Seeing Machines is worth US$10, even £10, but not 10p

At the Automated Vehicles Symposium (AVS) held in San Francisco last week, one presentation made was by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), about the first Tesla crash involving Autopilot. The NTSB said that “steering wheel torque is a poor surrogate measure” for driver attention. In a tweet highlighting the presentation, Colin Barnden, Lead Analyst at Semicast Research commented: “This only really leaves camera-based DMS to fulfil driver engagement function.”. In a subsequent tweet Colin also identified a possible scenario where Waymo buys Seeing Machines, maybe even in a 12-18 month timeframe, for US$10 billion.

Here’s Colin’s reply in full to my asking about his thinking behind these tweets and the jaw dropping valuation.

Colin Barnden

The NTSB presentation at AVS. That’s a game changer. If you are a transport executive and you value your freedom, you don’t ignore NTSB recommendations. This even applies to anyone with the first name Elon too.

Level 3 is starting to gain traction so Waymo are looking like they have called the handover problem incorrectly and L3 is possible after all. Time will tell on this. L2/L3 is where the volume will be in my view, at least for the next decade.

Robo-taxis may get investor and press attention, but the volume will be in the mass market. Seeing Machines is the classic ‘pick and shovel’ play, the tech can go almost anywhere in transport applications that humans and machines interact. It certainly isn’t obsolete.

Price… who knows? Could be higher, depends how desperate the bidding war gets (see Sky as a good example). Remember what I wrote to you last week “I can see ten bucks a share persuading the Board to sell up soon, or even ten pounds, but not pennies. That would be stupid, and they (the Board of Directors) aren’t”. [This refers to us discussing privately the likelihood of Seeing Machines’ management accepting a low-ball bid in the next few months].

The current market cap simply reflects that the market is clueless to what SM has achieved. The company isn’t clueless, the executive management are whip smart. The market is coming to them (and Smart Eye too) it just needs patience. Maybe even as little as 12-18 months.”

You can follow Colin at @semicast_res

You can follow me, Chris Menon, at @Penforjustice

The author holds shares in Seeing Machines

Understanding management priorities on price

I’ve been wrestling with the issue of divergent interests between management and shareholders of a public company. How can the stock price of a great business be very undervalued and management be unconcerned? (Successive fundraisings that dilute long term holders are a sign of that, for example).

I didn’t have the smarts to work it out but fortunately I know a man who does. Benjamin Graham, the father of value investing, worked this out 50 years ago in his book “The Intelligent Investor”.

I’ll quote him at length below, where he cuts the Gordian knot:

Benjamin Graham

“Why is it that insiders may have no interest of their own in following policies designed to provide an adequate dividend return and an adequate average market price? It is strange how little this point is understood. Insiders do not depend on dividends and market quotations to establish the practical value of their holdings. The value to them is measured by what they can do with the business when and if they want to do it. If they need a higher dividend to establish this value, they can raise the dividend. If the value is to be established by selling the business to some other company, or by recapitalising it, or by withdrawing unneeded cash assets, or by dissolving it as a holding concern, they can do any of these things at a time appropriate to themselves.

“Insiders never suffer loss from an unduly low market price which it is in their power to correct. If by any chance they should want to sell, they can and will always correct the situation first. In the meantime they may benefit from the opportunity to acquire more shares at a bargain level, or to pay gift (and prospective estate) taxes on a small valuation, or to save heavy surtaxes on larger dividend payments, which for them (sic) would mean only transferring money from one place where they control it into another.”

Battle of the Titans?

In response to my latest blog post, Colin Barnden, Lead Analyst at Semicast Research, wrote to me explaining why he thinks Fovio is of strategic importance to both Apple and Alphabet. Indeed, his analysis reinforces my feeling that the two may soon battle it out to acquire Seeing Machines — regardless of any initial low-ball bid in the 25p-30p range from another party that kicks off a bidding war. 

I’ve reproduced his comments in full below so you get the benefit of his insights:

Colin Barnden

“Do you hear the thud? That’s the sound of the penny dropping in Silicon Valley that autonomous driving is not easy peasy after all. Witness no robo taxi development stories since March, after the Uber crash. As you report today, witness also the speed of conventional OEMs starting to adopt camera-based DMS. This is a technology which I have repeatedly been told by people at Silicon Valley based tech companies is “at best an interim solution and at worst already obsolete”. Elon might think something like that, but a steady stream of auto OEMs seem to want to work with Seeing Machines anyhow. My view is that every auto OEM will have announced their plans for camera-based DMS by the end of this year, with most implementing the technology for production from 2021 to 2023.

Apple have been trying to get into automotive for several years. Project Titan never really got off the ground, but CarPlay has been well received. For Alphabet, they have to hedge their position that Level 3 is redundant and have already moved to Level 4. There are many articles discussing this, here is one: https://www.wired.com/2017/01/human-problem-blocking-path-self-driving-cars/

I totally disagree with that view and Level 3 is very much possible, but it needs advanced DMS and sufficient human factors research to understand what humans do in the seconds and minutes following handing over driving to machine intelligence. Seeing Machines are underway with this work, led by Mike Lenné and the CAN Drive project. As Tesla have found – and Cadillac proven – you cannot even do Level 2 safely without camera DMS and the recent EC legislation calls for mandatory advanced distraction DMS (camera-based) even for Level 0. Other regions will follow in my view.

Both Apple and Alphabet need it, ideally so the other doesn’t have the technology. Whoever wins gets a minimum 3-5 year lead on the other (automotive qualification alone is 3 years – and Fovio is automotive qualified). Remember Zuck bought WhatsApp for $19 billion so Facebook had a potential rival under control. Conventional metrics for valuing a company won’t apply, this would be a straight Battle of the Titans. I’ll be watching.”

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.

Toyota or bid announcement?

The good news for investors in Seeing Machines is that I’m hearing from multiple sources that Seeing Machines is set to win a contract with Toyota next.

Apparently, it’s the only driver monitoring system (DMS) that is being specified in multiple Tier 1 bids – as was the case with the big BMW win recently. If true – and I see no reason to doubt my sources’ information – it just goes to further reinforce the global domination of Seeing Machines’ Fovio DMS in the auto industry.

Bid coming?

For that reason, I’m not surprised that there are now 10 market makers for the company on the London Stock Exchange, up from 4 a year ago. Most recently, Berenberg have started broking them. The better news is that I think this German bank may be acquiring shares for a company that plans to bid for Seeing Machines.

I could be wrong about that last assumption: Berenberg may be buying for a German fund. Nevertheless, various sources are warning of an imminent low ball bid – somewhere around 25p-30p a share for Seeing Machines. 

Some of my sources believe it is a Tier 1 auto supplier, others discount that theory. Interestingly, when asked about this in a previous interview back in March, Ken Kroeger did tease: “I agree it is either someone like that who can see the full value or a really diverse Tier 2 or Tier 1, as opposed to the OEM.”

While traders might be impressed by that figure, anyone with any knowledge of the auto industry and even an average understanding of Seeing Machines proven technological global dominance in driver monitoring systems shouldn’t be.

If such a bid should materialise I’ve been told by multiple sources that certain chip manufacturers (Intel/Nvidia, Xilinx and Qualcomm) would most likely be prepared to offer a lot more than a measly 30p. So I fully expect a competitive bidding situation to materialise if the rumour turns out to be fact.

Seeing Machines house brokers haven’t issued any upgrades in a long while. Still, based purely on old figures from Canaccord Genuity’s Caspar Trenchard note of Jan 9, (which excludes any figures for the huge Ford win as well as the big BMW win) it must be worth at least 59p a share. That is 30 times forecast revenues for 2019 of A$79.5m = 59p a share.

You could even argue that SEE should be on a higher multiple, such as the 42 times revenue multiple that Intel paid for Mobileye when it went for US$15.3bn. That would equate to roughly 83p a share for Seeing Machines. (This obviously ignores any value for Fleet, Rail and the Caterpillar business).

Yet, the strategic importance of Seeing Machines to the future of transport (never mind vision for robotics) will have been noted far and wide. In such a situation, I’ve been told that the chip companies are often prepared to pay up without months of haggling over the odd US$1bn. It’s small change to them when global domination is at stake.

Even Apple and Alphabet (parent of Waymo) can surely see the sense in DMS, so for what is petty cash for them they could also come in.

The writer holds shares in Seeing Machines.

A$50m Ford win for Seeing Machines

It’s great news that Seeing Machines, working with its Tier 1 partner Autoliv, has won a A$50m contract to supply its Fovio DMS system to Ford. Even better is that it’s on its new chip.

Once again my sources have been proven to be correct. Avid readers will note that in a previous blog, entitled: ‘Seeing Machines set to win 75% of the global DMS market’ the Ford win was predicted.

Back then, on 16th March, I wrote: “I’m being told that Fovio will soon be contracted to Ford, Volvo and Audi. (That’s in addition to General Motors, Mercedes and BMW). Moreover, those same sources are telling me that by the end of this calendar year Toyota will definitely be committed to using it and, most likely, Honda.”

The document containing this latest OEM win was published as part of Autoliv’s Investor Day presentation and is here: (Note that Veoneer is Autoliv’s active safety division that will soon be spun-off).

The clues are on page 13 and 17, in which it is revealed that in Q2 2018 Veoneer won a contract with a major global North American OEM for a DMS.

A spokesperson from Autoliv told Safestocks: “We cannot confirm the OEM name, but I can confirm that we will be working with our partner Seeing Machines for this contract.”

That the North American OEM is Ford is beyond argument. Seeing Machines already works with General Motors, Ford is also an important client of Autoliv. Moreover, when questioned Ford did not deny the contract win had taken place. A spokesman said: “Unfortunately, all I can tell you is that we do not discuss our contractual  arrangements with our suppliers.”

The writer holds shares in Seeing Machines.

Euro NCAP agrees camera-based DMS crucial to prevent driver distraction

Last week I spoke with Richard Schram, Technical Manager at Euro NCAP. For those backing camera-based DMS systems he provided a very positive update on the organisation’s plans.

He agreed that the problem of driver distraction could not be solved without cameras but he doesn’t think it is feasible to mandate that by 2021 (for 2020 the coffee cup DMS is what will be pushed for, as it’s easily achievable). By 2022 he expects EURO NCAP to be incentivising the introduction of AEB linked to camera-based DMS. Moreover, Schram agrees that: “by 2024 camera-based DMS will be part of most European passenger cars”.

Given the 3-year lead times for the introduction of technology into cars, it’s clear why the more safety-conscious car manufacturers are moving swiftly to integrate camera-based DMS systems into future car models.

I asked Colin Barnden, Lead Analyst at Semicast Research, to put Schram’s comments into context and he said that it “clearly confirms that Euro NCAP and the EU are in alignment”.

The he went on to explain how:

  • “Drowsiness and attention detection (DDR-DAD) – coffee cup : mandate introduction from 1 September 2021 to 1 September 2023. Euro NCAP 5 star rating starts with these systems in 2020.
  • Distraction detection (DRD-ADR) : mandate introduction from 1 September 2023 to 1 September 2025. The importance of the comment, “[in] 2024 camera-based DMS will be part of most European passenger cars” cannot be overstated and confirms my understanding that distraction detection systems will only be camera based. This will apply also to vans, coaches, buses and trucks – a total of between 20-25 million vehicles per year in my estimation (and that is just the EU28).”

Barnden added: “As previously mentioned the adoption rate for camera-based DMS will be dictated by the rollout plans of the OEMs and they are well ahead of the advisory bodies (Euro NCAP, Consumer Reports) and the legislative bodies (the EC, NHTSA) already. My attention has moved from Europe to where’s next.”

His opinion is that Japan is next. “FotoNation, Seeing Machines and Smarteye are all making a concerted effort there and that is a clear signal of OEM interest. Development of mobility services (eg Waymo) are much more advanced in the US.”

Personally, I’m expecting Seeing Machines to clinch OEM a big contract with Toyota in the next few months (then Honda), as first mentioned in my blog article: Seeing Machines set to win 75% of global DMS market. In that article I also forecast that further progress in the US is close at hand.

I think the evidence is clear that Seeing Machines is set to be the next Mobileye.

The writer holds shares in Seeing Machines.

Seeing Machines is next Mobileye

Yesterday’s news that the EU is to mandate Driver Monitoring Systems (DMS) by 2020 confirms my view that Seeing Machines is set to be the next Mobileye. (Something that respected FinnCap analyst Lorne Daniel first told us years ago).

People are waiting for Euro NCAP to specify that camera-based systems are its preferred option for DMS but I’m confident that this will be the case. (They’ve been ahead of the curve all along).

I’m particularly confident because Semicast’s Lead Analyst Colin Barnden recently explained to me that there are 4 types of DMS:

1. Steering angle sensor (coffee cup)

2. Embedded capacitive touch sensor (steering wheel)

3. Time-of-flight (likely DOA)

4. Camera-based (Seeing Machines, Smart Eye etc.)

This was his conclusion: “The first two are very cheap but not particularly reliable.  ToF fits in between and is unlikely to meet any OEMs needs. Camera-based is what I believe Euro NCAP will specify.”

Of course, the decision hasn’t been announced yet by Euro NCAP.

Market opportunity

While we await confirmation, there is also clearly a debate about the size of the market opportunity for Seeing Machines following the announcement.

At one extreme, ABI Research previously stated 65m by 2020.

At the other end, John-Marc Bunce, analyst at house broker Cenkos yesterday doubled his estimate saying: “Our long-term forecasts for Seeing Machines previously envisaged 4m vehicles globally in the financial year ended June 2022 rising to 15m by 2027 and we believe this EU mandate could easily double our expectations.”

Now Colin Barnden on May 16 (before the EU announcement) estimated 20m units by 2021. Today I asked him for his latest view. Here it is. (What follows below is all him, unedited by me).

“I await further details from Euro NCAP before changing the forecast, so a worldwide market for camera-based DMS of about 20 million units in 2021 still stands. That includes just passenger cars and light trucks, so there will be further volume in busses, coaches and heavy trucks too.

The broad effect of yesterday’s announcement is to move all of Europe to “Level 2” on the SAE automation taxonomy as of 1 September 2022, with both longitudinal and lateral correction provided by autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane keep assistance systems (LKAS). This is a step change in vehicle safety and the EC is to be applauded for its decisiveness. I expect the EC would have been influenced in its decision making by recent events in the US, with some members of the tech community moving too fast and breaking things, in their efforts to be first to deploy “Level 5” driverless vehicles. In comparison, the EC has gone for the simple and sensible approach of just making humans drivers into better drivers, by mandating systems which are proven, easy to understand and cost effective for immediate mass-market deployment.

Mobileye

I note your post about Mobileye earlier this week. If you were to take a market size of 20 million units for camera-based DMS and apply your other estimates, you would have a revenue for Seeing Machines just in automotive of about USD 375 million in 2021. If you compare that to Mobileye’s revenues of about USD 360 million for 2016 then some interesting conclusions can be drawn. If your reader’s are interested, the full Mobileye 20-F filed with the US SEC can be viewed at:

https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1607310/000157104917001997/t1700397_20f.htm

The part of the Seeing Machines business model which seems to me to be completely overlooked by the market is the recurring revenues provided by the Safety-as-a-Service (SaaS) component of the Guardian business unit.  It won’t take much for SM’s revenues and profits to pass those of Mobileye on a three-to-four year horizon in my opinion. Mobileye were of course bought by Intel in 2017 for USD 15.3 billion.”

EU mandates DMS for 2020

As part of a move to make European roads safer the EU today recommended making driver monitoring systems mandatory for new cars. It’s a momentous decision that is great news for Seeing Machines, causing its share price to shoot up today and Cenkos to upgrade its price target from 10p to 16p.

I asked Colin Barnden Lead Analyst at Semicast Research for his reaction and this is it:

Colin Barnden: So the paint is still wet from the announcements today, but I can draw some basic conclusions.

The EC has today announced the WHEN for a series of automotive systems to become mandatory, a list which includes distracted & drowsiness driver monitoring systems (DMS). My reading of the timeline is as follows:

  • 1 September 2020 for Type Approval (the certification process for new models, facelifts, major changes etc.).
  • 1 September 2022 for all other new cars, irrespective of Type Approval.

That is a two year phase-in period, and from today to the beginning of September 2022 gives a little over four years. That is a sensible timeframe over which to introduce a new technology like DMS.

The EC appears to have left the WHAT of a DMS to be defined by Euro NCAP and I expect the specifics of DMS requirements to follow in short order. This doesn’t guarantee that camera-based DMS will be mandated, nor specified by Euro NCAP. However looking at some of the other systems on the list (AEB, LKAS, ISA, EDR) these are all electronic systems so it would not follow that a mechanical (and very poor) DMS would be specified, even more so for a primary safety feature. Also the entire focus of this regulatory announcement is road safety. I regard AEB, ISA and LKAS as systems needed to compensate for distracted and drowsy drivers, so the obvious way to improve road safety is not so much to correct speed and steering errors, but to keep hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and minds on the task [of driving]. The very best DMS is the obvious way to do that and that points to a camera-based system, from the likes of Seeing Machines for example.

There are two excellent articles I would suggest as backgrounders for your readers for DMS:

http://www.thedrive.com/tech/20843/elon-musk-reportedly-rejected-driver-monitoring-for-tesla-autopilot-but-why

https://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1333236

If I were to also speculate on the WHERE; my view is that Japan will go next for mandatory DMS, probably followed by South Korea. Also, OEMs in the US are on a voluntary agreement (not mandated by NHTSA) to introduce AEB by 2022. I would speculate that they would be highly likely to add DMS on the same timeline.

The key is now what Euro NCAP announce.

Chris Menon: What exactly is the difference between ‘Type Approval’ cars and other new cars?

Colin Barnden: Okay. So, as an example, take the VW T-ROC. It was just launched and would have gone through Type Approval probably late last year. Type Approval is a bit like a new car MOT, someone looks over it and says: “Yes it has seat belts, yes, it has airbags, yes, it has brakes etc.” If it meets all the legislation in place at the time it gets… ‘Type Approval’. Provided no changes are made to the car it maintains Type Approval and no more need be done. Sometimes this can last for four or five years until the model is refreshed. However, from 1 September 2022, new T-ROCs would need to have DMS added, not for Type Approval (which it already has) but to be legal for sale.

Now take a next generation Golf going for Type Approval on 2 September 2020. The list will have another entry “yes, it has DMS” and you get Type Approval. If it doesn’t have DMS, it doesn’t get Type Approval and cannot be sold in the EU.

So on 1 September 2020, only cars going through Type Approval will have to have DMS (or a bit before most likely). By 1 September 2022, it will be in 100% of new cars sold in the EU. This is how the phase-in is managed.

Seeing Machines set to win 75% of global DMS market

Multiple industry sources are telling me that Seeing Machines’ Fovio technology is so advanced compared to rival systems that it is set to dominate the global auto market for DMS.

This market is growing fast and last year was estimated by ABI Research to be around 65m cars a year by 2020. Although I personally think this figure is now likely to prove an underestimate, given the fact that a driver monitoring system is becoming a standard feature in forthcoming car models. This trend is being driven (I love my puns) by increasing autonomy in cars, higher safety standards and legislation to reduce road deaths caused by driver inattention and drowsiness.

By my calculations, just using the 65m figure for 2020: Fovio will have at least 75% of that. As Seeing Machines (SEE) gets approximately US$25 for each car that uses its Fovio chip it should obtain annual revenues from autos of US$1.2bn.

How can I be so sure of this 75%+ figure?

Ford, Volvo and Audi

Admittedly, it is an estimate. But based on research.

I’m being told that Fovio will soon be contracted to Ford, Volvo and Audi. (That’s in addition to General Motors, Mercedes and BMW). Moreover, those same sources are telling me that by the end of this calendar year Toyota will definitely be committed to using it and, most likely, Honda.

Don’t expect absolute confirmation immediately. When they are eventually announced these contracts will be released as nameless wins, contracts for ‘premium’, ‘mass market’ country-specific OEMs. Seeing Machines will also have to be very conservative about the revenues forecast.

For those who know Seeing Machines as a perennial disappointment, a ‘jam-tomorrow’ stock, I urge them to look again at its growing dominance in the global automotive sector. This dominance in DMS now rivals that of Mobileye in external auto vision.

Fund Manager

If you don’t believe a dumb ‘ol journalist, maybe a super smart fund manager may make you look again at Seeing Machines?

Max Ward, Manager of The Independent Investment Trust, recently took a 4.46% stake in SEE. I wanted to know why and he kindly furnished me with the answer: “What attracted me to the business is the scale of the potential in the automotive division together with the evidence of clear market leadership in the DMS field.”

Previously, SEE successfully flew beneath the radar.  This was partly helped by its not having a PR agency in London, the harsh non-disclosure terms prevalent in the auto industry and the fact it was an AIM-listed minnow.

Fortunately, all that hasn’t prevented the global auto industry rushing to knock on its doors as increasing automation and safety concerns have led to tightening regulation, making its Fovio technology a vital ‘must have’ feature in future car models.

Now, at last, Seeing Machines is about to have the spotlight focused directly upon it. For dominance in global DMS makes it a very attractive strategic acquisition for big industry players.

Takeover time

Just as Mobileye was snapped up by Intel for US$15.3bn, Seeing Machines is likely to be bought fairly soon.

Indeed, I believe numerous companies now have Seeing Machines in their sights as a target this year. Who will pull the trigger first, I wonder? Names that have been mentioned to me recently include: Intel, Nvidia, Xilinx, Autoliv and Bosch.

Let the takeover battle begin.

The writer holds stock in Seeing Machines.

Seeing Machines compared to Mobileye

I recently asked Colin Barnden, Lead Analyst at Semicast Research for his views on Seeing Machines. I’ve reproduced my original questions and his reply in full, as his insights are worthy of a wider audience and deserve to be accurately reported.

Chris Menon: I’m very keen to find out what you think might be the likely valuation of Seeing Machines in the event of a takeover, if you’d care to speculate. Can it be likened to Mobileye in terms of its dominance of DMS? I’m also eager to know if you think there is much real competition? From what I hear Smarteye is a very distant second and its technology is in no way of comparable quality or reliability.

Colin Barnden: “I’m a market analyst not a financial analyst so the issues of valuation are out of my areas of expertise. That said, I don’t think there is a single financial analyst who could accurately value Seeing Machines (SM) as the company is active in so many markets and at so many points in the supply chain. SM also seem to be creating markets as they go along, which is highly cash intensive and has a long “time-to-money”. However get the strategy right and the rewards can be extraordinary. See Google, Facebook and Netflix as examples.

Mobileye is probably a good comparison to SM. Yes there is plenty of serious competition in DMS but what I see tends to happen in IP markets is that one company dominates and then everyone else is competing for what’s left. For example Mobileye has something like 65% of the automotive front camera market, with Xilinx the clear number 2. Which Tier 2 becomes number 1 for DMS depends largely on whether price or features matters most to OEMs.

I suspect it will be features…here is a document I have been reading that I believe pre-announces changes to vehicle legislation [for automotive] for the EU, to be made on May 16: https://www.governmenteuropa.eu/important-year-vehicle-safety-europe/84888/

My reading of it is that DMS becomes mandatory for all cars in Europe from 2020 and with a focus on both drowsy driving and distraction. That suggests camera-based DMS eye-gaze tracking for distraction and PERCLOS (PERcentage CLOSure) eyelid measurement for drowsiness. This is really complex to do well and not many Tier 2s can. The mention of an event data recorder also suggests a Tier 1 might go for a more complex DMS in order to save cost on the DMS/EDR combination. I also read into the announcement that alcohol impairment detection is likely to be a future feature for DMS.

I don’t cover trucks but the legislation there tends to front-run that for automotive by a few years. I really would not be surprised if DMS was made mandatory in Europe for all trucks and buses too, and to my knowledge SM is in a party of one for aftermarket fleet systems (with Guardian).

I’ll be watching on May 16  to see what the EU formally announces. If they mandate everything listed in that article, that would be a step change in road safety. In my view DMS will be the story of the 2020s, with autonomous driving not likely in any meaningful volume until the 2030s.”