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Israel’s Hi Auto raises $4.5M seed round to commercialize the world’s first audio-visual solution for speaker separation and speech enhancement in vehicles

Israel’s Hi Auto raises $4.5M seed round to commercialize the world’s first audio-visual solution for speaker separation and speech enhancement in vehicles

Israeli startup Hi Auto is emerging out of stealth mode in order to demonstrate the world's first audio-visual commercial solution for speaker separation and speech enhancement in vehicles, which is aimed at solving the reliability problem of voice-based vehicle control in noisy environments. Hi Auto has completed a $4.5 million seed round led by the Israeli car importer Delek Motors and Hi Auto's active chairman Zohar Zisapel. Other investors were Allied Holdings (holding company of car importer Champion Motors), Singapore based Goldbell Group, a leader in the field of distributing and leasing of industrial vehicles, and Plug & Play, which works with automotive corporate partners to introduce innovation. Hi Auto is planning to use the funds from the seed round to complete the development of its first product, launch sales and expand its team. The company has already established contacts with top automotive players, which are expected to examine its technology in early 2020.

Speech recognition platforms today suffer from poor recognition rates in a noisy environment such as kids in the back seat of cars, ambulance passing by, or heavy rain.  Hi Auto’s audio-visual approach, which combines a microphone and a camera that tracks the speaker’s lips, will eliminate all noise and will make speech recognition in cars work reliably under any noise condition. 

At this stage Hi Auto is focusing on the automotive sector. However, the novel solution can be applied in a broad range of use cases in various fields where there is a need for speech recognition and clear conversations, including automotive, contact centers, video conferences and robots serving customers in the hospitality industry.

Hi Auto is based in Tel Aviv and was founded in February 2019 by CEO Roy Baharav, CTO Eyal Shapira and Zohar Zisapel, who serves as acting chairman and an investor in the company. He returned recently to Israel after living 12 years in the West Coast of the U.S., where he served in various product management positions at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, and as the CEO of SeamBI that he founded in 2006.  Baharav served in the past in senior positions in an elite intelligence unit in the IDF, including commander of a department of 40 engineers and technical experts.

Eyal Shapira also commanded a department of some 40 engineers and professionals in an elite IDF technology unit where he served and was awarded the Israel Defense Prize. After his military service, Shapira established and managed startup companies and served as a consultant to companies such as Intel and Broadcom. Zohar Zisapel, a prominent investor in the automotive sector, is one of Israel’s best-known hi-tech entrepreneurs and managers. Zisapel has helped establish and is the chairman of some of Israel's most successful automotive startups, including Hailo, Argus and Innoviz.

Roy Baharav, CEO and co-founder of Hi Auto, stated: "When devices operate in multiple speaker and noisy environments such as cars, their recognition reliability goes down dramatically. Our audio-visual approach is able to focus on the driver and remove all noises as if the speaker was talking from a recording room. Our solution will make the speech recognition experience in the car and in other environments more satisfying for consumers and enable the introduction of more complex and sensitive capabilities by OEMs.”

Hi Auto will demonstrate at CES 2020 to be held January 7-10 in Las Vegas a prototype of the world's first commercial solution for driver speech recognition that separates the driver's voice and blocks out all other passenger voices and noises inside and outside the vehicle. The system is based on a deep learning software program that is installed on a device and eliminates noise which cannot be achieved with the sole use of audio techniques.

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