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It’s got a population smaller than London yet Israel is rated as the second most innovative country in the world behind Switzerland (Source: World Economic Forum). It currently has more than 7,000 emerging businesses, half of them are committed to areas such as IT or internet software. These facts have not gone unnoticed by the major auto, energy and tech giants.

Earlier this year the British energy firm BP announced a $20 million investment in StoreDot an ultra-fast charging battery developer. Itss technology is aiming to achieve a charging experience that is comparable to the time spent refuelling a traditional car. And last year the computer chipmaker Intel caused waves when it bought Mobileye for $15 billion making it the biggest ever acquisition of an Israeli tech company. Mobileye is a supplier of systems used in automotive collision detection systems.

As expected, the auto giants are also getting in on the act. Their aim is to tap into the local expertise. Spain’s SEAT and the brand’s importer in Israel Champion Motors Limited have launched XPLORA, an initiative based in Tel Aviv designed to identify innovative projects that could lead to future solutions and business models for the brand.

So far they have met with over 100 local companies, 8 of which are in the screening stage to define proofs of concept. SEAT Vice-president for R&D Dr. Matthias Rabe explains: “The decision to take the leap in Tel Aviv with a new company is driven by strategic motives – we want to be known as a tech company that provides mobility rather than just a carmaker.”

From Concept to Reality…

Key XPLORA projects now entering in the proof of concept stage include a solution that could replace the use of transport tickets with a digital passenger recognition system. This solution would enable personalised fare management as well as provide infrastructure managers with relevant information on mobility patterns.

There is another prominent project centred around improving the driving experience with a focus on car windows. SEAT whereby a laser projection system that would enable the windscreen to be used as a display.

Also under assessment is a system linked to information and communication inside the car. Through this technology, individual sound reaches the ears of the driver or passengers directly. Whether to integrate this system in the near future is currently under careful consideration.

As well as SEAT, two other major car manufacturers have announced plans to invest in specialist hubs in Israel. Volkswagen has recently opened its Konnect ‘innovation campus’ in Tel Aviv which will be the focus of its R&D activities in Israel. Its aim is to help local partners and start-ups develop innovative solutions in fields such as sensors, cyber security and smart navigation.

The number of Israeli startups targeting the automotive sector has witnessed a dramatic increase over the last few years. In 2013, the country had 87 companies, whereas now there is a total of 520 new businesses in this sector. Not bad for a country without its own car manufacturing industry.

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