technology. China has recently become interested in using these Israeli startups to help it reach its goals in regard to the development of autonomous vehicles. The smart mobility industry in Israel creates a unique opportunity for the advancement of Sino-Israeli relations and can potentially contribute to the BRI as collaborations between Israeli startups and the Chinese telecom, auto-manufacturing, and technology industries could lead to autonomous, intelligent vehicles.
Collaborations utilizing both Chinese technology and Israeli innovation can create business opportunities, expanding the cyber-economy and improving economic competition. The connection between the Israeli business and academic worlds also provides a formula that China and the BRI nations can adopt as a model for developing innovation.
The way vehicles are used will fundamentally change in the upcoming decades. Israeli and Chinese companies can benefit from having their technology implemented in these autonomous vehicles. Both Israel and China find themselves in positions complementary to one another in terms of developing self-driving cars: Israel as a center of innovation and technological development and China as a developer of advanced technology and high end engineering and manufacturing. Sino-Israel connections in regards to autonomous vehicles may lead to new transportation products that can be implemented not only in China and Israel but throughout all the nations participating in the BRI.