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Best of 2018: Israel as Breakthrough Technological Innovator

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A screenshot from an IceCure video showing its cryoablation technology.

Israel’s leading role as a breakthrough technological innovator spans across fields ranging from medical research and cybersecurity to automotive and robotics.

The country’s know-how and entrepreneurial spirit also extend to social challenges and generally improving quality of life. In 2018, a number of Israeli initiatives have had a deep impact on the lives of people around the globe, and are on track to change the world with innovative solutions and services.

As 2018 comes to a close, NoCamels highlights fifteen startups and companies that have contributed to making the world a better place this year and will likely be doing so for years to come. Here they are, in no particular order.

 

IceCure: Destroying cancerous tumors with ice

Caesarea-based IceCure Medical, a biomedical company, developed groundbreaking technology that turns cancerous tumors into ice balls.

Founded in 2006, IceCure has advanced the concept of cryoablation, a process which uses extreme cold to freeze and destroy diseased tissue used by medical experts for years, to develop technology that could be applied to cancer tumors. The treatment involves streaming liquid nitrogen in a closed circuit and then freezing the tumor with a unique needle developed by IceCure. The company says the healthy tissue remains untouched.

IceCure touts the procedures as non-invasive, safe, and a viable alternative to surgery. The system had specifically been developed to treat fibroadenomas, which are the most common type of benign breast tumors, typically seen in young women aged 15 to 30.

Earlier this year, IceCure reported great success rates following clinical trials across the US. Using the IceSense3 system, IceCure said doctors performed the procedures on 146 patients affected by early-stage breast cancer, a majority (103) of whom were under monitoring for almost two years. The company reported that out of the 146 women, one saw the cancer recur.

IceCure announced this summer that it will begin commercial treatments at Elisha Hospital, a private hospital in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, on patients using the ProSense system, one of its two cryoablation systems.

 

SpaceIL: Taking Israel to the moon

SpaceIL. Photo by Yoav Weiss

Israeli startup SpaceIL was founded in 2010 by engineers Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Weintraub, as part of a Google Lunar X international challenge to build, launch and land an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon, a competition that never actually had a winner nor a given out prize.

The startup has vowed to launch Israel’s first spacecraft to the moon, a mission that is now planned for February 2019. The upcoming launch would make Israel the fourth country in history — after the US, Russia, and China — to complete a controlled lunar landing. Israel’s moon-bound spacecraft, dubbed “Beresheet” (the Hebrew word for Genesis), will carry a digital time capsule loaded with Hebrew songs, stories, Israel’s Declaration of Independence and national anthem as a special gift for future generations.

Earlier this year, SpaceIL signed an agreement with NASA for its upcoming spacecraft launch mission. As part of the agreement, NASA will fit the spacecraft with a reflector, allow SpaceIL to receive communication services with the spacecraft through its antenna network, install a magnetometer device on the spacecraft that will conduct measurements of the magnetic field at the landing site and photograph the spacecraft as it lands from its Lunar Research Satellite (LRO).

 

Healthy.io: Turning Smartphones Into Medical Devices

HealthyIO analysis, via healthy.io

Healthy.io aims to turn smartphones into sophisticated diagnostics devices capable of analyzing urine samples.

Earlier this year, Healthy.io announced a partnership with the US National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and Geisinger, one of the largest health services organizations in America, for a clinical trial using the smartphone-enabled home urinalysis device for chronic kidney disease (CKD) among patients with high blood pressure.

The Israeli startup’s app will enable users to conduct a urinalysis test at home and securely share results with their clinicians to monitor the presence of albumin, which indicates kidney damage. Part of the clinical trial will be to “examine the effect of mailed, Healthy.io smartphone urinalysis kits (Dip.io test) to improve albuminuria screening compliance and detection of albuminuria,” the company said in a statement.

Healthy.io CEO Yonatan Adiri said the company was “proud to pioneer its ‘adherence as a service’ platform with such forward-looking institutions as Geisinger and the National Kidney Foundation, adding that its “mission is to use advanced computer vision and patient-centric design to let clinicians empower their patients at scale without additional cost or effort.” He went on, “We lean on the spread of digital technology and efficient logistics to offer on-demand testing delivered directly to the home. With a smartphone in your pocket, the point of care becomes wherever you are.”

Adiri has said before, “If you can text, you can test.”

 

IsraAID: Bringing disaster relief and aid to those in need

Nepal earthquake. Credit – Mickey Noam-Alon

Israeli-based humanitarian aid agency IsraAid has become synonymous with a rapid response to humanitarian crises. Its medical teams, search and rescue units, post-trauma experts, community specialists and other professionals have led international responses to disasters and civil strife in a total of 49 countries to date since it was founded in 2001.

In October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has presented IsraAID with the German Federal Government’s Integration Prize, in recognition of the Israeli humanitarian NGO’s Brückenbau (“Bridge Building”) project, an initiative which provides psychological support in Arabic to refugees in Germany. The annual Integration Award is the German federal government’s highest honor in that category.

IsraAID has played a significant role in rescue and response for large-scale disasters including the 2015 Nepal earthquake, 2013 Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. They deployed teams to the Philippines during its recent typhoon and the Indian state of Kerala during the disastrous flooding. IsraAID has also deployed a team to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in October following the devastating 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than 1,400 people.

 

SodaStream: Taking on plastic waste

SodaStream deploys the ‘Holy Turtle,’ a 1,000 ft. contraption designed to clean plastic pollution from the ocean waters in Honduras. Photo via PRNewsfoto/SodaStream International Ltd.

SodaStream, the Israeli developer of at-home carbonated beverage units for sparkling water, has built a solid reputation as an environmentally conscious drinks developer, advocating strongly for the discontinuation of single-use plastic bottles within the industry and promoting reusable ones. The company has said “the use of one soda bottle in Israel is an alternative to 3,833 bottles and disposable cans per family over three years.”

As part of its strong environment-focused approach, SodaStream launched an initiative in October to rid the waters of plastic, only nine percent of which is recycled. The company built the “Holy Turtle” – a massive contraption designed to clean plastic waste from open waters as part of an ambitious clean-up operation led by SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum. The device was piloted in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Roatán, Honduras.

SodaStream was acquired this year by beverage giant Pepsi for an estimated $3.2 billion. Birnbaum most recently announced the planned opening of a manufacturing plant in Gaza set to be operated by a sub-contractor.

 

Softwheel: Reinventing the wheel

Softwheel wheelchair. Courtesy

Reinventing the wheel – again – this year is Tel Aviv-based Softwheel. The company has developed an in-wheel suspension technology for the mobility sector. Its innovative suspension systems are engineered for use in wheelchairs, bicycles, and vehicles.

In wheelchairs, the system reduces pain for riders and increases their comfort to significantly improve their daily lives. And in cars, Softwheel’s systems enable the fusion of the suspension, e-motor, steering, and brakes into the vehicle’s wheels to provide a significant reduction in volume, weight, and energy consumption of vehicle platforms for EV, hybrid, and autonomous vehicles.

Softwheel recently signed a $4.5 million deal with the US Department of Veteran Affairs to provide wheels for 2,000 wheelchairs over three years. The wheel tech is said to reduce pain for wheelchair riders and increase comfort. In August, the company also announced that it signed a new R&D and manufacturing partnership with Japanese automotive and transportation equipment maker Musashi Seimitsu Industry, marking its entry into the automotive industry.

The latest deal with the Japanese multinational comes on the heels of an April strategic cooperation agreement with Linamar, the second largest Canadian manufacturer of auto parts. The latter has expressed the intention to set up a production line for SoftWheel products in North America.

SoftWheel was founded in 2011 by Gilad Wolf, a farmer who broke his pelvis four years prior and found himself in a wheelchair for three weeks.

Wolf told NoCamels in 2014: “When I was wheeled to the synagogue one day, I was in agony when we went over some Ackerstein stones (a traditional stone used for sidewalks in Israel, which has many grooves). I work with tractors and I noticed that tractors have a simple and ingenious airbag-based shock-absorbing construct. So I put two and two together: I built a wheelchair and combined a similar construct for each wheel. It made the wheelchair experience completely different. I took the idea and started to roll with it.”

 

Eviation Aircraft: Giving regional transport a lift

Eviation Aircraft, via eviation

Eviation Aircraft, founded in 2016, is an Israel-based aerospace company that seeks to transform the regional travel industry through an innovative, all-electric, 9-seat aircraft – in other words, aerial rideshares, or “Uber meets Tesla in the sky.”

The thinking is that while Uber’s plans to combat inner-city traffic congestion with the flying taxi concept is groundbreaking, where does this leave families, entrepreneurs, executives, and others who seek an efficient, cost-effective way of traveling between cities without having to deal with traffic in a busy airport or getting on a large, full aircraft for the short journey? And can this be booked via a smartphone app?

The Flytrex drone carries its delivery across the sky. Courtesy

The company has been building its battery-powered aircraft, dubbed the “Alice,” since mid-2017 and will start test runs in 2019.

CEO Omer Bar-Yohay says Eviation Aircraft services will make regional trips cheaper than a train ticket and better for the environment.

             (nocamels.com)

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