Israel: Technology, Innovation and the Entrepreneural spirit
When I mention that I am going to Israel, I typically get two responses: The first is “wow, sounds great – enjoy the heat” and the second is “Why on earth would you want to go there ?”
Seeing as this is a Technology Blog and not a Political Blog, we are are not going to get into the regions political situation. I will however say that before you take a stance about the Middle East, you actually have to visit the Middle East so that you can meet the people (who are fantastic) instead of being influenced by camera angles and the drama shown on TV.
So back to the Tech:
One thing that is undeniable, Israel is the nation that has shown the world a thing-or-two about innovation. If you have ever used Voicemail, a computer with an Intel Centrino chip, a USB memory stick, Google, IBM, Siemens, and SAP etc. etc. etc. etc. then you have experienced Israeli technology first hand. Israel is a country that encourages Start-ups and Research & Development and the result is that the world’s international companies buy out Israeli companies for their technology innovations. Check out the book “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer who explain just why Israel is ranked so high in the world on technology & innovation.
Every time I travel to Israel, I am amazed to see the changes thathave occurred since my last visit. Besides the usual changes such as new buildings, new offices, new roads there is a technology theme that seems to be embedded into everything.
During this trip, here are some items I have discovered:
One thing in the Cell Phone category that still works exceptionally well in Israel, are the various phones that have the Push-to-talk (PTT) facility much like a two way radio. You use it as a normal cell phone however when you want to call anyone on your “network”, you simply hit the PTT button and call them. What the big advantage is over a two-way radio, is that you are not limited by distance. In a radio environment, you have to be within range to talk. However with this system, this is no longer a problem as it piggybacks onto the cellular network.
Smartphones are everywhere with Samsung and iPhone leading the pack. So what about Blackberry ? This is the first place I have been that Blackberry isn’t common at all. After some investigation, it seems that there are a couple of main reason:
- The prices of the handsets are very high compared to other smart phones which by now all have push email.
- For a company to have BIS, the price is exorbitant for the software and monthly fees to operate it – not sure why this is different compared to other places
- The Hebrew support is not so great with no Hebrew/ English keyboard available.
So here is one place where Blackberry is not winning…
There is nothing like an Israeli breakfast so we headed out to a restaurant called Nafis. I was prepared for the long queue, the hot weather but what I wasn’t prepared for was how much the place has changed in a year.
Every table has a Tablet which displays that day’s specials. When you touch the screen, it shows you the menu and allows you to place an order directly from the Tablet. Once your order is placed, it has many child friendly apps installed so it keeps the kids busy while you try to have a conversation with other adults.
After the numerous cups of coffee, I headed off to the toilet only to discover that there is tech there too. Lights only switch on when they detect movement therefore saving on electricity and the toilets flush as soon you walk towards them and as soon as you walk away from them. Nice !
This one is yet another energy-environment-saving initiative. A local private company has put together an electric car system into various areas. In Beit Dagan the local council purchased the system in order to create a free service that fetches kids and takes them to and from school on an electric bus. It has also purchased several two-man vehicles which are 100% electrical for the local counsellors to get around during their daily duties. The Bus and vehicles have a recharge “hut” which is located near the school and the drivers, simply run their cords into the chargers to charge it or use their own electric sockest at home to charge the vehicle during the night when the electricity tariffs are less. The vehicles have solar-panels built into the roof so the vehicles charge their own batteries during the hot days.
In busy traffic intersections which are particularly known for high accident rates, the local council initiated research to see why these accidents were occurring. The results found that the traffic lighst took so long to change to green that drivers assumed that the the traffic lights were faulty and therefore tried to sneak across. The solution: a very simple, low tech idea – a countdown clock which tells drivers in how many seconds the traffic light will change to green. The system is intelligent and therefore during low periods, the countdown clock’s time is reduced and during peak periods, the clock’s time increases. Simple and effective.
On most streets, you will find recycling cages for plastic and green bins for glass. This makes it very simple for everyone to do their bit for the environment which is taught to kids from a very young age. After an evening out, I was driving home and I saw some teenagers walking with bottles of water and sure enough, as they finished their water, they walked up to the plastic cage and chucked their empty bottles in there. Nice !
So when you take all of the above into consideration and add free Wi-Fi everywhere which is open and has speeds of 21 Mbps, what you get is a country that takes its technology, innovation and the environment very seriously.