An Israeli startup breaking ground in the transportation technology world won first prize at the Journey Israel “The Pitch” startup competition in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, snagging a quarter of a million dollars and an upcoming trip to China to showcase its vision at the Guangzhou Innovation Festival in 2018.
The Tel Aviv-based startup Valerann, conceived in 2014 by entrepreneurs and army buddies Daniel Yakovich and Shahar Bahiri and run together with CEO Gabriel Jacobson and CBO Michael Dan Vardi, creates smart platforms for today’s road operators and tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles. With its end-to-end system that uses different sensors, a unique algorithm, and a communication system, Valerran gathers gather critical data on road environment, including traffic flow and volume, major accidents and even surface conditions driven by weather.
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Valerann “Smart Road Studs” are installed every 10-15 meters (32-49 feet) on a given road as a Valerann Gateway aggregates data and uploads it to the cloud. The real-time information is made available to road operators, future autonomous vehicles for help with guidance and support, and third-party applications like the Israeli-founded navigation app Waze, sold to Google in 2013 for a reported $1.3 billion. The Valerann system works using “existing safety equipment,” already installed on roads across the world on a massive scale, the company says.
“The biggest problem for many road operators is the detection of stopped vehicles” either on the road itself or on the shoulder, Yakovich told NoCamels on Thursday, adding that that company was recently approached by a road operator in the United Kingdom looking for technology that would help it detect such vehicles.
“For example, what our technology could do is light up the Smart Road Studs in red, let’s say, around the stopped vehicle, alerting not only the road operator but also the drivers who are traveling on the road,” Yakovich said.
Drivers can essentially be alerted to a hazard, an accident and even a slippery patch on the road due to rain or ice, without having to rely on Waze for example. The technology gathers information on the location, speed and even type of vehicle posing a hazard or involved in a crash.
“This technology is for the whole ecosystem of transportation users,” Yakovich said.
The detection of stopped vehicles was a concern that came up consistently with road operators they spoke to in their research, Yakovich told NoCamels.
Valerann’s technologies are currently being used on a 1.5 km (0.9 miles) testing site on Road 531 in the Gush Dan area in central Israel, specifically for evaluating road conditions for autonomous cars. The Israeli company Mobileye, acquired earlier this year by Intel for a whopping $15.3 billion, and General Motors are also operating their technology at the test site, Yakovich told NoCamels.
The site is a project run by the Ministry of Transportation, headed by minister Yisrael Katz, of the ruling Likud party. Katz, visiting the site earlier this month, hailed the Israeli-developed technology available for the testing.
Yakovich told NoCamels that Valerann began truly operating in 2016, as he and Bahiri looked for ways to work together on a project that would have a big impact. After the two completed their army service, Bahiri began working as a road project manager, conceiving the basic idea while on the job.
Valerann is currently running pilot projects in the UK, the US and in Israel, and is in talks with Israeli road operators Road 6, a major toll highway also known as the Trans-Israel Highway, Ayalon Highways, which runs the freeway in the greater Tel Aviv area, and Netivei Israel, or the National Roads Authority. The company is also in talks with two UK road operators, Highway England and Transport For London, on a joint pilot and was one of six startups selected for the Transurban Smart Highways Challenge & Innovation Lab, which brings together entrepreneurs and experts in the field of vehicle monitoring, smart transportation, and road safety.
Valerann has so far raised $2 million since August 2016. With their win at the conference, they bring their total funding to $2.25 million.
Yakovich said that following the competition, the feedback they received was “amazing” and they assess more funding will be forthcoming. “None of this would have happened without our amazing team, an eclectic group of passionate tech gurus,” he said, adding that he and his colleagues were excited to get to China and potentially enter the Chinese market. The trip is sponsored by the Guangzhou Sino-Israel Biotech Investment Fund (GIBF).
Fierce competition from other finalists
Valerann was up against seven other Israeli startups at the Journey Conference competition, organized and sponsored by the Israeli branch of Ernst & Young Global Limited. The conference offered panels on cybersecurity, food technology, banking and crytocurrency and brought together major VC firms, tech experts and startup leaders in Israel and abroad.
Some of the finalists included NeuroApplied, a Hadera-based startup that uses AI’s machine learning analytics for marketing research, Regulus Cyber, which secures drones, robots, and autonomous cars and systems, the food tech startup Hargol which develops a sustainable food protein made from grasshoppers, Elastic Media which delivers personalized, interactive videos to mobile audiences and BrainVu, which together with the Technion, developed technology that allows machines and robots to interact more humanely.