Mike McAuliffe is the relatively new boss of Seeing Machines Ltd (LON:SEE), though it’s not as if he has been thrown in at the deep end at the eye-tracking and facial recognition specialist.
“I have been at the company since last August so I have the advantage of knowing the company quite well while I have been running the automotive business,” he told Proactive’s Andrew Scott in a recent interview.
Seeing Machines’ technology is already deployed in a number of markets – for example, its driver monitoring system is used in the cabs of the heavy mining vehicles, with Caterpillar a big fan and customer.
Recently the logistics firm FreshLinc said it was installing Seeing Machines’ Guardian driver fatigue system in 320 lorries.
Potential other uses are many and varied – the firm is actively pursuing opportunities in the rail, aviation and medical markets.
But the biggest prize resides within the automotive industry, where the push towards semi-autonomous cars continues apace.
However, as a recent BBC Horizon documentary pointed out, technologically the ‘level-five’, fully robotic car (requiring no human intervention) may be a decade or more in the future.
Until then a degree of human interaction is still required, and it is here that Seeing Machines’ Fovio platform and processor fits in.
Fully robotic cars some way off
That ability to monitor what’s going on inside the vehicle is just as crucial as knowing what’s occurring on the road.
“For the next 20, 30 or maybe more years the intelligent car is going to have to communicate with the driver in order to have an effective co-pilot situation for semi-autonomous driving,” said McAuliffe.
He added: “This goes to the core what we do - driver monitoring, eye tracking head tracking.”
Indeed, that shift in focus to automotive – which is a multibillion dollar opportunity - has prompted a managerial re-jig.
McAuliffe took over as chief executive in May and has been quick to bring in his own senior team.
He replaces Ken Kroeger, instrumental in Seeing Machines’ transformation, who has stepped up to the role of chairman.
Evidence of this change in emphasis can already be see in October's announcement that the Fovio system would feature in the 2018 Cadillac CT6. The Fovio-based driver monitoring system forms an integral part of General Motors' industry leading Super Cruise hands-free driving system for the highway, ensuring safe and confident vehicle operation, Seeing Machines said.
And as McAuliffe pointed out: “Ken also is going to be leading the internal innovations group. He has shown he is able to create whole businesses from concepts.”
But to make the most of the automotive opportunities it was decided another skill set was required. The new CEO was deemed to have that.
As the press release announcing his appointment revealed, he has two decades’ of senior management experience in private and public technology companies from start-ups through to global corporations.
“We need to drive our strategies, our structure, our people our processes,” he told Proactive.
“I have done that a number of times in my career so I think I can help in that process.
“But really it is about us moving up in size and influence and actually generating a valuable business for all the stakeholders and shareholders in the company.”
Interest in Fovio
There appears to be a huge interest in the company’s Fovio technology, illustrated by the latest announcement from Seeing Machines.
Ostensibly this was designed to re-assure over its relationship with the Japanese parts maker Takata.
But it also revealed it was collaborating with a “broad and expanding range” of tier-one automotive companies.
“I think we have wonderful opportunities ahead, incredible people and tremendous technology,” said McAuliffe.