After spending much of his career in mission-critical environments, including the Israeli Air Force, Israeli Intelligence and leading development of a cybersecurity product at Microsoft, Amit Rosenzweig turned his attention to autonomous vehicles.
It was a technology that he soon recognized would need what every other mission-critical system requires: humans.
"I understood that there are so many edge cases that will not be solved purely by AI and machine learning, and there must be some kind of human-in-the-loop intervention," Rosenzweig said in a recent interview. "You don't have any mission-critical system on the planet — not nuclear power plants, not airplanes — without human supervision. A human must be in the loop or present in some way for autonomous mobility to exist, even in 10 or probably 20 years from now."
That "human in the loop" conclusion led Rosenzweig to found teleoperations startup Ottopia in 2018. (His brother, Oren Rosenzweig is also in the autonomous vehicle business via the lidar company he co-founded, Innoviz.) Ottopia's first product is a universal teleoperation platform that allows a human operator to monitor and control any type of vehicle from thousands of miles away. Ottopia's software is combined with off-the-shelf hardware components like monitors and cameras to create a teleoperations center. The company's software also includes assistive features, which provide "path" instructions to the AV without having to remotely control the vehicle.
Since launching, the small 25-person company has racked up investors and partners such as BMW, fixed-route AV startup May Mobility and Bestmile. Ottopia said Friday that it has raised $9 million from Hyundai Motor Group as well as Maven and IN Venture, the Israel-focused venture capital arm of Sumitomo Corporation. Existing investors MizMaa and Israeli firm NextGear also participated.
Hyundai and IN Venture also gained board seats. Woongjun Jang, who heads up Hyundai's autonomous driving center, and IN Venture managing partner Eyal Rosner, are now on Ottopia's board.
Ottopia has raised a total of $12 million to date, and Rosenzweig has already set his sights on a larger round to help fund the company's growth.
For now, Rosenzweig is focused on doubling his workforce to 50 people by the end of the year and opening an office in the United States. Rosenzweig said the company is also expanding into other applications of its teleoperations software, including defense, mining and logistics. However, most of Ottopia's resources will continue to be dedicated to automotive, and specifically the deployment of autonomous cars, trucks and shuttles.
"The motivation is really simple — it's simple but it's hard to do — and that's to make affordable autonomous transportation closer to reality," Rosenzweig said. "The problem of course is that when an AV does not have any kind of backup or any kind of safety net in the form of teleoperations and it gets stuck, passengers are going to get anxious, 'what's going on, why, why is this not moving'."
The other problem, Rosenzweig noted, is that AVs need to be combined with an efficient transit service. That's where he sees his newest partner, on-demand shuttle and transit software company Via, coming in.
Under the partnership, which was also announced this week, Via will offer autonomous vehicle fleets that combine its fleet management software with Ottopia's teleoperations platform. Via is not developing its own self-driving software system. In November 2020, Via announced it had partnered with May Mobility to launch an autonomous vehicle platform that integrates on-demand shared rides, public transportation and transit options for passengers with accessibility needs.