Not a week goes by without the Israeli press headlining major investments and partnerships between global corporations and Israeli start-ups and tech companies. This may fly under your radar but pay attention. Today’s Israeli innovation will impact how you live your life tomorrow.
The opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem hit the global headlines but the news that 270 venture capitalists visited Jerusalem didn’t make a ripple. But this event will affect the lives of many millions of people going forward.
There are currently 470 start-ups in Israel’s capital alone, and that number is growing.
How about these headlines.
Intel plans to build a $5 Billion production center in Israel this year. Volkswagen opened a new technological center in Tel Aviv last week. Oil giant BP invested $20 Million in Israeli firm, StoreDot, which developed a battery system that could charge an electric car in the same time it takes to fill a gas tank. This was on top of the $60 Million it received from Daimler last September. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance agreed to invest $50 Million this year in Israeli start-ups to find technologies for tomorrow’s self-drive vehicles.
The Israeli genie (technological genius) didn’t come out of a bottle. It emerged out of the IDF special 8020 unit. This unit is charged with developing technological solutions for Israel’s multiple security threats on various fronts in real time, often during actual operations, from aerial threats from Iran and other bad actors in the north and east of the country to Hamas headaches from their underground terror tunnels to their mass incursion attempts on our southern border. Platforms had to be designed to intercept incoming missiles. Spyware to assist Israeli intelligence agencies in observing targeted enemy personnel. Aerial and ground cameras, interconnected ipads for field officers displaying the movement of terrorists, tracking suspects and movements with drones, cybersecurity, robotics, and automated equipment. The pressurized 8020 environment induced creative thinkers to come up with solutions that were immediately battle-tested in situations as varied as violent riots to cockpit advancement to enhance the ability of Israeli top gun fighter pilots.
What was used to guide and intercept missiles, keep computer systems secure from hackers or malfunction ,is being redeployed by 8020 operatives in civilian life into the development of automated vehicles.
Investment and partnerships are pouring into Israeli auto-tech from Samsung, Ford, GM, Daimler, Continental, Kia, and many other major companies. As Ford Executive chairman, Bill Ford, Jr, told Reuters, “A lot of entrepreneurs are coming out of the IDF and they tend to be older than their traditional Silicon Valley colleagues.”
He could have added that the Israeli entrepreneurs have the edge over their Silicon Valley rivals by being battle-tested.
Investment in Israeli auto-tech, including venture capital, acquisitions, and joint ventures, last year amounted to $3.5 Billion. This figure will be surpassed by the end of 2018.
So what are these foreign auto and computer companies looking for from Israel for their cars of the future? Security, imaging, location finding, analytics software, vehicle computers that keep hackers out, radar, sonar, sensors, and positioning systems to keep cars on the road and stop them crashing into other vehicles and objects. Israeli cyber and fraud detection techniques came out of its counter-terrorism needs. Optical and sonar software came from Israel’s missile defense requirements.
Korea’s Samsung and Kia have built a test road at Shefaim, just north of Tel Aviv, to evaluate self-drive cars with in-built Israeli technology. The CEO of one Israeli start-ups, supported by Samsung, spent seven years in an elite technology unit of the IDF Intelligence Corps.
In 2014, Google bought the Israeli mapping company, Waze, for $1.2 Billion. Anyone who has driven can attest to the amazingly accurate innovation that Waze has brought to everyday driving pleasure. The miracle of this Israeli technology is today considered commonplace.
Then, last year, Intel spent a whopping $15.3 Billion on Israeli autonomous vehicle technology firm Mobileye and moved all its operations in the auto-tech field to Jerusalem.
For a country not known for its automotive industry, it is miraculous that tiny Israel now has over five hundred start-ups dealing with the global automotive industry alone.
The Chinese have been attracted to Israel, as has Porsche and Honda. “We are going to do more here,” said Honda’s Innovations chief.
The Israeli tech sector employs over 270,000 highly trained engineers and programmers. At least another 10,000 will be needed within the next few years.
Barry Shaw is the Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the author of ‘BDS for IDIOTS,’ a seriously funny humiliation of BDS activism.