Exclusive: Cognata’s new strategy

Cognata Company from Rehovot, Israel, has announced few weeks ago the appointment of Dr. Gahl Berkooz as Chief Data Officer and President, Americas. This is a new function in the company, and staffing it with a senior, experienced figure reveals new Cognata’s strategy to move from supplying a simulator towards complete procedural solution intended for both development and validation of ADAS and autonomous driving systems. The goal of this platform is to cover all the phases – starting at creating and managing data and ending at executing verification processes that are obliged throughout product lifecycle.  

Nowadays, smart vehicle is conceptualized as a computer on wheels, an instrument that produces enormous amounts of data that needs to be managed and utilized in the form of analytics and monetization. However, when Berkooz joined Ford in 2004, the field of connected vehicle was in  its infancy, and the interface between cars, data and computers was far less natural. In a  conversation with Techtime, Berkooz, who holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Cornell  University, says: “The data area among major vehicle manufacturers was a mess. As the connected car field evolved, it was clear that we need a new approach regarding data management and the  way we can utilize it”. 

During his time at Ford, Berkooz was in charge of establishing the Information Management and Analytics at the OEM, both organizational data and data that is produced and consumed by drivers.  He was the one who formulated the way data is collected and standartized to produce analytics and monetization. Later, he moved to General Motors as Chief of Analytics for General Motors’ Global  Connected Customer Experience (OnStar) Division, where he led similar processes between 2016- 2018. 

Berkooz arrived at Cognata through his third career’s milestone, German Tier-1 ZF, where he established the ZF Digital Venture Accelerator, building technology start-ups for ZF. Cognata and ZF  are collaborating for several years. “I was introduced to Cognata through ADAS development startup who worked in collaboration with Cognata. This cooperation emphasized the need of reducing ADAS verification costs”, said Berkooz. 

The way to autonomy is paved with endless milage 

At the beginning of the technological journey towards autonomy, AV developers based their testing mainly on test drives, intended to train the systems and verify their reliability in recognizing the environment and decisions making. However, car industry quickly realized that these road tests have limited efficiency.  

Berkooz: “Road tests are an expensive operation, and it is hard to ‘catch’ rare scenarios. Car industry is trying to form the most efficient and proper way of validating ADAS. As the level of autonomy is higher, the range of validation is increased, and in a non-linear manner, since the more the vehicle is responsible for more driving aspects, more scenarios should be evaluated, and the coverage must be greater accordingly”. 

As of today, the focus in ADAS development and verification is moving from road tests to simulators. Cognata’s simulator creates virtual environment that imitates the road in detail, starting at the exact  street mapping, drivers and cars behavior and ending at small, unexpected items such as road flaws, trash cans, signs, trees and even a cat suddenly running into the road. Cognata’s simulator is capable  of systematically producing driving scenarios’ clusters, which evaluate the functionality of sensors and computing units at every situation they may encounter in the jungle called “the road”. 

From simulation company to data company 

However, although using a simulator significantly accelerates the development and test processes, one can not based the verification of a safety system solely om simulator, since simulation is  eventually only an approximation of reality.  

Dr. Gahl Berkooz

According to Berkooz, Cognata is now formulating a strategy where the simulator is just another  instrument in a complete ecosystem of processes and solutions for developing and validating ADAS. “The simulator  is not the center, the data are. Eventually, the simulator is an instrument for generating data to be  used by development, training and validating processes. Cognata is striving to position itself as a  data company, whether it is data generated by simulator in virtual environment or actual data  collected by sensors and road tests. Our algorithms provide us with the capability of taking road test’s data and alter parameters such as sight angle. We take the data and make it meta-data that generates additional data”.

Berkooz explains the validation processes are currently decentralized, and there is a need for a  platform to concentrate all the processes, the same way it’s done in the PLM plaforms. “We are moving towards focusing on developing data tools and assets. OEMs generate a lot of data during road tests, but they have no methodology that enable them to make use of this data as part of their future development efforts. The goal is to provide a unified platform that supports data from simulations as well as from actual sensors. This will help reducing verification and road tests costs. This synergy opens a whole new world of possibilities.” 

Seoul Robotics to employ Cognata LiDAR Simulator

Above: Winter driving in difficult visibility conditions – in Cognata’s synthetic simulator

Cognata was chosen to provide a simulator of LiDAR sensors signals to Seoul Robotics, which develops software for analyzing data coming from the sensors, in order to extract information about the vehicle’s environment. The collaboration deepens Cognata’s grip on the ADAS systems market. Founded in 2016 by the CEO Danny Atsmon, the Rehovot-based (near Tel aviv) Cognata has developed a virtual platform used to train and test autonomous vehicles even before the vehicle hits the road for field tests.

The system is based on several layers: a static environment, a dynamic environment, sensors and cloud interface. The static environment is built from realistic imaging of entire cities, including streets, trees, road defects, etc. The dynamic layer mimics the behavior of other drivers on the road and the sensor layer mimics the information coming from each of the 40 different sensors found today in autonomous vehicles.

The chosen imaging software of Innoviz

Cognata is well acquainted with the field of LiDAR. In December 2019, it was selected by Innoviz to test Innoviz’s LiDAR technology. Cognata’s software can simulates how Innoviz’s LiDAR signals are reflected from different surfaces and materials, and how the sensors will function under different road conditions. A few days later it was also chosen by the Rehovot-based Foresight to test its QuadSight system, based on the use of two infrared cameras and two visible-light cameras, to produce a stereoscopic (three-dimensional) machine vision capability.

The agreement with Seoul Robotics is Cognata’s second major deal in Korea. In August 2020, it was selected by Hyundai MOBIS to supply a simulator for the development of ADAS systems and autonomous vehicles. Hyundai MOBIS is a Tier 1 supplier of the Korean automotive industry and manufactures auto parts for Hyundai, Kia and Genesis Motors.

Cognata Raised $18.5M for Autonomous Vehicles Simulation

Cognata has closed an $18.5 million funding round led by Scale Venture Partners with the participation of existing investors, Emerge, Maniv Mobility, and Airbus Ventures and also the addition of the Japanese Global IoT Technology Ventures. The company will use the funding to grow its engineering group and to start commercial operations in the United States, Europe and Asia.

Cognata developed an automotive simulation platform combines artificial intelligence, deep learning, and computer vision to provide a realistic virtual environment that accurately simulates real-world test driving. The method allows to validate autonomous vehicle safety via simulation, to accelerate the development by allowing the testing of a broad range of scenarios in a safe and controlled environment.

Driving a virtual car in a virtual street in a virtual city....
Driving a virtual car in a virtual street in a virtual city….

Cognata’s virtual reality simulator and engine enable autonomous car manufacturers to run thousands of different scenarios based on various geographic locations and driver behaviors, and sharing the road with other users. The company was founded in 2016 by a team of experts in deep learning, autonomous vehicles and computer vision, led by Danny Atsmon, the CEO and Founder (photo above).

Recently it announced that Autonomous Intelligent Driving GmbH (AID), a wholly-owned subsidiary of AUDI AG, selected Cognata as its autonomous vehicle simulation partner. “Simulation is critical to driving autonomous vehicle technology forward,” said Danny Atsmon.

Cognata uses patented computer vision and deep learning algorithms to automatically generate a whole city-simulator including buildings, roads , lane marks, traffic signs and even trees and bushes. According to Atsmon, “You need 10B miles, or hundreds of years of active driving, in order to bring an autonomous vehicle to the human level. We can shave off years from the time and budget required to bring an autonomous vehicle to the market.”