Remote Assistance Start-Up Nabs $3M Funding

As automakers race to bring sophisticated autonomous vehicles to market, companies such as Tel Aviv’s Ottopia are developing technologies to serve as a backup when the vehicle requires outside intervention.

This week Ottopia announced it had raised $3M in seed funding from a variety of investors. In turn, the company plans to use this cash to expand its research and development team and collaborate with AV companies.

This round was led by MizMaa Ventures, with participation from Glory Ventures, Plug and Play and Next Gear Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund that invests in smart mobility start-ups.

Teleoperation allows remotely based operators to assume control of a vehicle if the vehicle requires manual intervention. Right now, early-stage teleoperation platforms provide support by handing over complete control to a remote human driver.

Ottopia’s software platform allows the human operator and the car’s artificial intelligence to work together during a remote intervention.

The human assists the AV with decision-making in a complex scenario and then the self-driving vehicle executes that decision and navigates with its fully engaged suite of sensors and safety measures.

“Our platform addresses all the core challenges in teleoperation, like network connectivity, safety and cyber-security,” Amit Rosenzweig, CEO of Ottopia, said in a statement.

Rosenzweig, a former Microsoft security product head, co-founded the company this year with Leon Altarac, who founded the robotics and AV branch of the Israeli Army.

“Multiple layers need to be built into any safe AV operation,” Altarac, now the CTO at Ottopia, wrote in a December 3 company blog post. “Across scenarios and operational domains, even those that seem less complex, skilled human operators will continue to be invaluable as a backup for AVs.”

Regulatory filings in California, the biggest state for self-driving car testing, back up Altarac’s claim. In these reports, there have been thousands of instances reported when cars’ autonomous systems disengaged.

Those include software failures, emergencies when the car was about to be in a collision, and unexpected, non-emergency edge cases.

Among the most well-known companies focusing on teleoperation is a Silicon Valley start-up called Phantom Auto, which has developed remote driving as a service for ride-hailing companies and other operators of autonomous cars.

When a vehicle finds itself at a loss for what to do next, it will alert a driver in a Phantom call center who can take in live video of the situation and control the car until it’s ready to go autonomous again.

Some automakers are developing even more advanced types of remote assistance, complete elements that appear to come from science fiction.

Earlier this year, Ford had applied for a patent for a self-driving car that could summon a drone to the vehicle and use its sensors to fill in for the car’s if they fail.

The filing from Ford Global Technologies, a subsidiary of the automaker that manages and commercializes patents and copyrights, outlines the process by which the vehicle sends for a surrogate sensor — the drone — upon detecting a sensor failure.

After being alerted to the vehicle’s location, the drone would fly to the vehicle, receive authorization from it, identify a repair location and then help guide the vehicle to that location.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.


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