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!

The Future Is Here: Bionic Hands!

Behold, the latest in bionic technology! The bebionic 3 model prosthetic hand, by the RSL Steeper company! Encased in an aluminum chassis, boasting improved electronics, a redesigned thumb, and new motors that increase the power grip, this hand was first unveiled at the American Orthotic Prosthetic Association (AOPA) Conference in Boston this past September. Since that time, amputees have been obtaining the hand and incorporating it into their daily lives. And the results are quite encouraging!

In addition to being able to do delicate work, like handle eggs and fine china without breaking them, the hand is also capable of performing a power grip that is capable of generating 31.5 pounds of force. That’s quite the Kung Fu grip, just in case you were wondering. And in “hook” mode, the hand is able to bear a load of 99 pounds. So, though it doesn’t have quite the same dexterity or free range of motion as an organic hand, the bebionic is capable of performing all the basic tasks, and is pretty powerful to boot!

Much like the bionic leg which was popularized by Zak Vawter’s historic climb last weekend, the bebionic works by reading the nerve impulses from the wearer’s arm skin. These are amplified by the arm’s electronics and translated into one of 14 possible grip configurations. These different grips are uploaded to the hands internal memory and users are able to cycle through them to determine which grip they want for which purpose. For instance, a mouse-clicking action makes the thumb grip a mouse, while the index finger clicks the left button. The “precision open grip” can be used to grab small objects and the “tripod grip” can be used to write with a pen.

Currently, and depending on its configuration, the hand costs clinical centers between $25,000 and $35,000. In time, and as it becomes available for public purchase, the price is likely to come down somewhat. Still, such a revolutionary device will not come cheap for many years to come. It also comes available in a range of colors and designs, including snow and jungle camouflage and tiger stripes, as well as realistic silicone skin coverings. See the video below for some examples.

Combined with other advances in the field of bionics and prosthetic devices, the bionic hand presents some new and very exciting possibilities. For one, technologies like ReWalk and other exoskeletons are making it possible for paraplegics to walk again, while sophisticated wheelchairs like the wheelchairbot are making stairs and obstacles passable. Coupled with bionic limbs that are giving full ambulatory motion back to amputees, we could be looking at a future where robotic enhancements can restore any and all ability to accident victims, combat veterans and people born with physical deformities.

In addition, the most audacious developments, such as bionic enhancements or robot chairs that read brain waves directly, giving full motion to quadriplegics and the ability to communicate fully to people with degenerative conditions is still yet to come! Once such technologies are readily available and commercially viable, we might even be seeing the emergence of a cybernetics industry, where people can receive enhancements that not only restore abilities, but greatly enhance them. Artificial limbs the enhance strenght and speed, artificial eyes that enhance vision and provide projected images and augmented reality displays, and even silicate implants that enhance brain function and make people smarter.

Homo Superior people… I just got goosebumps!

And while we’re waiting on all that to happen, check out this promo video for the latest bebionic model:


And here’s a video of the bebionic going through a battery grip pattern tests:

Of Exoskeletons

Hey all. A few days ago, I read an interesting article from Io9 that spoke of historic examples of what might be termed exoskeletons. Naturally, it got me thinking about the emerging technology of powered exoskeletons. I’ve been beating around that bush for months now and figured it was high time I just jumped into it. But an interesting thing happened. In the course of researching fictionalized examples of this technology, like Iron Man and so forth, I found that there were real historical precedents. Not just the whole “Future Soldier” concept as we know it, but ones that go back at least a century and a half.

Though they are not quite what you’d expect – for example, most have no power systems or moving parts – they are nevertheless examples of armored exoskeletons that were designed with a modern application in mind… i.e. stopping bullets. Yes, unlike your more conventional suits of armor, these concepts were designed to keep a man alive in a shootout long enough to kill his enemies, reach his objectives, or bust criminals. Here’s the list that I have compiled, in chronological order of when they were debuted:

Ned Kelly’s Armor:
Our first example comes to us from Australia of the 1870’s, in the form of the body armor worn by notorious outlaw and (to some) folk hero Ned Kelly. Like all members of his gang, Kelly decked himself out with this head to groin suit in order to protect himself from gun fire during the commission of their many robberies. Always, the suit war worn under a dust jacket to hide it’s true nature.

The armor was made of iron a quarter of an inch thick, and consisted of a long breast-plate, shoulder-plates, back-guard, and helmet and. Kelly’s suit also had apron on the back and padding was applied inside to provide comfort underneath the armor’s heavy weight of 100 pounds. The suits’ separate parts were strapped together on the body while the helmet was separate and sat on the shoulders, allowing it to be removed easily.

Initially, police dismissed rumors of this armored suit as nonsense, but in the course of a firefight,they began to wonder if Ned Kelly was even human. It was not until he fell and his dust jacket came open that they realized he was wearing the suit, and not some kind of immortal demon!

Dr. Brewster’s Armor:
In the early 1900s, a man from Dover, New Jersey named Dr. Guy Otis Brewster was famous for his experiments with unusual body armors. Perhaps his most famous suit was the bulletproof suit shown at right, which bestowed the wearer with the mien of a warrior polygon. As was to be expected, his tests of this unusual costume garnered him some rather interesting press coverage.

During WWI, his popularity led the US military to take notice. Due to the sheer number of deaths overseas to machine gun fire, and America’s impending involvement in the war. Experiments were conducted at the Picatinny Arsenal in April, 1917, when Dr. Brewster stood in front of a Lewis machine gun and was shot several times. After receiving several hits, he indicated that he suffered no trauma or serious pain from the experience. In fact, he claimed declared that it was “only about one tenth the shock which he experienced when struck by a sledge-hammer.”

However, his designs were not picked up for use in the war, though it was part of a larger effort to equip soldiers with body armor to defend against the hail of bullets they were forced to walk into.

WWI Trench Armor:
The Great War was the most brutal war history had seen at date. And as such, some rather interesting – and in some cases, medieval – equipment was developed as a result. This included many designs of trench armor, which could be something as simple as a faceplate and helmet to a full metal body-suit. The purpose in each case was to provide the wearer with all the necessary protection to ensure that they would be resistant to snipers, machine guns and all other forms of enemy fire.

Naturally, these designs were never picked up en masse, mainly because the weight of the equipment made soldiers cumbersome. In addition, they did not protect against one other all-important killer in trench warfare, that being poisonous gas! Yes, it seemed that if a soldier had any kind of expectation of life in the trenches, their only hope was to cover themselves in sheets of metal, a helmet and a gas mask. In the end, engineers found it much easier to just develop tanks 😉

Police Wheeled Shield:
It seems that the concept for Robocop began long before 8 Man and cyborgs were ever conceived. At least, that appears to be the reasoning behind the Police Wheeled Shield. Developed in 1956 for use by Detroit policemen against rioters and gunmen, this bit of body armor came in both the wheeled and carried variety.

The shield itself is made of an impregnable layer of steel, whereas the man (or men) behind it fire through its portholes. The viewing panel is inlaid with bullet-proof glass, and the flattop carried version also comes with a head-mounted light. Those using the carried version were also equipped with bullet-proof leggings, to ensure the bad guys didn’t get wise and try to trip them up with a leg shot.

Though innovative and virtually indestructible, the wheeled shield never saw widespread use for a number of reasons. For one, it was too large and cumbersome and was eventually rendered obsolete thanks to the invention of lightweight riot shields and Kevlar vests. Still, the idea of an armored cop did play well in the movies. Go Robocop!

Future G.I.:
Developed in the late 50’s, this concept reminds us that during the Cold War, armies took the possibility of having to fight in radioactive environments very seriously. This particular bodysuit, known as the Future G.I., was developed in 1959, but was abandoned shortly thereafter in favor of more conventional concepts. Maybe they thought it was a little to dystopian or something…

In addition to a nylon armored vest that was resistant to radiation, the wearer also sported a transistor radio helmet, and a heat resistant mask. Naturally, the purpose here was to outfit soldiers so that they could defend territory that had been struck by nukes. Clearly, some people in the Pentagon thought that even after the bombs fell, soldiers would still need to fight and die for irradiated stretches of land.

All of the equipment featured in this design was state-of-the-art for the time, and you may notice the soldier posing for the photo is carrying carbine prototype which would eventually become the M16. Oddly, this is the only piece of the suit that would survive, going on to see service in Vietnam and every US conflict ever since.

“Future Soldier”:
Last, we have by far the most comprehensive and in-depth program to date for the development of an exoskeleton. Falling under the general banner of “Future Soldier”, the US and other national armies are hard at work with contractors to try and come up with a workable powered suit for armed forces use. These consist mainly of powered limbs that attach to the soldiers own arms and legs and assisting in basic motions, such as walking, lifting, and carrying heavy loads.

Each variant of the powered exoskeleton is built around the same concept, consisting primarily of an exoskeleton-like framework worn by a person and a power supply that supplies at least part of the activation-energy for limb movement. These will enable soldiers and engineers to be able to bear more weight and survive in hostile environments. Some day, they might even be able to increase a wearer’s running speed and allow them to jump higher and farther as well.

So far, civilian and military concepts for powered suits include the Ekso Bionics/Lockheed Martin HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier), the Sarcos/Raytheon XOS, the Cyderdine (no joke) HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) and the Argo Medical Technologies ReWalk module for paraplegics.Each of these suits give the wearer the ability to lift several times their own weight and/or assist them in the use of their limbs, especially in those who are paralyzed or do not have full range of motion or use.

Because of their obvious merits, their exists a massive commercial market for these designs as well, mainly in the field of medicine for spine-injury or terminally ill patients. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that military development and civilian development are feeding off each other, with research and development on the one side providing impetus and advancement to the other. So in addition to powered construction suits and Iron Man-type units, we might also be seeing walking suits replacing wheelchairs real soon!

Thank you all for reading and feel free to stay tuned for my next installment in this lineup, featuring the concept of exoskeletons and powered suits in fiction. Really folks, Iron Man is just a drop in the bucket of this fertile concept, so stick around!

The Future is Here: Powered Exoskeletons!

Hello and welcome to a new segment on this site. With all the futuristic developments emerging on a daily basis, and given my own obsession with the coming singularity, I thought a segment on new inventions might be worthwhile.

And thanks go to Dave DeMar for giving me the idea for today’s post! As usual, his cheeky and fun take on the day’s events were a source of inspiration. And they also got me thinking… The clip below shows the news story on Rewalk, the latest development for paraplegics which actually helps them walk. Fans of Glee will no doubt remember it being featured in a recent episode, where the character of Artie got one for Christmas and said how an inventor in Israel was responsible for the development.

File:Hybrid Assistive Limb.jpgSeeing that again got me thinking. I’ve been fascinated with the topic of powered exoskeletons for some time, ever since I began researching it for an upcoming book of mine (the planned sequel to Data Miners: Data Pirates!). As part of the larger phenomena known as Future Soldier, it is the latest in a series of advanced technologies which are being proposed for 21st century warfare.

But of course, the civilian applications are just as interesting and a lot more endearing. Sure, giving soldiers super strength and endurance is cool, but providing the handi-capable with the means to walk and achieve the kinds of full-range of motion the rest of us take for granted is kinda more important, wouldn’t ya say?

However, the coolness doesn’t stop there. Powered exoskeletons are also likely to come in handy in an age of deep-space travel and colonization, should we ever get there. After all, acceleration inside of a ship can produce some pretty fierce stress on the human body, and there are a lot of terrestrial environments where the gravity is more than we’re used to dealing with. Suits of powered armor could be just what we need to get around and do our thing until our bodies adapt to spacing and alien environments.

Way cool! With inventions like these, things like the Iron Man suit may not be as farfetched as all that. Once more, we see the future coming faster than previously thought. But then again, science fiction becomes science fact all the time. Also, check out the clip below and prepare to be inspired!