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12 impossible ideas that Israelis turned into reality


No mission is impossible for inventive Israelis who read ‘impossible’ as ‘I’m possible’ and don’t regard probable failure as a reason not to try.

Tell an Israeli his or her invention idea is preposterous, and you’ve just given that inventor a reason to see it through.

Whether it was planting crops in the desert or building a crowdsourced navigation app, most groundbreaking Israeli innovations were initially dismissed as impossible – until bold action turned them into reality.

“When you try to break new frontiers, sometimes what you do doesn’t seem to make sense,” says Avi Hasson, chief scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Economy. “The issue is not about the idea but the action. You need to go out there and figure it out.”

Israelis love solving problems, Hasson tells ISRAEL21c.

An educational culture that encourages questioning and independent thinking, and innovating on the fly in the military, leads Israelis to read the word “impossible” as “I’m possible.”

“Commanders in the field are not supposed to rely on the generals to solve their problems; they’re expected to take responsibility to solve things by themselves, understanding that failure is an option,” Hasson explains.

“And in the technological units, on a daily basis you’re expected to do the impossible with few resources in a short time,” adds the chief scientist, whose office supports and encourages industrial research and development while sharing the risk inherent in such projects.

“In our office, we see thousands of risky endeavors each year, scientifically or on the business side,” says Hasson. “We get excited about such projects because we want to be an active partner in helping people take technological, financial and business development risks.”

Ultimately, he adds, Israelis are brilliant at outside-the-box thinking “because we have no choice. We’re a small country, far away from the market. We have to do things that are too tough and too scary for others.”

Here, ISRAEL21c takes a look at just a few of the amazing inventions once thought impossible.

1. Iron Dome

iron_dome_f90_1The idea of Iron Dome was thought as crazy as tilting at windmills.

The Israeli defense establishment thought Brig. Gen. Daniel Gold had lost his mind in 2005 when he broached the idea for the mobile, all-weather missile-defense system that came to be known as Iron Dome.

Yet Gold forged ahead in blatant disregard of a Defense Ministry directive, quietly putting all the pieces in place to build the system over the course of the two years it took to wrest official approval. In 2012, this former “Don Quixote” won the Israel Defense Prize for spearheading the Iron Dome project, which saved untold numbers of Israeli lives by successfully deflecting Hamas missiles fired from Gaza in 2012 and 2014.

“I saw what was going on and I said to myself, with all the technology that exists in Israel we must use it to protect human life. We will find a way,” he told ISRAEL21c. “It always takes the political and military echelons a long time to think about what they want to do, and in the meantime we started to create a solution.”

2. Growing crops in the desert 

untitledBounty in the Arava. Photo by Eyal Izhar

In 1959, Shai Ben Eliyahu and Hagai Porat had the ridiculous notion of founding an agricultural venture at Ein Yahav, a dusty army base in Israel’s Arava Desert. “They were considered meshugenners, crazy people,” relates Aylon Gadiel, one of Ein Yahav’s 550 farmers and the former director of Arava R&D. “You couldn’t live in the Arava, let alone grow vegetables there. The Jewish Agency told them ‘no.’ So every Friday they went to the Tel Aviv headquarters of Mapai [Labor Party] and sat there until eventually David Ben-Gurion wrote them a letter.”

The founders dug a well to water a small vegetable garden, believing that the climate was perfect for veggies despite the arid soil. “It was proven that it is possible, and one reason is the development of drip irrigation in the beginning of the 1960s,” says Gadiel. By 1967, the government was helping to build infrastructure, and in 1986 the Jewish Agency launched Arava R&D to develop cutting-edge agriculture and aquaculture technologies.

And so this once-deserted 112-mile strip of land from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea grew to supply more than 60 percent of total Israeli exports of fresh vegetables and about 10% of ornamentals, including ornamental fish and novel varieties of produce.

Although this year the Arava’s large Russian export market has collapsed due to the fall of the ruble, Gadiel says that just means “it’s time to recalculate for the changing global market.” Nothing is impossible.

3. ReWalk Robotics 

rehabRehab patients at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York using the ReWalk.

“The day I stood up, I knew I was about to cross the threshold from impossible to possible,” disabled US Army veteran Gene Laureano said in January 2013 when he strapped on the Israeli ReWalk robotic exoskeleton that enables people with lower-limb disabilities to walk.

Laureano’s “impossible” was also inventor Amit Goffer’s “impossible.” Larger and better-funded companies in other countries had long been trying to develop a similar device when Goffer made headlines in 2008 for inventing the world’s first commercially available upright walking technology. ReWalk has since become the most widely used and studied robotic exoskeleton, and the first available for personal ownership. Last year it enjoyed a $58 million IPO on Wall Street.

Goffer and colleagues worked on the groundbreaking invention for years before hitting the successful formula. He has said that in early meetings with potential marketing partners, “Many listeners did not believe me.” But ever since he was paralyzed in a 1997 accident, failure was never an option. “I know how it feels to sit in a wheelchair,” said Goffer of his determination to make the impossible possible.

4. MUV Interactive 

mareMUV’s Bird brings new powers to your fingertip

Four years ago, investors rejected Rami Parham’s concept of a wearable device for interacting with one’s digital environment based on finger movement sensing. They doubted it could ever work technologically. But he didn’t give up, and when the wearable technology wave hit in 2013, Parham’s MUV Interactive was in the right place at the right time.

This summer, MUV will start shipping its ring-like Bird device to those who preordered it, and will simultaneously launch a major media and Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.

Parham tells ISRAEL21c that the reaction of industry skeptics initially scared him, but his research and gut feeling propelled him to prove the naysayers wrong. “You get more confident when it hits you that no one else knows it’s possible. It gives you more energy to do it,” says Parham. Today many of those former doubters are lining up to buy a Bird or to forge partnerships with MUV Interactive.

5. Powermat 

The idea for Powermat – a cord-free charging surface — was sparked by a 2006 conversation between entrepreneurs Ran Poliakine and Amir Ben-Shalom. Others had tried inventing such a device without success, but the men forged ahead even when potential partner companies declined to gamble on their idea.

“All of them said it was great, but nobody was willing to fire the first shot — to ‘cut the cables’ in favor of wireless,” Poliakine told ISRAEL21c. Eventually, a deal with Procter & Gamble (which owns Duracell) led to a series of wireless charging solutions for iPhones and other smartphones.

Then came partnerships with AT&T, Best Buy, Starbucks, McDonald’s, General Motors and other major companies. “We understood that for this revolution to take hold, we would have to create an entire ecosystem. We have to surround consumers 360 degrees, based on where they spend their time away from home, such as airports, train stations, concert halls, universities and restaurants,” Poliakine told ISRAEL21c.


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