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Most autonomous cars sport a bevy of sensors that help them navigate patchy pavement, but some firms contend these aren’t precise enough to handle faded markers, buckling pavement, potholes, and other road-level hazards on their own. That poses a real problem in countries like the U.S., where the annual investment required to maintain roads, highways, and bridges is roughly $185 billion a year, according to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, while the current annual spend is less than half that — about $68 billion.
Tactile Mobility (previously MobiWize), a Haifa, Israel-based startup founded in 2012, developed a solution that it calls “tactile sensing.” By collecting non-visual data such as wheel speed, wheel angle, RPM, paddle position, and gear position and performing sophisticated analytics, it’s able to generate actionable insights in real time.
The company today made public a funding round that brings its total raised to $9 million. It also announced the appointment of CEO Amit Nisenbaum, the former head of strategic alliances at Better Place and venture advisor at Boston Consulting Group.
“When you drive, you can feel the tires as they slip on ice or sense the engine is having trouble despite it not registering with your car’s vision-based electronic systems,” said Tactile Mobility CEO Amit Nisenbaum. “This missing tactile sense is a major hurdle in the development of advanced and autonomous vehicles and a significant limitation when it comes to mapping road condition data that has been ignored until now.”
To that end, Tactile Mobility’s platform feeds the insights it derives back into cars’ onboard computers, which use it to inform driving decisions. The data’s also anonymized and uploaded to the cloud, where it contributes to a constantly updated, crowdsourced map of global road conditions.
Tactile Mobility launched its mapping service in Haifa earlier this year with plans to roll out in “several other cities” in the coming months. It has already collected 10 million kilometers (about 6.2 million miles) worth of road data across four continents.
“We’re excited to pioneer these services and are encouraged by the remarkable traction we’ve already gained,” Nisenbaum said. “We look forward to continuing to play a significant role in shaping the future of these industries.”
Tactile Mobility isn’t the only startup performing sensor fusion to measure road roughness. Swedish company NIRA Dynamics applies machine learning algorithms to vehicle sensors, controllers, and camera feeds to measure metrics like grip and friction in real time, and apps like RoadBounce detect problematic sections of road from smartphone accelerometer and gyroscope data alone.
But Tactile claims to have market momentum on its side. It has signed paid proof of concepts (POCs) with five major OEMs, one of which is Ford, and request for proposals (RFPs) with major European OEMs.
“We’ve managed to build some incredible technology that will have a monumental impact on ride safety, efficiency, and experience,” said Boaz Mizrachi, Tactile Mobility founder and chief technology officer. “With Amit joining our team, a more educated market vis-a-vis the importance of tactile data, a slew of paid POCs and partnerships, and $9 million in funding, we’re transitioning from great concept to large-scale tech standard, and that’s a win for companies and consumers alike.”
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