Haifa road map: This is a visualization of special road conditions and incidents mapped in Haifa by cars equipped with Tactile Mobility sensors. The conditions and 'events' range from potholes to hydroplaning. In other words, it’s an actual map of the tactile data.
Haifa road map: This is a visualization of special road conditions and incidents mapped in Haifa by cars equipped with Tactile Mobility sensors. The conditions and 'events' range from potholes to hydroplaning. In other words, it’s an actual map of the tactile data.
( Source: Tactile Mobility)

V2I What if a car could feel the road?

| Author / Editor: Cate Lawrence / Erika Granath

We're not in a position where autonomous vehicles will go mainstream anytime soon. Today's OEMs and automobility providers are reaping the benefits of technological solutions that aim to create intuitive, responsive vehicles that collect, combine, and create deep data analytic insights. One of the companies making this possible is Tactile Mobility.

What if a connected car or autonomous car could feel the road underneath it, enabling it to make informed decisions? One company has created just that. Tactile Mobility uses virtual sensing and data analytics to creates actionable insights for smart and autonomous vehicles, municipalities, and fleet managers through tactile virtual sensing technology and data. We spoke to Eitan Grosbard, VP of Business Development, to find out more.

Tactile Mobility was started in 2012 and is based in Haifa, Israel with offices in Europe and the U.S. Eitan explained that Tactile Mobility's technology "collects first principle, crucial, real-time data generated from non-visual sensors within the car. The data technology is agnostic regardless of the brand of the vehicle itself.

Tactility brings safety

Tactile Mobility was started in 2012 and is based in Haifa, Israel. The image shows the company's Haifa road map.
Tactile Mobility was started in 2012 and is based in Haifa, Israel. The image shows the company's Haifa road map.
(Source: Tactile Mobility)

One of the biggest benefits to Tactile Mobility's technology is road safety, especially as we get closer to a future where autonomous vehicles become more mainstream. Cars are able to detect and preempt unsafe road surfaces and OEMs are able to gain critical insights into how cars function across a range of conditions. There are two main data models, Vehicle DNA and Surface DNA:

Vehicle DNA is focused on the individual attributes of each vehicle such as engine and fuel efficiency, braking, tire grip, wheel angle, speed, weight, and fuel assumption. Tactile data is useful to a tire manufacturer wanting to assess and improve the grip and friction of their tires on multiple road conditions. "We can complement the data they already collect and improve it, we’re providing an additional layer of data."

Surface DNA records road features, such as grades, banking, curvature and grip levels. It can detect and record the location of hazards such as bumps, cracks, and potholes. Surface DNA is downloaded to vehicles and offers insights on the road ahead, this primes the software and improves user experience reaction time. Eitan gave the example of black ice noting that:

"Black ice is a frequent cause of road accidents. We are able to identify the speed of the wheels and differentiate between that of the front and back wheels which increases as a car slips on black ice. By comparison, visual players in road monitoring cannot distinguish between black ice and the surface itself. They know there's water there but they can't feel the impact."

Tactile Mobility detect and map potholes to prevent vehicle damage.
Tactile Mobility detect and map potholes to prevent vehicle damage.
(Source: Tactile Mobility)

The data generated by driving "effectively create a crowdsourced mapping of global road conditions for accurate monitoring." This can include "asphalt quality, road grades, any curvature in the road, and the location of hazards such as bumps, cracks, and potholes. Our technology not only detects potholes and other road surface anomalies but also places them in a specific location on a map.”

Such data is highly valued by mapping companies, municipalities, town planners, road authorities, OEMs, and insurers. A pothole, for example, can cause more than $2,600 worth of damage to a car. Such data would be particularly valuable to those with fleets of vehicles along the same route and it could foreseeably be shared publicly to raise awareness for other drivers.

When asked about data ownership. Eitan notes that "different data sets belong to the OEM and some such as the proprietary surface DNA belongs to us. The connected data from each vehicle is anonymized, so there's no creation of privacy or confidentiality issues."

An interest shared by Tesla

Tactile Mobility split screen example: On the left side of the image “screenshot of split screen video” is a freeze frame from the original clip “September 2018 Haifa Visual plus Tactile example.mp4”, depicting a vehicle equipped with Tactile Mobility’s technology “feeling” the road under its tires, and detecting and recording different road conditions as it drives. On the right half of the screen, a tactile sensing graph expresses faults in road infrastructure, as detected by Tactile Mobility’s technology. The dashed vertical line represents “time zero”—the current location of the vehicle as seen in the left photo. The disruption signal at the 42-second mark (to the right of the vertical line) represents a crack in the road ahead (barely visible in the left-hand image).
Tactile Mobility split screen example: On the left side of the image “screenshot of split screen video” is a freeze frame from the original clip “September 2018 Haifa Visual plus Tactile example.mp4”, depicting a vehicle equipped with Tactile Mobility’s technology “feeling” the road under its tires, and detecting and recording different road conditions as it drives. On the right half of the screen, a tactile sensing graph expresses faults in road infrastructure, as detected by Tactile Mobility’s technology. The dashed vertical line represents “time zero”—the current location of the vehicle as seen in the left photo. The disruption signal at the 42-second mark (to the right of the vertical line) represents a crack in the road ahead (barely visible in the left-hand image).
(Source: Tactile Mobility)

The company is not the only one interested in this technology. Tesla recently announced its intentions to detect and map potholes to prevent vehicle damage. Yet Eitan notes that Tactile Mobility is way ahead of the game "We have already signed paid POCs with five major OEMs, including Ford and we've analyzed more than 20,000,000 km of roads."

Eitan explained that initially there was a challenge to get OEMs on board as "they had never heard that this kind of data existed. We are innovative, and we surprised OEMs by showing them something new that could be relevant on many levels. They didn't initially know that they needed it until they understood what it could do and what it would mean for their industry, especially with the development and smart and autonomous vehicles."

In October the company announced it had secured $9 million in funding from Porsche, Union Tech Ventures (the technology investment arm of the Union Group), and other investors. Last year, they also announced a partnership with HERE Technologies, to release and commercialize Tactile Mobility's data, on the HERE Marketplace for location-based data. This will expand the company's commercial reach to automotive and municipal customers seeking tactile data. It's an interesting move as the same data sets can create value across multiple markets and generate considerable value in numerous verticals.

The company is already working with multiple OEMs, road authorities, and municipalities and Eitan shared that a European automaker will be the first to introduce its software on a production car in 2021, but he could not disclose the make or model. It'll be interesting to watch the technology evolve as its use cases expand—clearly, this is just the beginning of something that can only benefit vehicles on the road.