Level 4 is dead, long live Seeing Machines

Here’s the latest piece of analysis from Colin Barnden, Lead Analyst at Semicast Research on Seeing Machines, Driver Monitoring Systems (DMS) and the auto industry.

“EuroNCAP has moved to 2022*. This is why contracts aren’t being announced, as OEMs and T1s have more time to do evaluations (see Hansen Report). Ironically, the delay takes away the ‘Takata penalty’ hanging over Seeing Machines. Had 2020 stood for camera DMS, pretty much every OEM would have had to go with SmartEye, other Tier 2s or the in-house Japanese Tier 1s. The first half of 2019 is likely to be busy for OEM direct wins, ready for 2022.

Level 4 is dead for mass market vehicles. The trend I see is ‘less autonomy, more DMS’ (L2/3 with DMS). That suggests to me the technically best DMS. The key part of Fovio is the hardware accelerators for real-time vision analysis (and to lower power consumption). ‘Hardware agnostic’ is a trade-off not a free ride. The significance of the 1.3 bn kms RNS in the summer is also now clear. Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning is all about quantity of data. I see Seeing Machines even put live updates of the total on their website. This is smart.

OEMs are acutely aware of regulatory and political threats. Dieselgate was a disaster and emissions in general has been handled poorly. Now the political threat is number of road deaths (hence Vision Zero) and that issue is also being dumped on OEMs’ doormats. Waymo and robo-taxis are an existential threat, OEMs have got to find a way to reduce fatalities fast and win political points. They won’t mess up twice and DMS is the obvious way to proceed. Again that suggests technical excellence over anything. If they are smart, OEMs will ‘front run’ the politics and put DMS into everything as fast as they possibly can. There could be a huge ramp from 2023-2025. Again, a fast ramp up supports longer evaluation times and careful decisions for T1s and T2s.

That’s as far as market analysis can go. What matters now is the actual decisions OEMs make. My role is to make an argument but it is up to everyone to make their own individual decisions about how they think things will play out. No one has a crystal ball.”

*’Europe on the Move’ announced Advanced Distraction Recognition (camera-based DMS) from September 2023. EuroNCAP 5* requirements are looking like they will move to demand camera DMS about a year before.

Chris Menon holds Seeing Machines stock.

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.

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.