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From exoskeletons to Internet search – ISRAEL21c’s year in stories

Posted By Nicky Blackburn On January 5, 2009 @ 8:32 am In | No Comments

As 2009 opens with a full-scale Israeli ground operation in Gaza and bombing throughout Israel’s south, images of bloodshed and war dominate the news. In these difficult times, it can sometimes be hard to remember that there’s more to Israel than just conflict.

But there is. Even in the midst of the current crisis, Israeli scientists continue to carry out vital research, engineers work on innovative new technologies, doctors develop life-saving devices, aid workers care for the underprivileged around the world – even treating people from enemy states — and Israelis and Palestinians alike continue to work together quietly on coexistence projects designed to create a better life in the Middle East.

A glance back over the year at ISRAEL21c’s most popular articles shows the wide diversity of significant developments emerging from Israel, from an exoskeleton device designed to help paraplegics stand and walk, to a breakthrough in diabetes research, research on cranberries and a new artificial intelligence technology that improves Internet search engines.

Health, environment and technology stories topped the list. The Argo Medical exoskeleton captured people’s imaginations, appearing in outlets from Reuters to The Washington Post. It even appeared as a feature in the Teheran Times, with a mention, surprisingly enough, that the product was developed in Israel.

Other popular stories include an article on EWA, an Israeli startup that has developed a technology that can help provide clean drinking water to people suffering severe water shortages – by squeezing it out of the air.

This summer, a story on an Israeli company that has developed a potential cure for the mysterious ailment killing bees worldwide made a big splash. Trials are now underway, and if successful could mean an end to the devastating colony collapse syndrome, which has already destroyed over a third of America’s beehives.

Coexistence stories are always popular on ISRAEL21c and we have done much to draw the world’s attention to the many commendable projects taking place in the country between Palestinians and Jews, showing people a completely different side to the conflict.

One project that drew a great deal of attention was a company set up by Israeli serial entrepreneur, Zvi Schreiber, which employs 10 Israeli engineers, and 30 Palestinians in Ramallah. The company, G.Ho.st, offers users a virtual operating system, which is fitting from a company that does most of its work virtually too.

The year in stories

1. Israeli device helps paraplegics stand tall

Israeli company Argo Medical Technologies has designed a quasi-robotic ambulation system that enables wheelchair users to walk or stand upright. The exoskeleton was specially designed for individuals with lower limb disabilities, and gives a range of benefits to users.

The device was developed by Dr. Amit Goffer, an electrical engineer who was left a quadriplegic after an accident. He developed the ReWalk prototype at home, with private funding and a Tnufa start up promotion grant.

The exoskeleton is undergoing clinical trials in Israel, and pilots are planned for rehab centers in the US, Holland and Italy.

2. EWA squeezes drinking water from thin air

In October, ISRAEL21c reported on an Israeli start-up called EWA (Extraction of Water from the Air), which has developed a new technology that can collect humidity naturally present in the air and turn it into clean water, without using much humidity. It may sound farfetched, but it’s an idea that stems from biblical times when Israelite farmers used stones to collect dew for watering their crops.

The 12-man company was founded in 2006 and is located in Beersheva. It is based on nine years of research by a former researcher at Ben Gurion University. The company now has representatives in the US, India, Jordan, Cyprus, Australia, and West Africa.

3. Israel takes on the electric car

Israeli businessman Shai Agassi has taken the world by storm with his new electric car recharging infrastructure. Israel was the first country in the world to sign an agreement with Agassi’s company Better Place, and will be the first to introduce the vital environmental system to the general public.

Since ISRAEL21c ran a video story on Better Place this spring, the company has signed agreements with Denmark, Australia, California and Hawaii. It has been cited as one of the most exciting environmental projects of the year.

4. Is this the future of Internet search?

The way we search the web is all wrong, according to Israeli company BrainDamage, which ISRAEL21c wrote about in September. The Haifa-based start-up has created a new type of artificial intelligence which puts the burden of understanding on the search engine, enabling it to return far more accurate results than are currently possible.

The first application of the technology is geared to improving search results, but in future the company hopes to adapt the technology to almost any other computer driven operation from washing machines, to phones – anywhere machines need to figure out what humans have in mind when they make a request.

5. Israelis discover cure for bee colony collapse-associated virus

The plight of the bumble bee is attracting attention worldwide as colonies vanish mysteriously almost overnight, leaving hives abandoned and empty. Last winter, over 36 percent of the US bee colonies collapsed, affecting honey production and about one third of all food production that requires pollination.

Many experts blame colony collapse disorder (CCD) as the cause. In September, ISRAEL21c reported on news that an Israeli-American company has developed what could be a potential cure for this devastating disorder.

Beeologics has developed an anti-viral agent that promises to alleviate the effects of CCD, and is now in the process of carrying out full-scale FDA trials in the US. Some 100,000 hives have been enlisted in the trial, which will end in February. This is a story to watch.

6. Breakthrough diabetes research may be closest thing to a cure

The World Health Organization estimates that over 180 million people worldwide have diabetes and predicts that will more than double by 2030. In December, ISRAEL21c reported on a new Israeli breakthrough could save the lives of thousands of diabetics.

Dr. Eli Lewis and researchers from Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, Israel, in collaboration with, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and the University of Colorado, have discovered a novel method for transplanting healthy insulin producing cells into the diabetic pancreas, eliminating the inflammation that causes many transplants to fail.

7. Israeli researcher proves the healing power of the cranberry

Cranberries have long been known as a popular folk remedy for the treatment of urinary tract infections, but there was no scientific evidence to back up this claim. In April, ISRAEL21c reported on new research by a professor at Tel Aviv University that found the benefits ascribed to cranberries are not only real – there are several more as well.

Once a folk medicine taken for urinary tract infections, the researcher found that cranberries can also be used to treat certain infections such as ulcers, reduce cavities in the mouth, and even help prevent flu.
The only snag – the benefits of cranberries appear to apply only to women.

8. Israel becomes a top stop for medical tourists

The year 2008 was a record year for tourism to Israel, but not all visitors who came to the country came for the sandy beaches or Mediterranean climate. As ISRAEL21c reported in a story in March, Israel has become a mecca for medical tourists who are attracted to the country because they can get the best medical care in the world, at a fraction of the price they pay in the US.

9. An electrifying solution for wastewater treatment

Industrial and municipal waste doesn’t go away when we flush it down the drain. It takes an enormous amount of energy for treatment plants to process it, while massive environmental and financial costs go into disposing of the leftover sludge.

In October, ISRAEL21c reported on an innovative company that aims to revolutionize wastewater disposal by harnessing a bacteria found in nature that decomposes organic matter and creates electricity at the same time.

10. Israeli startup promises a virtual OS – and real coexistence

In the world of high tech, many people talk about coexistence, but Zvi Schreiber at G.Ho.st (prononounced ghost), is busy getting on and doing it. In July, ISRAEL21c reported on his company, which provides users with a virtual operating system where they can store files, write and save documents, surf the Web and even send instant messages to friend.

The company consists of 10 Israeli and 30 Palestinian engineers from Ramallah who meet and collaborate virtually through video chats and on-line conferences. Schreiber’s initiative has sparked a great deal of interest among other Israeli high-tech companies who are now turning to Schreiber to find out how it’s done.


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