The odds were against the State of Israel. Young and small, it was built in a desert. Its neighbors sought its destruction. Its modest population of nine million people should have been suffering to survive. Today, however, Israel has defied the odds, not only surviving but also earning the title of “start-up nation” with more start-up companies than China, Canada or the U.K. In the past 10 years alone, Israel has found solutions to worldwide problems, creating water from air, preventing car crashes and enabling paraplegics to walk.
As a new decade unfolds, it is worthwhile to review Israel’s innovative developments over the last decade.
2011: The Iron Dome
Since its founding, Israel has been subject to constant attacks from its neighbors. Developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries, the Iron Dome air defense system intercepts rockets and artillery shells headed toward Israel and can destroy rockets shot from up to 70 kilometers away. The Iron Dome, located near Beersheva, was declared operational on March 27, 2011, by the Israeli Defense Force and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. According to a Jerusalem Post article published on March 10, 2012, that year, the system intercepted 90 percent of the rockets fired from Gaza. By October 2014, the Iron Dome was reported to have intercepted approximately 2,400 rockets. Today, the IDF is working to increase the Dome’s capabilities by increasing its range of interception and enabling it to intercept two rockets at once.
To assist those running late, Waze, a GPS navigation software app, provides users with navigation information including travel times and route details. Waze Mobile developers Ehud Shabtai, Amir Shinar and Uri Levine founded the app and named it FreeMap Israel. In June 2013, they sold the app to Google. Waze is community-driven, so it tracks events on the road through user-input of traffic-related incidents. Waze then relays this information to help users avoid traffic jams and accidents. As an increasing number of users input data, Waze results become more accurate. Additionally, Waze collects information from state agencies for warnings about road construction. In 2019, Google updated the Waze iOS platform to support Siri Shortcuts, Pandora and YouTube Music.
“I never dreamt that I would succeed. Here I am walking, standing and finishing a marathon. This is unbelievable,” said one paraplegic ReWalk user. Designed by Dr. Amit Goffer in Israel, ReWalk is the first FDA-approved wearable, motorized device to help those with spinal cord injuries walk. The system detects the movements of the user through a wrist-mounted remote and computer-based control system. It directs the leg attachments to stand, move forward or even climb stairs. In 2012, Clair Lomas, paralyzed from the waist down, crossed the finish line of the London Marathon with her ReWalk. She and her exoskeleton then took part in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Paralympics. In May 2014, the exoskeleton system won the Small Business Association of New England (SBANE) Award. A month later, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the machine to be used in homes, hospitals and on the streets of the United States.
Again, aimed to assist the handicapped, Professor Amnon Shashua and Mr. Ziv Aviram launched the OrCam MyEye in 2015. It is a portable and lightweight device that enables the blind and visually impaired to “read.” The MyEye is attached to one’s eyeglass frames; it is inconspicuous as it is no larger than one’s hand. By aiming the assistive tool toward text, supermarket barcodes, or objects, MyEye will verbalize the subject of the person’s attention. The technology also includes facial recognition, so the user can know with whom they are communicating. The user can choose from an array of 22 languages. A more advanced device, the OrCam MyEye 2.0 followed its predecessor in 2017. Today, the device is used in over 36 countries by toddlers, adults and seniors. Now, those born blind, those who have glaucoma, those who are visually impaired, and those who have trouble reading can live independently and sustain careers.
Israel is in the middle of a desert, lacking many essential resources, one of which is clean water. Lack of clean drinking water spreads far beyond Israel, affecting approximately two-thirds of the world’s population. Solving this global catastrophe, Israeli entrepreneur Arye Kohavi founded Watergen in 2009. A former combat commander for the IDF, Kohavi’s main goal was to provide water to soldiers during war. The machine draws in air at 250 watt-hours per liter. Dust and dirt are filtered out of the air, which then goes through a heat exchange and cooling processing to condense the air into water. This water again undergoes a multi-stage filtering system to remove impurities and add minerals. It is stored in a reservoir where it continues to circulate to ensure the freshness of the water. The device can be run on generators or solar power. It is energy-efficient and eco-friendly, producing water for only 2-4 cents per liter. In 2016, the company was bought by Michael Mirilashvili, who shifted the goal of this innovation toward helping countries who lack water or have suffered natural disasters. In 2017, Israel sent four Watergens to America after Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. The company partnered with the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to create water for the survivors of these natural disasters. Additionally, Watergens are used worldwide in rural towns and villages, by armies, and in office buildings, hospitals and homes.
At the beginning of this century, self-driving cars could only be found in science fiction movies, but throughout the last decade, Israel has proved that autonomous cars will become the way of the future. Mobileye is an Intel company that develops advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) to warn and prevent collisions and mitigation. Founded in 1999, Amono Shashua, a researcher at Hebrew University, created Mobileye N.V. to foresee car crashes using a camera and software algorithms on a processor. It supports three pillars of Autonomous Driving: Sensing, Mapping and Driving Policy. Before Mobileye, dual-lensed cameras were considered superior to a single camera, but Mobileye bases its technology on human vision. Shashua explained, “All depth-perception cues for farther distances—such as perspective, shading, texture, and motion cues, that the human visual system uses in order to understand the visual world—are interpreted by a single eye. Therefore, Mobileye understood that a single-lens camera could be the primary sensor to enable autonomous driving.” Mobileye uses a mono-camera and this innovation is now mimicked by global automakers. In 2017, Intel Corporation acquired Mobileye for $15.3 billion. This endorsement by Intel is the largest acquisition of an Israeli company to date. Together, the Israeli and American companies hope to invent self-driving cars.
The first drone was created by the CIA for targeted killing, and now, the Israeli company Flytrex has taken these small remote-controlled planes to the next level. According to Flytrex CEO Yariv Bash, “Drones are going to make such a positive change on our lives, but it will just look normal in 10 to 20 years.” Founded in 2013, Flytrex uses commercial drones to deliver goods or supplies to its customers. Iceland’s Civil Aviation Authority authorized Flytrex to fly its drones out of the user’s sight, allowing the company to overcome drone companies’ largest hurdle. Flytrex works on a subscription-based platform that acts as the control center and allows consumers to plan their drones’ routes in advance and plan payloan drops. In August 2018, Flytrex was the first company worldwide to drone-deliver to consumers’ backyards. The company’s mission has recently expanded to developing software for these drone-deliveries, focusing less on the hardware.
When my grandmother first went to Israel in 1964, the ice cream was bitter because sugar was not readily available. Her mother assured her, “It will get better. Just give the country some time, and soon there will be an empire of ice cream here.” Today, a myriad of flavors of ice cream are available. More amazingly, with today’s technology, ice cream can practically be created from air with a Watergen and delivered to my door using a Flytrex. Israel’s future seems sweet and bright.