Back when he was CEO of Opel, Karl-Thomas Neumann foresaw a problem with no immediate solution.
European Union regulators indicated they would consider mandates for an assortment of driver-assist features for future vehicles. Neumann viewed these camera- and radar-based technologies with some suspicion; they were only in their infancy and were cost-prohibitive.
"It was a messy situation," he recalled last week. "I was sitting in the CEO job saying, 'Here we are trying to build super low-cost cars, and no supplier will build these systems for a reasonable price.'"
He's no longer running Opel, but the longtime auto industry executive believes he's finally found his solution. Cartica AI, an Israeli startup that uses a proprietary methodology for training systems that run both advanced driver-assist features and self-driving systems, said Monday that Neumann, 58, had joined its board of directors.
Though he did not disclose a figure, Neumann said he also has invested in the company, which has received funding from Toyota AI Ventures, BMW i Ventures and Continental as well.
Cartica AI says it has developed the means to substantially shorten the time and data requirements currently necessary to train driver-assist and self-driving systems. Rather than relying on neural networks that demand large volumes of information from which to learn, Cartica AI uses an "unsupervised learning" approach that lessens the need to train systems for every conceivable scenario.
The company's technology compresses data into generic signatures that systems can identify in far less time.
"They're reinventing how AI can work, and it's a highly teachable type of learning," Neumann told Automotive News. "It's really interesting. You don't need the whole process of labeling things, and you need 10 percent of the computing power and energy of a traditional neural network. That's obviously interesting."
Beyond his experience at Opel, Neumann was CEO of Continental and led Volkswagen Group's efforts in China. Since leaving Opel when General Motors sold the brand to PSA Group in 2017, he has increasingly focused on next-generation transportation.
Neumann also serves on the board of Apex.AI, which is developing a software framework for automated systems. He had served on the board of EV startup Canoo but left in July. He brings an insider's view of the auto industry to Cartica AI, a company founded in 2018 with roots in the Israeli military.
The company says it has an automotive customer that it is not yet disclosing.
Overall, the driver-assistance market is expected to grow from $6.6 billion in 2016 to $16.4 billion by 2022, according to estimates from global consulting firm SBD Automotive. In the short term, Neumann foresees Cartica AI grabbing a slice of that revenue.
"We've got an immediate opportunity," he said. "If this technology does what I think it's going to do, it will significantly reduce the bill of materials. ... What's important is that we need to go ahead and do it. This is disruptive and better than existing technology by a factor of 10."