The Future is Here: The Space-Age Wheelchair

sugie_wheelchairFor people suffering from full or partial paralysis, interacting with the physical world can be constant source of frustration. Not only is said world designed by and for people who do not suffer from the same physical limitations, the devices used to restore mobility are so often limited themselves. Luckily, the technology is improving, thanks to input from people who have mobility issues themselves.

That’s what Satoshi Sugie, a former Japanese car designer, decided to do when he became interested in the mobility industry. After meeting a frustrated wheelchair user in Japan in 2010, he became inspired to come up with something that would address the wheelchair’s limitations and the stigma people who used them continue to suffer with.

sugie_wheelchair_oldAs Sugie describes the encounter:

He said he gave up going even two blocks away. One reason was he didn’t want to be seen. There is a negative stigma attached to the wheelchair. The second one is the functional limitation. If there is a bump, he has to avoid it. He was really scared to go outside.

Sugie was working for Nissan at the time, designing futuristic models for motor shows, but this encounter inspired him to try his hand at futuristic wheelchair design as well. His first prototype – known as the WHILL – was released in 2011. This was a sort of turbo-charger for existing wheelchairs, and was described as a pair of enormous “headphones” given its appearance.

sugie_wheelchair1The latest version, known as the Whill Type-A, is a standalone chair aimed not just at wheelchair users, but power chair and mobility scooters riders as well. The new model is different from normal wheelchairs in several key ways. First of all, people can naturally lean forward in this chair, as they would riding a bike. This eliminates slouching and therefore makes for a more comfortable ride.

Second, the front wheel is composed of 24 separate tires, giving the vehicle very tight turning ability. And three, it looks “modern and sleek,” like something you would expect from a Japanese car designer. Riders control the Whill with a right-hand joystick while the left-hand has a simple fast- and slow-mode switch. It can also handle obstacles up to three inches high with easy, and seat rolls forwards and backwards, making getting in and out easy.

 

sugie_wheelchair2Sugie, who recently relocated to Menlo Park, California, is still working out pricing, but he hopes it won’t be too expensive. The wheelchair will be officially unveiled this February, and is likely to be cost a premium penny. Still, the advantages it offers are sure to go over well with wheelchair users and become something of the norm for the next-generation of such vehicles.

In addition to ease of use and the mobility it provides, it also lend users a certain high-tech chic, which may go a long way towards combatting the sense of social stigma many users feel.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, gizmag.com

 

3-D Printed Prosthetics: The Open Hand Project

Open_Hand3-D Printing has been a boon for a number of industries, offering a cheaper method of production and sending those savings onto the consumer. One such industry is prosthetics, which is taking advantage of the new technology to cheaply generate all the components needed to create robotic replacement limbs. And with the proliferation of models, amputees and accident victims have a range of options that was previously unimaginable.

The latest comes to us from Bristol in the UK, where the robotics company known as The Open Hand Project has developed a robot limb that is cheaply produced and can be purchased for under £650 (or roughly $1000 US). At this price, their prosthetic device – known as the Dextrus robot hand = is significantly cheaper than existing robotics technology.

Open_hand3Inventor Joel Gibbard first came up with the idea for the Dextrus robotic hand while studying Robotics at the University of Plymouth in 2011. He developed a prototype for his final-year project before leaving to work for National Instruments. After two years in the workplace, he left his job in March 2013 to launch the Open Hand Project, an open-source venture that aims to make robotic prosthetic hands accessible for people in the developing world.

Gibbard’s hand relies entirely on off-the-shelf DC motors with a spool on the end that connects to a steel “tendon” that can be tightened and loosened when the user wants to move their fingers. The outer casing is composed of 3D-printed plastic parts that act like bones while a rubber coating acts as the skin. The user can control the fingers using electomyographical signals picked up from the muscle in their arm using stick-on electrodes.

open_hand2As Gibbard explained in an interview with Wired magazine:

Each finger is individually actuated so you can grasp funny shaped objects. It’s not all that complicated. I’ve put a little tensioner in between each one so you have a bit of mechanical compliance. Even if an amputee has lost their hand, all of the muscles are still in the forearm and they can still flex them, so you can use that signal.

Already, the prosthesis was tested out by a chef named Liam Corbett, who lost his hand to meningitis two years ago and contacted Gibbard via Facebook when he heard about the Open Hand Project. According to Corbett, he was very impressed with the device and said that:

I think it’s certainly going to enable me to do the finer things in life which I certainly haven’t been able to do with a hook… I would be proud to wear this, it would make me feel more confident.

open_hand1Gibbard hopes to refine the design to cut down on the electrical noise it produces, and to develop specialized software to configure the electrodes to simplify the calibration process. Back in September, he opened up a crowdfunding campaign with Indiegogo to raise the necessary money. As of writing this article, he has surpassed his goal of £39,000 and raised a total of £41,065.

However, there is still four days left before the campaign closes. So if you want to donate, thus enabling GIbbard and his colleagues to refine the design further, simply click here and follow the prompts. And be sure to check out the Indiegogo video to see how the hand works:


Sources: wired.co.uk, indiegogo.com

The Future is Here: The Insight Neuroheadset

Emotiv_insightPortable EEG devices have come a long way in recent years. From their humble beginnings as large, wire-studded contraptions that cost upwards of $10,000, they have now reached the point where they are small, portable, and affordable. What’s more, they are capable of not only reading brainwaves and interpreting brain activity, but turning that activity into real-time commands and controls.

Once such device is the Emotiv Insight, a neuroheadset that is being created with the help of a Kickstarter campaign and is now available for preorder. Designed by the same company that produced the EPOC, an earlier brain-computer interface (BCI) that was released in 2010, the Insight offers many improvements. Unlike its bulky predecessor, the new model is sleeker, lighter, uses five sensors instead of the EPOC’s fourteen and can be linked to your smartphone.

Emotiv_insight_EPOCIn addition, the Insight uses a new type of hydrophilic polymer sensor that absorbs moisture from the environment. Whereas the EPOC’s sensors required that the user first apply saline solution to their scalp, no extra applied moisture is necessary with this latest model. This is a boon for people who plan on using it repeatedly and don’t want to moisten their head with goo every time to do it.

The purpose behind the Insight and EPOC headsets is quite simple. According to Tan Le, the founder of Emotiv, the company’s long term aim is to take a clinical system (the EEG) from the lab into the real world and to democratize brain research. As already noted, older EEG machines were prohibitively expensive for smaller labs and amateur scientists and made it difficult to conduct brain research. Le and his colleagues hope to change that.

emotiv_insight1And it seems that they are destined to get their way. Coupled with similar devices from companies like Neurosky, the stage seems set for an age when brain monitoring and brain-computer interface research is something that is truly affordable – costing just a few hundred dollars instead of $10,000 – and allowing independent labs and skunkworks to contribute their own ideas and research to the fore.

As of September 16th, when the Kickstarter campaign officially closed, Emotiv surpassed its $1 million goal and raised a total of $1,643,117 for their device. Because of this, the company plans to upgrade the headset with a six-axis intertial sensor – to keep track of the user’s head movements, gait, tremor, gestures, etc. – a microSD card reader for added security, and a 3-axis magnetometer (i.e. a compass).

woman-robotic-arm_650x366In some cases, these new brain-to computer interfaces are making it possible for people with disabilities or debilitating illnesses to control robots and prosthetics that assist them with their activities, rehab therapy, or restore mobility. On a larger front, they are also being adapted for commercial use – gaming and interfacing with personal computers and devices – as well as potential medical science applications such as neurotherapy, neuromonitoring, and neurofeedback.

Much like a fitness tracker, these devices could let us know how we are sleeping, monitor our emotional state over time, and make recommendations based on comparative analyses. So in addition to their being a viable growth market in aiding people with disabilities, there is also the very real possibility that neuroheadsets will give people a new and exciting way to interface with their machinery and keep “mental records”.

Passwords are likely to replace passthoughts, people will be able to identify themselves with brain-activity records, and remote control will take on a whole new meaning! In addition, mental records could become part of our regular medical records and could even be called upon to be used as evidence when trying to demonstrate mental fitness or insanity at trials. Dick Wolf, call me already! I’m practically giving these ideas away!

And be sure to enjoy this video from Emotiv’s Kickstarter site:


Sources: fastcoexist.com, kickstarter.com

Nanotech News: Smart Sponges, Nanoparticles and Neural Dust!

nanomachineryNanotechnology has long been the dream of researchers, scientists and futurists alike, and for obvious reasons. If machinery were small enough so as to be microscopic, or so small that it could only be measured on the atomic level,  just about anything would be possible. These include constructing buildings and products from the atomic level up, with would revolutionize manufacturing as we know it.

In addition, microscopic computers, smart cells and materials, and electronics so infinitesimally small that they could be merged with living tissues would all be within our grasp. And it seems that at least once a month, universities, research labs, and even independent skunkworks are unveiling new and exciting steps that are bringing us ever closer to this goal.

Close-up of a smart sponge
Close-up of a smart sponge

Once such breakthrough comes from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where biomedical scientists and engineers have joined forces to create the “smart sponge”. A spherical object that is microscopic — just 250 micrometers across, and could be made as small as 0.1 micrometers – these new sponges are similar to nanoparticles, in that they are intended to be the next-generation of delivery vehicles for medication.

Each sponge is mainly composed of a polymer called chitosan, something which is not naturally occurring, but can be produced easily from the chitin in crustacean shells. The long polysaccharide chains of chitosan form a matrix in which tiny porous nanocapsules are embedded, and which can be designed to respond to the presence of some external compound – be it an enzyme, blood sugar, or a chemical trigger.

bloodstreamSo far, the researchers tested the smart sponges with insulin, so the nanocapsules in this case contained glucose oxidase. As the level of glucose in a diabetic patient’s blood increases, it would trigger the nanocapsules in the smart sponge begin releasing hydrogen ions which impart a positive charge to the chitosan strands. This in turn causes them to spread apart and begin to slowly release insulin into the blood.

The process is also self-limiting: as glucose levels in the blood come down after the release of insulin, the nanocapsules deactivate and the positive charge dissipates. Without all those hydrogen ions in the way, the chitosan can come back together to keep the remaining insulin inside. The chitosan is eventually degraded and absorbed by the body, so there are no long-term health effects.

NanoparticlesOne the chief benefits of this kind of system, much like with nanoparticles, is that it delivers medication when its needed, to where its needed, and in amounts that are appropriate to the patient’s needs. So far, the team has had success treating diabetes in rats, but plans to expand their treatment to treating humans, and branching out to treat other types of disease.

Cancer is a prime candidate, and the University team believes it can be treated without an activation system of any kind. Tumors are naturally highly acidic environments, which means a lot of free hydrogen ions. And since that’s what the diabetic smart sponge produces as a trigger anyway, it can be filled with small amounts of chemotherapy drugs that would automatically be released in areas with cancer cells.

nanorobotAnother exciting breakthrough comes from University of California at Berkeley, where medical researchers are working towards tiny, implantable sensors . As all medical researchers know, the key to understanding and treating neurological problems is to gather real-time and in-depth information on the subject’s brain. Unfortunately, things like MRIs and positron emission tomography (PET) aren’t exactly portable and are expensive to run.

Implantable devices are fast becoming a solution to this problem, offering real-time data that comes directly from the source and can be accessed wirelessly at any time. So far, this has taken the form of temporary medical tattoos or tiny sensors which are intended to be implanted in the bloodstreams. However, what the researchers at UofC are proposing something much more radical.

neural_dustIn a recent research paper, they proposed a design for a new kind of implantable sensor – an intelligent dust that can infiltrate the brain, record data, and communicate with the outside world. The preliminary design was undertaken by Berkeley’s Dongjin Seo and colleagues, who described a network of tiny sensors – each package being no more than 100 micrometers – in diameter. Hence the term they used: “neural dust”.

The smart particles would all contain a very small CMOS sensor capable of measuring electrical activity in nearby neurons. The researchers also envision a system where each particle is powered by a piezoelectric material rather than tiny batteries. The particles would communicate data to an external device via ultrasound waves, and the entire package would also be coated in a polymer, thus making it bio-neutral.

smart_tatoosBut of course, the dust would need to be complimented by some other implantable devices. These would likely include a larger subdural transceiver that would send the ultrasound waves to the dust and pick up the return signal. The internal transceiver would also be wirelessly connected to an external device on the scalp that contains data processing hardware, a long range transmitter, storage, and a battery.

The benefits of this kind of system are again obvious. In addition to acting like an MRI running in your brain all the time, it would allow for real-time monitoring of neurological activity for the purposes of research and medical monitoring. The researchers also see this technology as a way to enable brain-machine interfaces, something which would go far beyond current methods. Who knows? It might even enable a form of machine-based telepathy in time.

telepathySounds like science fiction, and it still is. Many issues need to be worked out before something of this nature would be possible or commercially available. For one, more powerful antennae would need to be designed on the microscopic scale in order for the smart dust particles to be able to send and receive ultrasound waves.

Increasing the efficiency of transceivers and piezoelectric materials will also be a necessity to provide the dust with power, otherwise they could cause a build-up of excess heat in the user’s neurons, with dire effects! But most importantly of all, researchers need to find a safe and effective way to deliver the tiny sensors to the brain.

prosthetic_originalAnd last, but certainly not least, nanotechnology might be offering improvements in the field of prosthetics as well. In recent years, scientists have made enormous breakthroughs in the field of robotic and bionic limbs, restoring ambulatory mobility to accident victims, the disabled, and combat veterans. But even more impressive are the current efforts to restore sensation as well.

One method, which is being explored by the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel, involves incorporating gold nanoparticles and a substrate made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – the plastic used in bottles of soft drinks. Between these two materials, they were able to make an ultra-sensitive film that would be capable of transmitting electrical signals to the user, simulating the sensation of touch.

gold_nanoparticlesBasically, the gold-polyester nanomaterial experiences changes in conductivity as it is bent, providing an extremely sensitive measure of physical force. Tests conducted on the material showed that it was able to sense pressures ranging from tens of milligrams to tens of grams, which is ten times more sensitive than any sensors being build today.

Even better, the film maintained its sensory resolution after many “bending cycles”, meaning it showed consistent results and would give users a long term of use. Unlike many useful materials that can only really be used under laboratory conditions, this film can operate at very low voltages, meaning that it could be manufactured cheaply and actually be useful in real-world situations.

smart-skin_610x407In their research paper, lead researcher Hossam Haick described the sensors as “flowers, where the center of the flower is the gold or metal nanoparticle and the petals are the monolayer of organic ligands that generally protect it.” The paper also states that in addition to providing pressure information (touch), the sensors in their prototype were also able to sense temperature and humidity.

But of course, a great deal of calibration of the technology is still needed, so that each user’s brain is able to interpret the electronic signals being received from the artificial skin correctly. But this is standard procedure with next-generation prosthetic devices, ones which rely on two-way electronic signals to provide control signals and feedback.

nanorobot1And these are just some examples of how nanotechnology is seeking to improve and enhance our world. When it comes to sensory and mobility, it offers solutions to not only remedy health problems or limitations, but also to enhance natural abilities. But the long-term possibilities go beyond this by many orders of magnitude.

As a cornerstone to the post-singularity world being envisioned by futurists, nanotech offers solutions to everything from health and manufacturing to space exploration and clinical immortality. And as part of an ongoing trend in miniaturization, it presents the possibility of building devices and products that are even tinier and more sophisticated than we can currently imagine.

It’s always interesting how science works by scale, isn’t it? In addition to dreaming large – looking to build structures that are bigger, taller, and more elaborate – we are also looking inward, hoping to grab matter at its most basic level. In this way, we will not only be able to plant our feet anywhere in the universe, but manipulate it on the tiniest of levels.

As always, the future is a paradox, filling people with both awe and fear at the same time.

Sources: extremetech.com, (2), (3)

The Future is Here: Smart Skin!

neuronsWhen it comes to modern research and development, biomimetics appear to be the order of the day. By imitating the function of biological organisms, researchers seek to improve the function of machinery to the point that it can be integrated into human bodies. Already, researchers have unveiled devices that can do the job of organs, or bionic limbs that use the wearer’s nerve signals or thoughts to initiate motion.

But what of machinery that can actually send signals back to the user, registering pressure and stimulation? That’s what researchers from the University of Georgia have been working on of late, and it has inspired them to create a device that can do the job of the largest human organ of them all – our skin. Back in April, they announced that they had successfully created a brand of “smart skin” that is sensitive enough to rival the real thing.

smart-skin_610x407In essence, the skin is a transparent, flexible arrays that uses 8000 touch-sensitive transistors (aka. taxels) that emit electricity when agitated. Each of these comprises a bundle of some 1,500 zinc oxide nanowires, which connect to electrodes via a thin layer of gold, enabling the arrays to pick up on changes in pressure as low as 10 kilopascals, which is what human skin can detect.

Mimicking the sense of touch electronically has long been the dream researchers, and has been accomplished by measuring changes in resistance. But the team at Georgia Tech experimented with a different approach, measuring tiny polarization changes when piezoelectric materials such as zinc oxide are placed under mechanical stress. In these transistors, then, piezoelectric charges control the flow of current through the nanowires.

nanowiresIn a recent news release, lead author Zhong Lin Wang of Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science and Engineering said:

Any mechanical motion, such as the movement of arms or the fingers of a robot, could be translated to control signals. This could make artificial skin smarter and more like the human skin. It would allow the skin to feel activity on the surface.

This, when integrated to prosthetics or even robots, will allow the user to experience the sensation of touch when using their bionic limbs. But the range of possibilities extends beyond that. As Wang explained:

This is a fundamentally new technology that allows us to control electronic devices directly using mechanical agitation. This could be used in a broad range of areas, including robotics, MEMS, human-computer interfaces, and other areas that involve mechanical deformation.

prostheticNot the first time that bionic limbs have come equipped with electrodes to enable sensation. In fact, the robotic hand designed by Silvestro Micera of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland seeks to do the same thing. Using electrodes that connect from the fingertips, palm and index finger to the wearer’s arm nerves, the device registers pressure and tension in order to help them better interact with their environment.

Building on these two efforts, it is easy to get a glimpse of what future prosthetic devices will look like. In all likelihood, they will be skin-colored and covered with a soft “dermal” layer that is studded with thousands of sensors. This way, the wearer will be able to register sensations – everything from pressure to changes in temperature and perhaps even injury – from every corner of their hand.

As usual, the technology may have military uses, since the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is involved. For that matter, so is the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences are all funding it. So don’t be too surprised if bots wearing a convincing suit of artificial skin start popping up in your neighborhood!

terminator2Source: news.cnet.com

The Future is Here: The 3D-printed Robotic Hand

robotic_handThe field of robotic has been advancing by leaps and bounds in recent years, especially where robotic limbs and prosthetics are concerned. But until recently, cost has remained an issue. With top of the line bionic limbs – like the BeBionic which costs up to $35,000 = most amputees simply can’t afford them. Little surprise then why there are many efforts to create robotic limbs that are both cheaper and more accessible.

Last month, DARPA announced the creation of a robotic hand that could perform complex tasks, and which was made using cheap electronic components. And then there’s Robohand, the online group that creates 3D-printed robotic hands for children with a free, open-source 3D-printing pattern available on Thingiverse for people who wish to make their own.

robotic_hand2

And now, Christopher Chappell of the U.K. wants to do take things a step further with his “Anthromod”. Using Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website, he has started a campaign for a 3D-printed robotic hand that is a little bit more sophisticated than the Robohand, but would cost around $450. In short, the proposed design offers the ambulatory ability of a bionic limb, but at a cost that is far more affordable.

To break it down, the arm uses a tendon system of elastic bands with the movement being provided by five Hobby Servos, which are in turn built out of off-the-shelf electronics. Wearers will be able to move all four of the units fingers, thumb and wrist, once the sensors have been calibrated, and the software to control the hand and EEG sensors is available online for free. This all adds up to a unit that is not only more affordable, but easy to assemble, repair and maintain.

robotic_hand3On their Kickstarter page, Chappell describes his campaign and their long-term goals:

Our Kickstarter campaign is to develop a humanoid robotic hand and arm that is of far lower cost than any other available. We believe that this will open up robotics to a far wider market of makers and researchers than has ever been possible. This should then trigger an explosion of creativity in the areas of robotics, telepresence and ultimately prosthetics.

Much like the InMoov, a 3D printed android with limited function, the Anthromod represents an age of robotics that are accessible to the public. And with time, its not hard to imagine an entire line of enhancements and robotics, such as household servants and cybernetic components, that could be manufactured in-house, provided you’re willing to shell out the money for a industrial-sized 3D printer!

To check out the Anthromod website, click here. And be sure to check out the video below of their hand in action.

Note: As of this article’s writing, Chappell and his colleagues passed their goal of £10,000 and reached a whopping total of £12,086 (18,808 dollars US). Congratulations folks!


Sources:
news.cnet.com, kickstarter.com

 

A Tribute to Israeli Scientific Achievements

jerusalem_israelWelcome everyone to my first special-request piece! As some of you who read this blog regularly may know, I was recently done a solid by a friend who brought the existence of my latest book (Whiskey Delta) to the attention of Max Brooks, Mr. World War Z man himself! Because of this, I told him he was entitled to favor, redeemable whenever he saw fit. Especially if the favor he did me allowed me to make it big!

Emblem_of_Israel.svgMuch to my surprise, he called it in early. Yes, instead of waiting for me to become a success and demanding 50 grand and pony, he asked that I do a tribute piece in honor of Israeli Independence Day, one that acknowledges the collective scientific, medical and technological achievements of this nation.

So hang tight. Not the easiest thing in the world to sum up an entire nation’s contributions in several fields, but I shall try. And for the sake of convenience, I broke them down into alphabetical order. So to my Israeli readers and those with family in the Levant, Shalom Aleichem, and here we go!

Aerospace:
GurwinTechSatModel
When it comes to space-based research, aviation and aeronautics, Israel has made many contributions and is distinguished as one of the few nations outside of the – outside of the major space players – that is able to build and launch its own communications, navigation and observation satellites. This is performed through the Israel Aerospace Industries(IAI), Israel’s largest military engineering company, in cooperation with the Israel Space Agency, which was created in 1982.

What’s more, Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology,  is home to the Asher Space Research Institute (ASRI), which is unique in Israel as a university-based center of space research. In 1998, the Institute built and launched its own satellite – known as the Gerwin-II TechSAT – in July 1998 to provide communications, remote sensing and research services for the nation’s scientists.

Israel’s first ever satellite, Ofeq-1, was built and launched using the locally-built Shavit launch vehicle on September 19, 1988. Over the course of its operational history, Ofeq-1 has made important contributions in a number of areas in space research, including laser communication, research into embryo development and osteoporosis in space, pollution monitoring, and mapping geology, soil and vegetation in semi-arid environments.

AMOS-1 and AMOS-2, which were launched in 1996 and 2003 respectively. AMOS-1 is a geostationary satellite that also has the honor of being Israel’s first commercial communications satellite, built primarily for direct-to-home television broadcasting, TV distribution and VSAT services. AMOS-2, which belongs to the Spacecom Satellite Communications company, provides satellite telecommuncations services to countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Additional space-based projects include the TAUVEX telescope, the VENUS microsatellite, and the MEIDEX (Mediterranean – Israel Dust Experiment), which were produced and launched in collaboration the Indian Space Research Organizations (ISRO), France’s CNES, and NASA, repsectively. In addition to conducting research on background UV radiation, these satellites are also responsible for monitoring vegetation and the distribution and physical properties of atmospheric desert dust over the a large segment of the globe.

Ilan_RamonIlan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, was also a member of the crew that died aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. Ramon was selected as the missions Payload Specialist and trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, from 1998 until 2003.  Among other experiments, Ramon was responsible for the MEIDEX project in which he took pictures of atmospheric aerosol (dust) in the Mediterranean. His death was seen as a national tragedy and mourned by people all over the world. 

According to the Thomson Reuters agency, in a 2009 poll, Israel was ranked 2nd among the 20 top countries in space sciences.

Alternative Fuel and Clean Energy:
When it comes to developing alternative sources of energy, Israel is a leader in innovation and research. In fact – and due in no small part to its lack of conventional energy resources – Israel has become the world’s largest per capita user of solar power, with 90% of Israeli homes use solar energy for hot water, the highest per capita in the world.

Solar_dish_at_Ben-Gurion_National_Solar_Energy_Center_in_IsraelMuch of this research is performed by the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center, a part of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (in Beersheba). Pictured above is the Ben-Gurion parabolic solar power dish, the largest of its kind in the world. In addition, the Weizman Institute of Science, in central Israel, is dedicated to research and development in the field of solar technology and recently developed a high-efficiency receiver to collect concentrated sunlight, which will enhance the use of solar energy in industry as well.

Outside of solar, Israel is also heavily invested in the fields of wind energy, electric cars, and waste management. For example, Israel is one of the few nations in the world that has a nationwide network of recharching stations to facilitate the charging and exchange of car batteries. Denmark and Australia have studied the infrastructure and plan to implement similar measures in their respective countries. In 2010, Technion also established the Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP), a multidisciplinary task-force that is dedicated to alternative fuels, renewable energy sources, energy storage and conversion, and energy conservation.

Private companies also play a role in development, such as the Arrow Ecology company’s development of the ArrowBio process, which takes trash directly from collection trucks and separates organic from inorganic materials. The system is capable of sorting huge volumes of solid waste (150 tons a day), salvaging recyclables, and turning the rest into biogas and rich agricultural compost. The system has proven so successful in the Tel-Aviv area that it has been adopted in California, Australia, Greece, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.

Health and Medicine:
Israel also boasts an advanced infrastructure of medical and paramedical research and bioengineering facilities. In terms of scientific publications, studies in the fields of biotechnology, biomedical, and clinical research account for over half of the country’s scientific papers, and the industrial sector has used this extensive knowledge to develop pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and treatment therapies.

In terms of stem cell research, Israel has led the world in the publications of research papers, patents and studies per capita since the year 2000. The first steps in the development of stem cell studies occurred in Israel, with research in this field dating back to studies of bone marrow stem cells in the early 1960s. In 2011, Israeli scientist Inbar Friedrich Ben-Nun led a team which produced the first stem cells from endangered species, a breakthrough that could save animals in danger of extinction.

capsule_camNumerous sophisticated medical advancements for both diagnostic and treatment purposes has been developed in Israel and marketed worldwide, such as computer tomography (CT) scanners, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems, ultrasound scanners, nuclear medical cameras, and surgical lasers. Other innovations include a device to reduce both benign and malignant swellings of the prostate gland and a miniature camera encased in a swallowable capsule used to diagnose gastrointestinal disease.

ReWalkIsrael is also a leading developer of prosthetics and powered exoskeletons, technologies designed to restore mobility to amputees and people born without full ambulatory ability. Examples include the SmartHand, a robotic prosthetic hand developed through collaboration between Israeli and European scientists. ReWalk is another famous example, a powered set of legs that help paraplegics and those suffering from partial paralysis to achieve bipedal motion again.

Science and Tech:
In addition, Israeli universities are among 100 top world universities in mathematics (Hebrew University, TAU and Technion), physics (TAU, Hebrew University and Weizmann Institute of Science), chemistry (Technion and Weizmann Institute of Science), computer science (Weizmann Institute of Science, Technion, Hebrew University, TAU and BIU) and economics (Hebrew University and TAU).

 

Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology - Ben-Gurion University
Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology – Ben-Gurion University

Israel is also home to some of the most prestigious and advanced scientific research institutions in the world. These include the Bar-Ilan University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the University of Haifa, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research in Beit Dagan, the Israel Institute for Biological Research and the Soreq Nuclear Research Center.

Israel has also produced many Noble Prize Laureates over the years, four of whom won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. These include Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion, two of three researchers who were responsible for the discovery ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation in 2004. In 2009, Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science was one of the winners for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome. In 2011, Dan Shechtman of the Technion was awarded the prize for the discovery of quasicrystals.

Koffler Accelerator - Weizman Institute of Science
Koffler Accelerator – Weizman Institute of Science

In the social sciences, the Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Daniel Kahneman in 2002, and to Robert Aumann of the Hebrew University in 2005. Additionally, the 1958 Medicine laureate, Joshua Lederberg, was born to Israeli Jewish parents, and 2004 Physics laureate, David Gross, grew up partly in Israel, where he obtained his undergraduate degree.

In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly’s Economic and Financial Committee adopted an Israeli-sponsored draft resolution that called on developed countries to make their knowledge and know-how accessible to the developing world as part of the UN campaign to eradicate hunger and dire poverty by 2015. The initiative is an outgrowth of Israel’s many years of contributing its know-how to developing nations, especially Africa, in the spheres of agriculture, fighting desertification, rural development, irrigation, medical development, computers and the empowerment of women.

Water Treatment:
WaTecAnd last, but certainly not least, Israel is a leader in water technology, due again to its geography and dependence and lack of resources. Every year, Israel hosts the Water Technology Exhibition and Conference (WaTec) that attracts thousands of people from across the world and showcases examples of innovation and development designed to combat water loss and increase efficiency.

Drip irrigation, a substantial agricultural modernization, was one such developed which comes from in Israel and saved countless liters of farm water a year. Many desalination and recycling processes have also emerged out of Israel, which has an abundance of salt water (such as in the Dead Sea and Mediterranean), but few large sources of freshwater. The Ashkelon seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plant, the largest in the world, was voted ‘Desalination Plant of the Year’ in the Global Water Awards in 2006.

In 2011, Israel’s water technology industry was worth around $2 billion a year with annual exports of products and services in the tens of millions of dollars. The International Water Association has also cited Israel as one of the leaders in innovative methods to reduce “nonrevenue water,” (i.e., water lost in the system before reaching the customer). By the end of 2013, 85 percent of the country’s water consumption will be from reverse osmosis, and as a result of innovations in this field, Israel is set to become a net exporter in the coming years.

Summary:
It’s hard to sum up the accomplishments of an entire nation, even one as young and as geographically confined as Israel. But I sincerely hope this offering has done some justice to the breadth and width of Israel’s scientific achievements. Having looked though the many fields and accomplishments that have been made, I have noticed two key features which seem to account for their level of success:

  1. Necessity: It’s no secret that Israel has had a turbulent history since the foundation of the modern nation in 1948. Due to the ongoing nature of conflict with its neighbors and the need to build armaments when they were not always available, Israel was forced to establish numerous industries and key bits of infrastructure to produce them. This has had the predictable effect of spilling over and inspiring developments in the civilian branches of commerce and development as well. What’s more, Israel’s location in a very arid and dry region of the world with few natural resources to speak of have also demanded a great deal of creativity and specialized resource management. This in turn has led to pioneering work in the fields of energy, sustainable development and agricultural practices which are becoming more and more precious as Climate Change, population growth, hunger and drought effect more and more of the world.
  2. Investment: Israel is also a nation that invests heavily in its people and infrastructure. Originally established along strongly socialist principles, Israel has since abandoned many of its establishment era practices – such as kibbutz and equality of pay – in favor of a regulated free market with subsidized education and health care for all. This has led to a successive wave of generations that are strong, educated, and committed to innovation and development. And with competition and collaboration abroad, not to mention high demand for innovation, this has gone to good use.

And with that, I shall take my leave and wish my Israeli readers at home and abroad a happy belated Independence Day! May peace and understanding be upon you and us all as we walk together into the future. Shalom Aleichem!