Last year Eric Schmidt told Israel's tech sector that it was punching above its weight for such a small country and in some ways, is second only to Silicon Valley for diversity and innovation. Bold statement.
Now that claim can be argued over, and might be disputed by some European capitals with more hype than true tech success, but Silicon Wadi, the nickname for the clusters of "hi-tech" companies along Israel's coast including in places like Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Netanya, is making its mark.
It's certainly a country that has already contributed significantly to the tech landscape. In 2017 Apple bought Israeli company RealFace, which produces face recognition tech. It may well be behind the iPhone X's face unlock feature. Samsung and Intel have also invested significantly in Israel's tech scene. Mostly notably, in 2014 Intel invested $20 million in Mobileye OrCam, a headset to help those with poor vision read. Intel went on to buy OrCam for a cool $15 billion this year.
Along with MobilEye, let's see what's on the horizon. Here's a look at 13 of the most important wearable tech companies working in Israel right now.
MobilEye is an Intel company these days, but is still based in Jerusalem. It is a leader in collision detection systems for driverless vehicles. And also designed an intriguing wearable called OrCam MyEye.
It is a camera that attaches to a pair of glasses, looking a little like Google Glass in action. The glasses module connects to a 'brain' that the user can keep in a pocket.
It's intended for those with poor vision or dyslexia. Point to some text in front of your face and OrCam MyEye will read it out, using a bone conduction earpiece (or earphones). Crucial to this wearable's innovator status, it doesn't need an internet connection to function, meaning it can be used anywhere. OrCam MyEye can also be taught to recognise faces and objects.
Location: Tel Aviv and New York
Founded by former Israeli air force pilots, LifeBEAM takes the tech used by fighter pilots and brings it to a mainstream audience. First it came up with the LifeBEAM hat, a baseball cap with an integrated heart rate sensor. You don't see one of these very often.
More recently, we reviewed the LifeBEAM Vi. These are wireless earphones with a voice assistant AI you can talk to. It will congratulate you on a good run, and complain if you haven't been running as much recently. Charming.
Vi's "biosensing" earbuds measure heart rate, altitude and your cadence. No surprise for a set no bigger than a normal wireless earphone, GPS tracking is performed via your phone. In May 2017 we found the software a little buggy, but it's one of the more interesting and ambitious fitness headsets around. LifeBEAM also partnered with Harman Kardon to provide the sound tuning for the earpieces.
Ask a trendy lifestyle coach about society's top ills and you'll probably hear about sugar and sedentary lifestyles pretty quick. Enter Upright which makes a device, the Go, designed to solve the bad posture that often comes with a job in an office.
It's a small plastic sensor that attaches to the small of your back, acting as a posture coach. If you start slouching it'll vibrate, letting you know you're doing so. This isn't fun. It's a nag you pay for. However, if it has a chance of solving lower-back pain it's worth trying. The aim is to retrain you to sit properly, so eventually you won't need it at all.
Location: Kfar Saba
Several wearable companies have had a stab at redesigning the classic ECG monitor, which is the sort of heart rate sensor your doctor will use if they want to monitor your heart over a long period. The aim is usually: make it smaller, make it cheaper than what medical practitioners currently use.
HealthWatch Technologies weaves the sensors into a vest, with up to 12 sensor points. This is a pretty smart idea as it's far too easy to knock off traditional ECG sensors, which are usually stuck in place with adhesive pads. Everyone we know who has had 24/48 hour ECG has managed to dislodge a couple. This smart ECG vest looks potentially more reliable, and probably more comfortable too than conventional designs.
MUV Interactive Bird
As our homes and lives get smarter, the question of how we control all this IoT devices gets more important. Amazon thinks talking to thin air is the way, but MUV Interactive Bird offers a different approach, a cross-platform universal controller you wear on your finger.
It's like a techy magic wand. Full motion sensors let it act like an advanced motion controller, while a touch sensor under the finger let you perform gestures. This lets it replace a mouse or a series of touchscreen gestures, enabling advanced interaction with apps.
It's easier to imagine this being used in a classroom or presentation than someone's living room, but Bird's possible use cases are diverse. It has been used to control a drone, for example. Bird works with iOS, Android, Mac OS and Windows.
Location: Tel Aviv
In 2014, HereO released one of the first GPS kid tracking watches. It was funded over at Indiegogo, earning $215,000 backing.
It now has a second-generation model, the HereO 2, which it claims is the "world's smallest real-time cellular-connected GPS tracking device." One of the main benefits is that the watch looks like something you can imagine a kid wanting to wear. They get bright colours, a cute design and, to their eyes, it looks just like a digital watch. If a chunky one.
GPS and a cellular collection lets the parent constantly track the position of the watch, and zones can be setup in the app. An alert is sent when the watch leaves these areas. The watch itself costs $199, but the monthly fee for the cellular service is very reasonable at $4.95 a month.
Location: Yehud and New Jersey
We've written about AngelSense several times already, but it took a little deeper research to realise the company was founded in Israel. It has already made waves in the US and UK.
AngelSense is a credit card size child tracker that claimed to be the world's first designed specifically for children with special needs. It has GPS tracking, real-time audio monitoring, voice calls and doesn't require interaction on the child's part. They can just leave it in a pocket, where it'll live in a protective pouch.
More recently, AngelSense developed an "undershirt" solution too. AngelSense was inspired by co-founder Doron Somer's experiences with his own autistic son.
"My now 20 year old son Itamar was abused by his high school bus driver. We immediately knew something was wrong when our son, usually smiling, loving and happy to meet new people, started distressing about getting on the bus in the mornings," says Somer.
"I began looking for a product that could help, but nothing on the market suited our needs. I didn't just need a GPS tracker, I needed something to be my virtual ears and eyes and help me stay connected to my child."
AngelSense says the tracker is currently available in the US and Canada, and that "we are soon launching in the UK." As the tracker needs a SIM, there's a monthly fee. The best-value option at the moment is the "yearly saver", which costs $99 outright, followed by $33 a month.
Location: Tel Aviv and Los Angeles
Hospital-acquired infections are a serious problem, but one of the main solutions is simple: better hygiene practices.
Vitalacy has come up with a hospital hygiene system, using smart and wearable tech to retrain hospital staff to wash their hands more often. Because "wash your hands" signs won't necessarily do the trick for overworked staff.
Sensors in wards interact with a band worn by the healthcare staff, reminding them to head to a sink. The band even times hand wash sessions. It may sound like hand-holding of the highest order, and not the sort of thing you can imagine the average surgeon appreciating.
However, if it can help stop the spread of hospital acquired infections like MRSA, perhaps it's time for them to drop the ego. We got in contact with Vitalacy to find out about hospitals current using the system, but are yet to hear back.
The wearable world
Not every wearable is concerned with fitness or VR. Livia takes on period pain. It's a little battery pack you can clip to your jeans, and a pair of pads that stick to your tummy. For those unfamiliar with this sort of tech, it can sound about as convincing as homeopathy or a ghost detector, but it's actually a take on a well-recognised technique.
Livia "is based on a TENs with a slightly different frequency," Livia told us. This uses electrical pulses, "disrupting the signal between pain receptors and the brain."
Read this: Living with Livia
If you don't mind wearing something that looks like it was prescribed by your doctor, you'll find cheaper TENs machines. However, Livia actually makes it look like a lifestyle device, getting rid of the ugly clinical vibe.
Livia says the wearable "is both CE Mark medical device approved and FDA approved", and that "battery life is about 6-12 hours."
You wouldn't expect an asthma wearable to sit on your finger, but that's exactly where iFeel Labs' sensor lives. Its based on the connection between heart rate variability and asthma. And measured, natural breathing can increase HR variability.
iFeel Labs gamifies breathing by increasing your access to special mobile games along with HRV. The finger wearable is a heart rate sensor, which connects to a battery box with a HR display.
Games iFeel Labs has produced for the box include ones based on the "match 3" Candy Crush genre and an endless runner. The longer the heart rate is kept in the desired zone, the longer the games can be played.
SIDIS Labs Active Brace
Location: Ramat Gan
Like Livia, SIDIS incorporates fairly conventional medical techniques into a more accessible wearable. Its Active Brace devices aim to reduce pain and increase blood flow, which can speed-up the healing process.
SIDIS Labs makes different versions of the active brace for carpal tunnel, plantar fasciitis, tennis elbow and thumb arthritis. From a quick look these active braces appear to be normal support braces. As SIDIS Labs CEO Ohad Raz explained, that is part of how these devices work.
"Our active brace technology is basically a combination of three main principles that together can give the best solution and relief for does who suffer from orthopedic issues. The principles are compression, splinting and Active technology," says Raz.
The "active" side is what separates these from a standard brace, and it's switched on using a button on the wearable.
"When you press the blue button and activate the device a 5 minute cycle, of customised pulsation and vibration, targeted directly to the most problematic area and reach deep in the tissues. Unlike regular braces, with our device costumers can take control of their pain and help their body with it natural healing process, simply by pressing a button," says Raz.
While it's never sensible to avoid your doctor long-term, replacing them with internet research and gadgets bought online, they seem a good complement to physiotherapy exercises for sports injury. The braces cost between $79.99 and $99.99.
WellBe has a different take on the fitness tracker with a heart rate sensor. Instead of using it to monitor your exertion during exercise, the WellBE band checks your heart rate throughout the day. It looks at rate variability to assess your stress level and then displays it in the companion phone app.
This sort of feature is occasionally included as an extra in fitness bands, but WellBe goes further. It brings-in calendar events to cross-reference your stress level with meetings and other activities. So you'll know if it's the weekly 3pm with Dave from accounts that sets you off.
The app also offers relaxation and meditation exercises to deal with stress as it arrives. There's no screen on the WellBe, no red LED indicator that lights-up when you hit peak stress level. However you can choose between black and white models with leather bands, or a cork one with an unusual natural cork strap.
Nuvo Group PregSense
Location: Ramat Gan
Nuvo Group makes a pair of devices for pregnant women, to monitor the foetus's state constantly. This isn't an ultrasound, of course. The sensors used are much more conventional.
You can monitor the baby's heart rate, when it sleeps and how much it moves. There are currently two versions of the sensor.
The standard style is called Sensa, which is marketed a bit like a pregnancy Fitbit. PregSense is the "medical grade" version, although the design is roundly similar. A silicone strap sits around each end of the 'baby bump', making it useful throughout pregnancy rather than just for a short window.
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