Seeing Machines has gone from strength to strength since 2000, when the business was founded as part of an association with Australian National University. Today it is at the forefront of driver monitoring technology and has more than 200 staff and operations across the world; including the US, the UK, South America, Europe and in South East Asia.
“We’re considered a world-leader in computer vision technology,” said James Palmer, the chief financial officer of Seeing Machines. “Our solution enables machines to see, understand and assist people. The primary application is driver monitoring systems, and it basically monitors driver attention for drowsiness and distraction using face recognition and eye-tracking. The aim is to reduce accidents and help save lives.”
Commercialisation and global expansion
The first real opportunity to commercialise the Seeing Machines technology came in 2007 as a result of the resources boom. The technology was originally used in heavy mining vehicles to monitor shift workers and reduce accidents and incidents. It was at this time that the organisation started exporting, taking advantage of opportunities in overseas markets which were also benefiting from the growth in the mining sector.
This resulted in an exclusive global partnership with Caterpillar in 2015 through a licencing agreement, which has enabled Seeing Machines to expand its capabilities into other transport areas and expand its footprint globally.
“In 2016 our attention turned to taking the product and making it work for coaches and commercial fleets. That led to the birth of our fleet business,” explained James. “Our products had to be retro-fitted to suit the needs of lighter, less rugged vehicles and we also looked at applications for the automotive sector.”
Working as part of a supply chain, Seeing Machines has built relationships with a range of corporates that sell bundled solutions to automotive companies. Its FOVIO software was launched in September 2017 in the General Motors CT6 Cadillac.
“It’s the first car to have level 2 autonomous driving that monitors the driver during hands-free driving to ensure that the driver can take over when conditions change,” said James.
“We are also working to deliver the technology to other automotive brands. The lead times are huge so we will only see the next vehicles with our driver monitoring technology roll off the production lines from 2021.”
Business growth and changing finance needs
In 2017 Seeing Machines experienced a growing demand for its expanded range of solutions as a result of its market-leading solutions. The executive team recognised that the business was evolving from what was effectively a technology start-up to a more mature business, with a need to scale for greater manufacturing volumes and dealing with multiple overseas suppliers.
One of the key opportunities that the organisation was looking at was a landmark contract with Thai-based distributor, Kiattana Transport, in the fleet business. Seeing Machines won a contract to deliver 8,000 units of the Guardian driver monitoring units and needed working capital to manage manufacturing and delivery by June 2018.
James Palmer explained that they explored opportunities with their own bank and also some others. “Their answer to us was always that we were a little too early stage for them. And in fact, one of the banks we were talking to did suggest Efic as an option.”
“Efic really took the time to understand our business and to model the cashflow that worked with our distributors. In fact, some of the modelling we did as part of the due diligence actually helped us think through some of our cashflow planning,” said James.
In September 2017, Seeing Machine was able to access a US$2m Export Line of Credit facility. This is seen as the first step to expand the relationship with Kiattana Transport and increase the export capacity of the business.
“Kiattana is very passionate about our products and we are also working closely with them on the monitoring component of our service,” said James. He goes on: “Without Efic’s help, delivering on that contract would have given us real headaches in terms of being able to manage the working capital requirements.”
“This is the first time this company has ever had any debt, because we’ve always been a start-up. It’s a sign of a company maturing when they need to access facilities like the one from Efic.”
With first-mover advantage in both fleet and automotive markets, the company is looking at some exciting growth opportunities in international markets. Always the innovator, they are also looking to grow into additional transport sectors and are developing future solutions for rail and aviation.
Efic is the Australian Government’s export credit agency – helping Australian businesses access export finance when their bank may be unable to assist. If your business has an export opportunity and needs finance support contact Efic on 1800 093 724, or visit http://www.efic.gov.au/global.