4 Eye-Tracking Stocks for Driver Monitoring Systems
Some technologies always seem like they’re at least (or forever) 10 years away from significant commercialization. Advanced nuclear technology and fusion energy are a couple that immediately come to mind. We’ve pretty much given up on investing in graphene. On the other hand, autonomous vehicles are on the road today. That’s one reason why retail investors grabbed shares in Mobileye (MBLY) after it became a public company again or why Tesla (TSLA) has defied the odds and become more valuable than automakers like Toyota and Ford.
But on the other, other hand: Significant commercialization of self-driving cars is at least 10 years away. In the meantime, companies that deploy advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) like adaptive cruise control really represent the near-term future of cutting-edge auto technology. Aside from Mobileye, there’s Aptiv (APTV), a $30 billion company with $17.5 billion in 2022 revenue that is probably the market leader in ADAS tech. Many of the technologies being deployed and developed by Aptiv, Mobileye, and others really blur the line between ADAS and self-driving technology. It just shows how much we’ve been conditioned to think about autonomous vehicles in distinct levels of technological progression, especially with edge computing and other types of AI tech becoming commonplace.
Driver Monitoring Systems
However, humans will still very much remain behind the wheel for the foreseeable future, despite the fact that we’re responsible for more than 90% of crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While higher levels of automation that can control a car’s speed or ability to remain in its lane may boost safety, they’re also likely to lull drivers into a false sense of security and lead to more distracted driving, say all sorts of experts. That’s where so-called driver monitoring systems (DMS) come into play. A DMS uses in-cabin cameras, sensors, and software capable of detecting drowsy or distracted drivers.
One key innovation behind these systems is eye-tracking technology, and a number of eye-tracking stocks have gone public in recent years. While most of these companies serve multiple markets, such as virtual reality, there seems to be some group-think that the pot of gold is in the automotive market. In the rest of this article, we’ll profile four eye-tracking stocks through this DMS lens, then take a closer look at the total addressable market, before closing with some thoughts about which (if any) of these eye-tracking stocks is worth watching.
About Seeing Machines Eye-Tracking Stock
Founded in 2000 as a spin-out from the Australian National University, Seeing Machines (SEE.L) reported $24.4 million in revenue during the second half of 2022, which it refers to as its first half 2023 fiscal year. That’s what happens when you live in the Southern Hemisphere: up is down, and the second half is actually the first half. Whatever. Similarly, the way the company slices and dices its revenue streams is also a little confusing. The two biggest buckets of money are Aftermarket and OEM. The former refers mainly to sales of its flagship product Guardian that it offers to owners of fleet vehicles like trucks and buses to keep drivers alert
and off the meth. OEM is largely automotive customers who embed the company’s DMS product into their vehicles. Less than half of total revenues are from recurring sources like licensing fees and royalties.
Some of our readers seem pretty keen on this Australian company, with headlines about Seeing Machines being the “next Mobileye” and the “next Arm.” Regarding the latter analogy: Arm is a British semiconductor and software design company that has come to dominate the smartphone chip market. You may recognize the name for no other reason than NVIDIA (NVDA) was hot and heavy to acquire the company before regulators shut the deal down last year. Arm does not manufacture its own chips, but licenses its designs to other companies who then build them. Similarly, Seeing Machines reportedly licenses its Occula neural processing unit to semiconductor companies like Qualcomm that integrate them into their own products.
That strategy looms as a big part of the evolving business model behind Seeing Machines, which is expanding beyond simply using eye-tracking technology to detect distracted drivers. It employs other sensors and algorithms to analyze facial expressions, head pose, and body posture to monitor and assess not just drivers but also airline pilots for training and other applications. That’s driving its expansion into occupant monitoring systems (OMS) that track drivers, occupants, and the guy with the clown mask and butcher knife lurking in the back seat. The idea is to enable features through a simple gesture, like a vicious stabbing motion, to adjust the on-board entertainment system.
About Smart Eye Eye-Tracking Stock
Many consider Smart Eye (SEYE.ST) as the key competitor to Seeing Machines, particularly in automotive DMS. We covered the Swedish eye-tracking company back in September 2021 when 63% of revenues came from its Automotive solution, with the rest split between Research Instruments and Applied AI Systems. The company had recently acquired an AI startup called Affectiva that has been developing computer vision apps for detecting human emotions. After our article, Smart Eye also acquired iMotions for about $46.6 million in December 2021. The Danish startup, which had raised $4.3 million in disclosed funding, uses multiple sensors to study human behavior.
Through those acquisitions, Smart Eye has apparently flipped its focus from Automotive into a combined segment called Research. Total revenues for 2022 were about $21 million. Just $4.8 million was Automotive, with the rest ($16.4 million) falling into Research. Most of that growth was inorganic and came at cost to shareholders in the form of 20% share dilution after the company issued new shares to help pay for Affectiva and iMotions. While the diversification is encouraging, we’re left to wonder about the lackluster performance in Automotive, especially since Smart Eye’s PR people churn out press releases about all of the company’s “design wins” to deliver eye-tracking technology to automotive OEMs.
About Tobii Eye-Tracking Stock
Sticking with Sweden: We once called Tobii (TOBII.ST) the world leader in eye-tracking technology. At the time, about two-thirds of its revenues came from its Dynavox business unit that focused on “assistive technology for communication.” In December 2021, the company split into two separate, publicly traded stocks. Tobii Dynavox (TDVOX.ST) continued on its mission to help the blind to see, and the original Tobii focused on all of the other eye-tracking markets, from gaming and virtual reality to consumer research and healthcare to automotive. The company took in about $75 million in 2022, which is more than the other three companies on this list combined. Unfortunately, Tobii does not break down its revenue by market, so it’s impossible to say how quickly it is penetrating the automotive industry with its own DMS products.
It’s another one of those companies that leave you guessing as to exactly where the revenue comes from, aside from what it calls Products & Solutions and Integrations. The former accounts for about $50 million in revenue, with its flagship eye-tracker hardware helping drive growth, along with business in China for the company’s behavioral studies and research solutions. The other roughly $25 million from Integrations appears related to licensing revenues. The two segments appear to overlap, but it’s not entirely straightforward. Regardless, Tobii says it doesn’t expect mass market adoption of its DMS solution earlier than 2024.
About Cipia Vision Eye-Tracking Stock
For those looking at pure-play stock in automotive there is Cipia Vision (CPIA.TA), an Israeli company that develops both DMS and OMS solutions, as well as an aftermarket video telematics and driver monitoring device for fleets. Unfortunately, the company’s investor page is in Hebrew and our Talmudic MBA is on a sabbatical. Using the latest in whiz-bang AI technology (i.e., Bing’s chatbot), we found that Cipia (formerly Eyesight Technologies) reportedly had revenues of $3.8 million in 2019 and $2.7 million in the first nine months of 2020. Last year, the company had to raise an additional $9 million through private investment to boost R&D, sales, and all the other bits required to keep a business operating. It’s not clear to us that Cipia is on the same playing field as the rest of this list.
Should You Invest in Eye-Tracking Stocks?
Which makes it especially curious that a self-described “world expert on market trends for automotive vision-based driver monitoring systems” would include Cipia among his top three market leaders in a piece on why DMS and not self-driving technology is the way forward for the industry. He claims there are more than 30 DMS companies targeting the automotive sector, but only Cipia, Seeing Machines, and Smart Eye have any real traction.
We’re obviously not experts in this sector like Mr. Colin Barnden at Semicast Research. However, we haven’t seen much to convince us that the total addressable market (TAM) for eye-tracking technology generally – let alone a niche like DMS or even OMS – is that big. As far as we can tell, Cipia currently has nearly negligible revenues. Tobii is still trying to round up customers. That leaves Smart Eye and Seeing Machines. Total one-year revenue for these two companies (based on an assumption or two) is about $70 million. Maybe $55 million of that is related to Automotive, and the lion’s share is coming from Seeing Machines.
|Market Cap||Annual Revenue||% Automotive|
Varying estimates of TAM from eye tracking range from $600 million today to $5-8 billion by 2023. These aren’t overly large numbers, but relative to the revenues these companies are bringing in, they do seem quite meaningful. But it all comes down to this. As regular readers know, we just don’t get involved in companies under a $1 billion market cap. Should this industry see some consolidation with a larger company emerging from the dust, then we might be inclined to take another look.
We know some of our readers believe there’s more pop than what these numbers suggest. They’ll note that the European Union is requiring some type of DMS be embedded in all new vehicles starting next year. And, sure, publications like Consumer Reports now factor DMS into their safety ratings. But we’re not convinced that investing in eye-tracking technology is any better than investing in lidar. Eye-tracking technology is currently not on our radar (or lidar). Ideally, technologies we invest in should be industry-agnostic and targeting multiple verticals, not just automotive.
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