15 quirky and game-changing Israeli inventions

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MEDICINE

Invented by electro-optical engineer Gavriel Iddan, the PillCam takes images of the digestive tract and detects gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease. Patients swallow the camera, which then takes the images as it passes through the body. The camera received FDA approval in 2001.

Haifa-based company IsightTec has developed ExAblate, a system that ultrasounds the body and thermally eliminates certain types of tumors. The FDA approved the technology in 2004. It provides treatment in a non-invasive manner and allows physicians to monitor the patient during procedures in real time.

Copaxone is a revolutionary drug treatment for Multiple Sclerosis that was the first Israeli drug approved by the FDA in 1996. It is particularly targeted for patients who experience periods of heavy symptoms followed by periods of lighter symptoms. Michael Sela developed the drug at the Weizman Institute of Science in Rehovot, and Israeli company Teva Pharmaceuticals manufactures the drug.

Developed by the Argo Medical Technologies of Israel, ReWalk is a light suit with motors at the joints. People who have difficulty with mobility can use the device to choose a motion—whether they want to stand, sit or take steps—all directed by a remote control. The device includes sensors that guide the legs, and is used in conjunction with crutches. It offers greater mobility to people with spinal injuries or diseases.

Click photo to download. Caption: A USB flash drive. Credit: PD.

TECHNOLOGY

The USB flash drive is so ubiquitous by now that CDs and disk drives seem like ancient relics. It is less commonly known that Dov Moran invented the flash drive in 1998 in Israel at a company called M-Systems. IBM later manufactured it in the U.S. The invention was first dubbed the Disk-On-Key.

Before there was Twitter and Facebook, or even AIM, you might remember chatting with your friends on ICQ. This early instant messaging program, named aptly for “I seek you,” was developed by Yossi Vardi at Mirabilis Ltd. ICQ became so popular that it catapulted the popularity of instant messaging and was eventually sold to AOL for more than $400 million.

In the realm of dictionaries and translation, Babylon.com offers online translation in 75 languages. It was founded in 1997 by Israeli entrepreneur Amnon Ovadia and by 2011 supported more than 100,000,000 translation queries each day. Wizcom, a company originally founded in Israel, developed the Quicktionary, a device that can scan printed text and instantly translate the word.

Today it might seem self-evident that you can open a computer file and send it directly to a printer, but this technology was only developed by Tel Aviv-based Indigo in the 1990s. This allowed companies to print without printing blocks and plates. Hewlett Packard later acquired Indigo for $720 million.

Founded in 1999, Mobileye uses camera and algorithm technology to detect action on the road, warning drivers of potential hazards or collisions. Today the company’s development center is located in Jerusalem, and also has offices in the Netherlands, the U.S., Japan and Cyprus. Some of the functions allowed by the technology include Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Pedestrian Detection, and Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR) and more.

Two notable start-ups have come out of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. Wibiya is a company that enables Web publishers to integrate multiple services, applications and widgets into their environment through customized Web-based toolbars. It was recently sold to Conduit for $45 million. The Gifts Project is a platform that lets people give and receive group gifts on social networks and ecommerce websites. The company was sold to eBay for more than $20 million.

From 3,500 students at the Herzliya IDC, just 20 are accepted to the Zell program each year. The accepted students divide into groups, come up with an idea, and try to turn it into a viable business.

“There are some [start-ups resulting from the Zell program] that have been sold, but we are happy when some are just earning good money,” Liat Aaronson, the program’s executive director, told JointMedia News Service.

Click photo to download. Caption: Drip irrigation pipeline parts, Shefa Farm, Rishpon, Israel. Credit: Juandev.

ENVIRONMENT

In a quest to conserve water while watering plants, Simcha Blass discovered drip irrigation in Israel in the 1930s. He realized that instead of watering land with uncontrolled amounts of water, he could create a device that uses friction and water-pressure loss to regulate small leaks. Netafimestablished its first production facility in 1965 and eventually improved Blass’s original design with new technology. Today, Netafim operates in 112 countries, with 13 factories and about 2,000 employees outside of Israel.

A joint American-Israeli company, Better Place has been working to build charging stations and other infrastructure necessary for the successful use of electric vehicles. Founded by Shai Agassi, Better Place plans to allow drivers to swap their depleted car batteries for fully charged ones at each station. The new battery will give cars the ability to drive 100 miles, and each time the batteries run out, drivers simply replace them. About 40 such charging stations currently exist in Israel.

Earlier this year Israeli company Pythagoras Solar introduced its solar-powered window. The photovoltaic glass unit encases solar cells between panes of glass, reducing heating, cooling and lighting costs. Through the construction of solar-powered windows in buildings and skyscrapers, Pythagoras Solar hopes to solve the problem posed by placing large solar panels on the streets of urban areas.

Information in this report from Givenimaging.com, Jweekly.com, Insightec.com, Washington Post, Argomedtec.com, Jerusalem Post, Globes, Yedioth Ahronoth, Mobileye.com, The Zell Entrepreneurship Program, Jewish Virtual Library, Israel21c.org, Israelnewtech.gov.il, Netafim.org, Reuters, The Israeli Ministry of Finance, and Businessweek.com.

Posted on May 28, 2012 and filed under Features, Israel.