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Chevron’s Purchase Could Unlock Israel’s Natural Gas Bonanza

Chevron, the American oil giant, wrapped up the acquisition on Monday of a relatively small Houston-based company called Noble Energy, paying about $4 billion.

Until recently, the deal would have been unlikely, if not unthinkable — because what distinguishes Noble is the large natural gas business it has built in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, especially in Israel, an area that major oil companies had until now avoided.

Chevron’s move is the latest milestone in a remarkable shift in perceptions about a relatively new region for the petroleum industry in the eastern Mediterranean. Once a dead sea for the oil industry, this area, reaching from the Nile Delta in Egypt up to Israel and Lebanon and around Cyprus, has come alive with exploration vessels, drilling rigs and production platforms in recent years thanks to a series of large natural gas discoveries.

Those finds are drawing major oil companies into the area, attracted not only by the prospect of further undiscovered resources but by improving relations between Israel and its former foes Egypt and Jordan.

“This is an area that looks as if it could have the resource quality and the scale to become a pretty significant energy province,” said Mike Wirth, Chevron’s chief executive, in an interview.

International oil giants previously steered clear of Israel, partly, it has been assumed, to avoid alienating large Arab oil producers like Saudi Arabia. The move by Chevron, which this week edged ahead of Exxon Mobil to become America’s largest oil company by market value, indicates that the days when Persian Gulf states bristle about business with Israel may be over. Recently, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain established relations with Israel with apparent Saudi blessing.

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Credit…Toru Hanai/Reuters

“It is opening up the Israeli market to the world,” Nati Birenboim, a former Israeli energy official who is now a consultant, said of Chevron’s arrival. “Everyone knows when they bought Noble, they bought Israel.”

There are no guarantees that recent progress on energy and other fronts won’t face setbacks. Longstanding differences between Israel and its neighbors are not forgotten; expansionist moves by Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to claim some of the underwater riches have alarmed its NATO allies and recently prompted the United States to deploy a massive Navy ship at a base it shares with Greece.

More than 20 years ago, Noble helped put the region on the energy industry’s map. Delek Drilling, an Israeli firm, brought the company to Israel to hunt for petroleum. The partnership, which began in 1999, has produced major natural gas finds that not only reduced Israel’s dependence on imported coal and oil but turned Israel — with some helpful nudging from American diplomats — into an exporter with long-term contracts worth an estimated $25 billion to help power the neighboring economies of Jordan and Egypt.

“I think what Chevron sees is the opportunity” to buy into “massive natural gas resources located in the center of a region with a lot of demand,” said Yossi Abu, Delek’s chief executive and now Chevron’s partner, in an interview.

Along with the drilling sites off the coast of Israel, a major discovery called the Zohr gas field, found by the Italian energy company Eni in Egyptian waters in 2015, has drawn development in the area. Total, the French oil firm, and Eni have even extended the hunt into the sea off strife-torn Lebanon — although the first well the partners drilled, this year, turned out to be a dry hole.

From a geological point of view, the eastern Mediterranean has what oil giants like Chevron are looking for: very large volumes of gas, which many in the industry view as likely to have a better future than oil as climate change concerns grow.

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Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

“It is a very attractive region,” said Wayne Ackerman, a former executive at Royal Dutch Shell and an adviser on gas to Saudi Aramco, who has studied the area’s geology. “I am convinced there will be more discoveries there,” added Mr. Ackerman, who now heads gas research at Rapidan Energy Group, a consulting firm.

The energy business has been shaken by plummeting demand during the coronavirus pandemic and worries about the viability of fossil fuels. But the resources that these big fields hold are unlikely to be left in the ground, because they are already earning substantial revenues by powering the economies of Israel and its neighbors. Some of the fields in the region, including the largest Israeli field, in which Chevron now holds a nearly 40 percent stake, could also be expanded relatively cheaply for exports.

“Gas is an important part of any future energy transition scenario,” Mr. Wirth said. “Proximity to growing markets with demand is a real advantage for a gas resource.”

What Chevron is buying in Noble — very cheaply, because Noble’s shares had been pummeled by the pandemic and worries about the company’s high debt and the industry’s future — is a combination of a profitable regional gas business and the opportunity to expand to serve markets farther afield. Noble also has substantial shale-drilling properties in the United States and some production in Equatorial Guinea in central West Africa.

Mr. Abu of Delek said he thought the American company would bring the capital, technology and marketing clout to allow further expansion of the gas fields as well as new exploration. Delek and Noble, along with Royal Dutch Shell, also share a large find off Cyprus, called Aphrodite, that they have so far not succeeded in developing.

The riches lurking beneath the region’s waters have brought their share of problems.

Turkey has so far been unable to benefit from the prospecting because the gas fields are in zones claimed by other countries under the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention. It has responded by muscle-flexing: In recent months, Mr. Erdogan has sent vessels to drill in waters around Cyprus, including in territory that the island’s government has already awarded to companies like Eni and Total.

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Credit…Baz Ratner/Reuters

“It’s quite a novel way of applying pressure,” said Robert Morris, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie, an energy research firm.

Tensions rose in August when a Greek warship collided with a Turkish warship that was escorting a survey vessel. Greece called it an accident; Turkey described it as a provocation. France, Greece, Cyprus and Italy later took part in military exercises involving ships and planes off the Cypriot coast.

Turkey is not a signatory to the Law of the Sea, and says its neighbors have divided the waters unfairly.

“Their aim,” Mr. Erdogan said in a recent magazine interview, “was to confine our country — which has the longest shore in the Mediterranean — to coastline where only fishing with a rod is possible.”

Turkey’s actions have slowed exploration work around Cyprus — as has the coronavirus pandemic.

The wider region, though, is likely to continue to attract interest and investment, analysts say.

“There are just a few places in the world where you can get into large gas assets,” said Gerald Kepes, an independent energy consultant who has worked in Egypt. “These are what big companies are made for.”

Despite Turkey’s efforts, the lure of gaining access to relatively cheap energy has pushed former foes like Egypt, Israel and Jordan more toward cooperation than discord.

Mr. Wirth said recent developments suggested that the region was an “area where we can expect to see regional ties improve in the coming years,” a trend likely to promote economic growth and, consequently, demand for gas.

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Credit…Amir Cohen/Reuters

If such trends continue, there is even the possibility of exporting natural gas to countries in the Persian Gulf, like Saudi Arabia, that are rich in oil but poor in gas needed for electric power and industry. There is also a longer-term hope: that gas from the region can help ease Europe’s dependence on energy imports from Russia.

“I think when you’ve got a large, low-cost resource base like this proximate to large economies, we will find ways to move the gas to market in a manner that’s competitive,” Mr. Wirth said on a call with analysts.

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Daily Crunch: Venmo launches a credit card

Venmo’s first credit card is here, a former Amazon employee is arrested for fraud and we review the Nest Audio smart speaker. This is your Daily Crunch for October 5, 2020.

The big story: Venmo launches a credit card

PayPal -owned mobile payment app Venmo already offers a Mastercard-branded debit card, and it announced a year ago that it was planning to launch its first credit card as well. Today, it made good on that promise.

The Venmo Credit Card is a Visa card that offers personalized rewards and 3% cash back on eligible purchases. The cards come in five colors and include the user’s own Venmo QR code on the front.

Naturally, it also integrates with Venmo, allowing customers to track their spending and make payments from the mobile app. The card is currently available to select Venmo users, with plans to launch for the rest of the U.S. in the coming months.

The tech giants

Feds arrest former Amazon employee after company reported him to FBI for fraud — The company says it reported Vu Anh Nguyen to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July 2020 over allegations of falsely issuing refunds for products ordered on Amazon .com to himself and his associates.

Nest Audio review — Brian Heater says it’s a welcome update to the Google Home.

Instagram expands shopping on IGTV, plans test of shopping on Reels — The product lets you watch a video, then purchase the featured product with a few taps.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Ola fails to get ride-hailing license renewed in London, says it will appeal and continues to operate — The India-based ride-hailing startup is not getting its Transport for London ride-hailing license renewed after failing to meet public safety requirements around licensing for drivers and vehicles.

Cooler Screens raises $80M to bring interactive screens into cooler aisles — Cooler Screens is led by co-founder and CEO Arsen Avakian, who previously was founder and CEO of Argo Tea.

GrubMarket raises $60M as food delivery stays center stage — The startup provides a platform for consumers to order produce and other food and home items for delivery, as well as a service supplying grocery stores, meal-kit companies and other food tech startups with products for resale.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Accel VCs Sonali De Rycker and Andrew Braccia say European deal pace is ‘incredibly active’ — De Rycker’s comments point to a future where there is no single center of startup gravity.

Two Kindred Capital partners discuss the firm’s focus and equitable venture model — The London-based VC, which backs early-stage founders in Europe and Israel, recently closed its second seed fund at £81 million.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Camera that will film a spacewalk in VR delivered to the International Space Station — The camera will be used to film a spacewalk in immersive, cinematic VR for the first time ever on an upcoming ISS astronaut mission.

Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Away’ deftly balances space exploration and human drama — I worried that the show might be a bit too weepy and melodramatic, but I was wrong.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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2 Kindred Capital partners discuss the firm’s focus and equitable venture model

‘Many investors talk about product-market fit, but we are also great believers in founder-market fit’

Kindred Capital, the London-based VC that backs early-stage founders in Europe and Israel, recently closed its second seed fund at £81 million.

Out if its first fund raised in 2018, the firm has backed 29 companies. They include Five, which is building software for autonomous vehicles; Paddle, SaaS for software e-commerce; Pollen, a peer-to-peer marketplace for experiences and travel; and Farewill, which lets users create a will online.

However, what sets Kindred apart from most other seed VCs is its “equitable venture” model that sees the founders it backs get carry in the fund, effectively becoming co-owners of Kindred. Once the VC’s LPs have their investment returned, along with the firm’s partners, the portfolio founders share any subsequent fund profits.

To learn more about Kindred’s investment focus going forward and how its equitable venture model works in practice, I caught up with partners Leila Rastegar Zegna and Chrys Chrysanthou. We also discussed closing deals remotely and how the VC approaches diversity and inclusion.

TechCrunch: Kindred Capital backs seed-stage startups across Europe and in Israel. Can you elaborate a bit more on the fund’s remit, such as sector or specific technologies, and what you look for in founders and startups at such an early stage?

Rastegar Zegna: As a fund, we are very focused on the founder(s), so everything starts there. We try to drill down and get to know them as people and leaders, first and foremost. Do they have what it takes to get the company off the ground, the resilience to get through the inevitable ups and downs of startup life and through the scaling years to make this a massive outcome for the team and the investors?

The second element we spend time thinking about is the market itself and how big the company can grow within the constraints of that market. We also think deeply about the timing of the business, especially if they are trying to create a new market, such as in quantum computing, for example.

Chrysanthou: It’s also worth mentioning that many investors talk about product-market fit, but we are also great believers in founder-market fit. In other words, a founder who might be successful in one market, might well fail in another, as different skills are required and even different personality types might be better suited. One way we assess this is to look for deep insights they have to the problem they’re trying to solve and how they think about their market.

After that, we are fairly sector-agnostic, which is why we have such a diverse portfolio, ranging from consumer products through to deep science.

How has the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns and social distancing affected the way you source and close deals?

Rastegar Zegna: Initially, we moved everything to video calls, like pretty much everyone else in the industry. Upon reflection, however, we realized that we were just using a new tool (e.g. Zoom) but in the old way — meaning, any meeting we used to have at Kindred HQ, we just transitioned onto Zoom. The interesting transition we’re going through now is to create a new way of working around the tool. That means for some meetings, Zoom will be the most effective medium of communication. For others it may be an audio call, and for a third category of discussion, a walking meeting in the park may be what’s called for. But the opportunity is to throw out the playbook written by inertia and generally accepted industry working norms, and create a first principles approach to the way in which we do business to optimize for the best outcome.

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Mobileye signs driver-assistance deal with Geely, one of China’s largest privately-held auto makers

Mobileye’s computer vision technology will be used in a new premium electric vehicle called Zero Concept from Geely Auto Group, one of China’s largest privately-held automobile manufacturers. Mobileye’s owner Intel made the announcement today at the Beijing Auto Show. Zero Concept is produced by Lynk & Co., the brand formed as a joint venture between Geely Auto and Volvo Car Group, and uses Mobileye’s SuperVision driving-assistance system.

Intel also announced that Mobileye and Geely Auto have signed a long-term, high-volume agreement for advanced driver-assistance systems that means more Geely Auto vehicles will be equipped with Mobileye’s computer vision technology.

In a post, Mobileye chief executive officer and Intel senior vice president Amnon Shashua wrote that the deal is the first time “Mobileye will be responsible for the full solution stack, including hardware and software, driving policy and control.”

He added “it also marks the first time that an OEM has publicly noted Mobileye’s plan to provide over-the-air updates to the system after deployment. While this capacity has always been in our repertoire, Geey and Mobileye want to assure customers that we can easily scale their driving-assistance features and keep everything up to date across the car’s lifetime.”

Based in Israel, Mobileye was acquired by Intel in 2017 for $15.3 billion. Its technology and services are used in vehicles from automakers including BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Nissan, Honda and General Motors, and includes features that warn drivers about issues like blind spots, potential lane departures, collision risks and speed limits.

Geely Auto’s parent company is Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, also the parent company of Volvo Car Group. In 2019, Geely Auto Group says its brands sold a total of more than 1.46 million units. China is one of the fastest-growing electric vehicle markets in the world, and even though sales were hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, government policies, including consumer subsidies and investment in charging infrastructure, are expected to help its EV market recover.

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How Moovit went from opportunity to a $900M exit in 8 years

Private investor (and former Moovit president) Omar Téllez shares the inside story

In May 2020, Intel announced its purchase of Moovit, a mobility as a service (MaaS) solutions company known for an app that stitched together GPS, traffic, weather, crime and other factors to help mass transit riders reduce their travel times, along with time and worry.

According to a release, Intel believes combining Moovit’s data repository with the autonomous vehicle solution stack for its Mobileye subsidiary will strengthen advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and help create a combined $230 billion total addressable market for data, MaaS and ADAS .

Before he was a member of Niantic’s executive team, private investor Omar Téllez was president of Moovit for the six years leading up to its acquisition. In this guest post for Extra Crunch, he offers a look inside Moovit’s early growth strategy, its efforts to achieve product-market fit and explains how rapid growth in Latin America sparked the company’s rapid ascent.


In late 2011, Uri Levine, a good friend from Silicon Valley and founder of Waze, asked me to visit Israel to meet Nir Erez and Roy Bick, two entrepreneurs who had launched an application they had called “the Waze of public transportation.”

By then, Waze was already in conversations to be sold (Google would finally buy it for $1.1 billion) and Uri was thinking about his next step. He was on the board of directors of Moovit (then called Tranzmate) and thought they could use a lot of help to grow and expand internationally, following Waze’s path.

At the time, I was part of Synchronoss Technologies’ management team. After Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank took us public in 2006, AT&T and Apple presented us with an idea that would change the world. It was so innovative and secret that we had to sign NDAs and personal noncompete agreements to work with them. Apple was preparing to launch the first iPhone and needed a system where users could activate devices from the comfort of their homes. As such, Synchronoss’ stock became very attractive to the capital markets and ours became the best public offering of 2006.

After six years with Synchronoss while also making some forays into the field of entrepreneurship, I was ready for another challenge. With that spirit in mind, I got on the plane for Israel.

I will always remember the landing at Ben Gurion airport. After 12 hours traveling from JFK, I was called to the front of the immigration line:

“Hey! The guy in the Moovit T-shirt, please come forward!”

For a second, I thought I was in trouble, but then the immigration officer said, Welcome to Israel! We are proud of our startups and we want the world to know that we are a high-tech powerhouse,” before he returned my passport and said goodbye.

I was completely amazed by his attitude and wondered if I really knew what I was getting into.

The opportunity in front of Moovit

At first glance, the numbers seemed very attractive. In 2012, there were roughly seven billion people in the world and only a billion vehicles. Thus, many more people used mass public transport than private and users had to face not only the uncertainty of when a transport would arrive, but also what might happen to them while waiting (e.g., personal safety issues, weather, etc.). Adding more uncertainty: Many people did not know the fastest way to get from point A to point B. As designed, mass public transport was a real nightmare for users.

Uri advised us to “fall in love with the problem and not with the solution,” which is what we tried to do at Moovit. Although Waze had spawned a new transportation paradigm and helped reduce traffic in big cities, mass transit was a much bigger monster that consumed an average of two hours of each day for some people, which adds up to 37 days of each year*!

What would you do if someone told you that in addition to your vacation days, an app could help you find 18 extra days off work next year by cutting your transportation time in half?

* Assumes 261 working days a year, 14 productive hours per day.

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Adam Neumann is back in the shared economy business with an investment in GoTo Global

Adam Neumann, the controversial co-founder and former CEO of WeWork, has taken a 33% equity stake in GoTo Global, a shared mobility company that operates in Israel and Malta and aims to expand into Europe later this year.

Neumann’s family office, 166 2nd Financial Services, invested $10 million into GoTo Global, as part of a $19 million Series B round. As part of his investment, Neumann will be able to appoint one board member on his behalf. Existing shareholder Shagrir Group Vehicle Services, a publicly traded Israeli company, also participated in the round.

GoTo Global (also referred to is GoTo Mobility) is mobility-as-a-service company that is aiming to cover the entire range of shared vehicles from cars and mopeds to bicycles and electric scooters. The company, which started in 2008 with a focus on car-sharing, previously raised $3 million in seed funding. It had also secured a $9 million loan from Shagrir, which has been converted into the equity investment.

This latest funding will be used to expand its shared services into Europe, beginning with Madrid.

Since forming 166 2nd Financial Services, Neumann has made about 15 investments in startups in Canada, Israel, UK and the United States, including EquityBee, Moon Active and Peach Street.

However, this is Neumann’s first investment since he filed a lawsuit against Softbank Group for alleged breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty for pulling a $3 billion tender offer for WeWork shares. SoftBank Group pulled its $3 billion tender offer for WeWork shares April 1, citing COVID-19’s impact on the business but also closing conditions not being met.

COVID-19, or more specifically changing consumer behaviors due to the pandemic, is largely what has driven Neumann’s investment in GoTo Global, according to a source familiar with the investment. Neumann isn’t speaking publicly due the lawsuit.

Neumann made the investment because he believes flexibility will be a key component in people’s lives post-COVID-19, the source said.

GoTo Global is just as bullish on its post-COVID future.

“Shared mobility, and transportation in general, was one of industries hit hard by the economy lock-downs as people were required to self-isolate,” GoTo Global CEO Gil Laser said in a statement announcing the raise. “But we are the ones who made the come-back fastest, we are +12% back to pre-lockdown baseline. We understand that although on one hand shared transport may not seem to be the safest solution, on the other hand it is perceived as a safer option than a public transport and it is definitely a much cheaper option than an owned car.”

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Decrypted: DEA spying on protesters, DDoS attacks, Signal downloads spike

This week saw protests spread across the world sparked by the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis last month.

The U.S. hasn’t seen protests like this in a generation, with millions taking to the streets each day to lend their voice and support. But they were met with heavily armored police, drones watching from above, and “covert” surveillance by the federal government.

That’s exactly why cybersecurity and privacy is more important than ever, not least to protect law-abiding protesters demonstrating against police brutality and institutionalized, systemic racism. It’s also prompted those working in cybersecurity — many of which are former law enforcement themselves — to check their own privilege and confront the racism from within their ranks and lend their knowledge to their fellow citizens.


THE BIG PICTURE

DEA allowed ‘covert surveillance’ of protesters

The Justice Department has granted the Drug Enforcement Administration, typically tasked with enforcing federal drug-related laws, the authority to conduct “covert surveillance” on protesters across the U.S., effectively turning the civilian law enforcement division into a domestic intelligence agency.

The DEA is one of the most tech-savvy government agencies in the federal government, with access to “stingray” cell site simulators to track and locate phones, a secret program that allows the agency access to billions of domestic phone records, and facial recognition technology.

Lawmakers decried the Justice Department’s move to allow the DEA to spy on protesters, calling on the government to “immediately rescind” the order, describing it as “antithetical” to Americans’ right to peacefully assembly.

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Dear Sophie: What’s the best option for international founders to expand in the US?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

I’m a startup founder in Israel looking to expand into the U.S. market. What is the best visa option for me and a key member of my executive team to come to the U.S. to establish a sales and marketing office there? I would like my spouse and children to join me if my spouse can also work in the U.S. Is that possible?

— Tenacious in Tel Aviv

Dear Tenacious:

Thanks for reaching out. Based on your situation, the E-2 visa for treaty investors and employees may offer the best option.

An underutilized option, the E-2 visa is ideal for startup founders and employees whose home country has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the U.S. Israelis became eligible for E-2 visas just last year, joining the citizens of 80 other treaty countries. For more details on E-2 visas for founders and employees, check out Episode 16 of my “Immigration Law for Tech Startups” podcast.

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Tyto Care raises $50 million as it looks to buy and build new services during COVID-19 demand surge

Tyto Care, the provider of a home health diagnostic device and telemedicine consultation app, said it has raised $50 million in a new round of funding.
The round was led by Insight Partners, Olive Tree Ventures, and Qualcomm Ventures, according to a statement, and brings the startup’s total capital raised to more than $105 million.
The funding comes just as Tyto has seen a dramatic surge in demand brought on by the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tyto Care’s toolkit is being used as a telehealth diagnostic solution that was already seeing three times sales growth in 2019 alone.
Last …

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Intuition Robotics raises $36M for its empathetic digital companion

Intuition Robotics, the company best known for its ElliQ robot, a digital home companion for the elderly, today announced that it has raised a $36 million Series B round co-led by SPARX Group and OurCrowd. Toyota AI Ventures, Sompo Holdings, iRobot, Union Tech Ventures, Happiness Capital, Samsung Next, Capital Point and Bloomberg Beta also participated in this round. This brings the total funding for the company, which was founded in 2016, to $58 million.

As the company, which sees it as its mission to build digital assistants that can create emotional bonds between humans and machines, also disclosed today, it is working with the Toyota Research Institute to bring its technology to the automaker’s LQ concept. Toyota previously said that it wanted to bring an empathetic AI assistant to the LQ that could create a bond between driver and car. Intuition Robotics’s Q platform helps power this  assistant, which Toyota calls “Yui.”

Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler

Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler tells me that the company spent the last two years gathering data through ElliQ. In the process, the company spent more than 10,000 days in the homes of early users to gather data. The youngest of those users were 78 and the oldest 97.

On average, users interacted with ElliQ eight times per day and spent about six minutes on those interactions. When ElliQ made proactive suggestions, users accepted those about half the time.

“We believe that we have been able to prove that she can create an enduring relationship between humans and machines that actually influences people’s feelings and behaviors,” Skuler told me. “That she’s able to create empathy and trust — and anticipate the needs of the users. And that, to us, is the real vision behind the company.”

While Intuition Robotics is most closely identified with ElliQ, though, that’s only one area the company is focusing on. The other is automotive — and as Skuler stressed, as a small startup, focus is key, even as there are some other obvious verticals it could try to get into.

In the car, the empathetic AI assistant will adapt to the individual user and, for example, provide personalized suggestions for trying out new features in the car, or suggest that you open the window and get some fresh air into the car when it senses you are getting tired. As Skuler stressed, the car is actually a great environment for a digital assistant, as it already has plenty of built-in sensors.

“The agent gets the data feed, builds context, looks at the goals and answers three questions: Should I be proactive? Which activity should I promote? And which version to be most effective? And then it controls the outcomes,” Skuler explained. That’s the same process in the car as it would be in ElliQ — and indeed, the same code runs in both.

The Intuition team decided that in order to allow third-parties to build these interactions, it needed to develop specialized tools and a new language that would help designers — not programmers — create the outlines of these interactions for the platform.

Unlike ElliQ, though, the assistant in the car doesn’t move, of course. In Toyota’s example, the car uses lights and a small screen to provide additional interactions with the driver. As Skuler also told me, the company is already working with another automotive company to bring its Q platform to more cars, though he wasn’t ready to disclose this second automotive partner.

“Intuition Robotics is creating disruptive technology that will inspire companies to re-imagine how machines might amplify the human experience,” said Jim Adler, founding managing partner at Toyota AI Ventures, who will also join the company’s board of directors.

Intuition Robotics’ team doubled over the course of the last year and the company now has 85 employees, most of whom are engineers. The company has offices in Israel and San Francisco.

Unsurprisingly, the plans for the new funding focus on building out its assistant’s capabilities. “We’re the only company in the world that can create these context-based, nonlinear personalized interactions that we call a digital companion,” Skuler told me. “We assume people will start doing similar things. There’s a lot more work to do. […] A big part of the work is to increase our research activities and increase the tools and the performance of the runtime engine for the agent.” He also told me that the team continues to gather data about ElliQ so it can prove that it improves the quality of life of its users. And in addition to this, the company obviously also will continue to build out its work around cars.

“We cracked something nobody’s cracked before,” Skuler said. “And now we’re on the verge of getting value out of it. And it will be hard work because this is not an app. It’s really hard work but we want to capture that value.”

Source: TechCrunch