We are all familiar with Google's map service. Its accuracy and all-around quality have cemented the mobility app as standard on our daily routes -- whether by foot, vehicle, or public transport. But what’s happening underground, beneath the roads, sidewalks, and railways? How do relevant authorities access and navigate the extensive underground infrastructure networks? Here enters an Israeli startup that wants to provide them with the same mapping service Google has given us.
Creating the Google Maps of the underground
4M Analytics develops a system that uses computer vision technology to map accurately the space underground. While chatting with Geektime, CEO and co-founder Itzik Malka explains that the 4M system consists of 3 layers.
The first layer uses NLP to scan a wide range of data sources - including satellite images, remote sensing and local databases. In the second layer, 4M uses signal and image processing alongside computer vision to reveal signs of the infrastructure buried underground. In the third layer, the 4M system processes all the marks it has collected and turns them into a complex map. "Unlike existing technologies, which require dozens of boots on the ground, our solution is 100% remote,” adds Malka.
He explains that current methods for mapping an area of just a few kilometers could take upto 6 months. In contrast, Malka notes that his company can do it in a couple of days. “During these six months, the land can change countless times, which inevitably leads to unfortunate events of infrastructure discovery and damage," says Malka, explaining that this is one of the company's main channels of revenue, in addition to the fact that ever-changing geography requires new mapping of buried infrastructure.
“Looking for mines, we found a startup”
Where does an idea like this even come from? Malka and the company's COO - and one of its founders - Nir Cohen are veterans of the Engineering Corps’ elite unit (Yahalom). The two, while in the military, were assigned at the beginning to a mine clearing unit. “At first, we used the same tools that everyone was using. But we have seen what is happening in the world, with new technologies advancing in other areas, and we felt this industry could use a few reality-changing developments. So we started developing solutions - drones, remote-controlled robotic tools, sensors, and that's how we took a traditional field and threw it into the 21st century. "
He notes that later the two realized they could classify areas as dangerous or not by building an automated engine to detect the mines. This is where they joined up with Yoav Cohen, and founded 4M.
Where did the idea for the startup originate?
“We strongly believe in serendipity. We wouldn’t be where we are today without crawling through the mud in the minefields. I moved with the family to the Golan to clear it from mines, using a thesis I wrote in 2015 and wanted to prove it in the field. We discovered the underground infrastructure field only after almost every investor told us no, so we looked for another problem related to the subsoil and suddenly it hit us, you could say we went looking for mines and found a startup."
Now, investors want in
The Israeli startup recently secured $11 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Viola Ventures, with participation from existing investors, including F2 Venture Capital, Rami Bracha, and Eyal Gabay. The investment comes only 8 months after the startup’s November Seed round.