Obama, technology and the Jerusalem mindset
President Barack Obama will be visiting Jerusalem next week. I assume that he will be making key speeches, cajoling / indicating / imploring leaders in the Middle East not to bomb the guts out of each other.
Allowing for the fact that he will also be travelling to the Palestinian territories, he will be on Israeli soil for less that 48 hours. And yet, part of that time will be taken up by travelling to and touring a special exhibition on Israeli tech. And you have to ask, why?
Yes, Israel has been called the start up nation or the Silicon Valley of the Middle East, very flattering for a country of barely 8 million people all-in. However, there is another factor, just as important.
To create this success, you first must create an environment that allows you to accept new ideas and to be able to develop them. This requires an open and tolerant society. And maybe the best way to measure that openness is through the number of Nobel Prizes attained per capita – Israelis have received ten awards since 1948. As if to emphasise the point, Israel was recently ranked first in the world in research and development intensity.
To quote Dr. Dan Schechtman, a technology professor from Israel and who was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of quasicrystals. “What does a Nobel Prize winner has to say about entrepreneurship? First and foremost, he emphasizes that “entrepreneurship is the only way to maintain long-term peace.” Unfortunately and crucially for Schechtman, the combined number of all the other winners in the Middle East region is less than ten.
From here on, I will quote an abbreviated form of the official government’s press release in Jerusalem, which explains the tech ‘on show’ to the American leader. It makes for fascinating reading and is an eye-opener for potential investors.
The products that were chosen are in the fields of renewable energy, the war on traffic accidents, medicine, search and rescue, and robotics. They are located at the “Israeli Technology – For a Better World” exhibit at the Jerusalem Science Museum.
1) In the field of energy alternatives – Phinergy. The company has developed an aluminum-air battery designed for electric vehicles, and which allows a significant increase in travel range (three times that of a regular electric vehicle). The technology will allow for a reduction in global oil consumption. The system is based on metal air technology, including aluminum air and zinc air. A metal-air battery features an air-electrode that breathes oxygen from ambient air, instead of the conventional cathode. That is, the battery consumes the required oxygen from the air, rather than having heavy materials that bound oxygen inside it. Metal-air batteries therefore have a huge potential for delivering high capacity with low weight.
2) In the field of the struggle against traffic accidents – Mobileye, a global pioneer in developing Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), is to develop and market vision-based systems that will help drivers keep passengers safe on the roads and decrease traffic accidents by warning about dangerous situations and even braking the vehicle when necessary. To date, Mobileye’s technology has been implemented and launched by BMW, Volvo, GM and Ford in over one million vehicles. Beginning in 2014, the system will become standard for new vehicles in Europe.
3) In the field of medicine – BNA technology by ElMindA, which provides a non-invasive tool for the visualization and quantification of BNAs of specific brain functionalities, disease development and rehabilitation from injuries, reactions to treatment, psychiatric and neurological problems, and pain.
4) In the field of search and rescue – robot snake, which is designed to enter spaces in collapsed structures with minimal disturbance. The robot thus assists in location and rescue operations. The robot is unique in its manner of crawling and is very flexible thanks to its great number of segments. Each joint is motorized and has a computer, sensors, wireless communications and batteries. Its head carries a camera. Thanks to its flexible structure, the snake is able to crawl through wreckage without causing additional structural collapses and provide vital information about inaccessible areas, including the status of people who might be trapped, the location of hazardous materials, etc.
5) In the field of medicine – Rewalk seeks to give persons with lower limb disabilities, such as paraplegia, an experience that is as close to natural walking as possible. The ReWalk exoskeleton suit uses a patented technology with motorized legs that power knee and hip movement. Battery-powered for all-day use, ReWalk is controlled by on-board computers and motion sensors, restoring self-initiated walking without needing tethers or switches to begin stepping. ReWalk controls movement using subtle changes in center of gravity, mimics natural gait and provides functional walking speed.
6) In the field of medicine – MiniDesktop, whose headset has been developed that enables computers to be controlled by brainwaves or facial movements. The computer is controlled without a mouse or keyboard by means of a headset that images the user’s brainwaves from 14 separate points. The system, which was developed by three software engineering graduates from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, is designed to serve the physically handicapped who could not otherwise operate a computer or other devices.