Technology developed by the Israeli braintrust behind the Iron Dome missile defense system will help protect the electricity system in New York State from power failures.

BIRD, the Israel-US Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, is providing a $900,000 grant to help the New York Power Authority and Israel’s mPrest to develop software that can rapidly detect malfunctioning power transformers before they cause larger problems on the electric grid for deployment on the NYPA transmission system.

Research assistance will be supplied by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

It was one of 10 grants that BIRD announced last week, totaling $8 million. For the BIRD Foundation, a joint Israel-US business forum that promotes partnerships to bring promising Israeli technology to American firms, it was the latest of the over 900 projects it has sponsored over the past 38 years. The money, providing up to 50% of the funding of a project, is given in the form of grants and loans, to be repaid only if the project reaches the sales stage.

To date, BIRD’s total investment in these projects has been over $300 million, and it has received approximately $100 million in repayments. BIRD-funded projects have generated direct and indirect sales of approximately $10 billion.

Yokne’am-based mPrest was one of the principal designers of the Iron Dome system, developing the mathematical and scientific formulas that direct the missile defense system, ensuring that an Iron Dome rocket can meet – and beat – an enemy missile while it is still airborne. Last year, mPrest used the same technology to develop a system to detect signals on the electrical network that would indicate a power failure was on the way, automatically shutting down or rerouting power to ensure that the lights stayed on.

That technology was deployed in Israel, in the form of the Electricity Information Grid, a system designed to keep an eye on electricity data flows and to ensure that nothing is amiss in how power is being deployed on the electrical grid. The local version of the project was initiated last November with the Israel Electric Corporation, and now it is to be exported to the NYPA.

Although protecting the electricity infrastructure seems a bit removed from the challenge of protecting Israeli cities from missile attacks, they are actually both of a kind. In a recent talk, Eugene Kaspersky, one of the deans of the cyber-security business, said that while hackers were currently using their talents to steal money, for the most part, sabotage of infrastructure – like electrical grids – was a major threat to governments around the world.

Over the past several years, there has been an explosion in the development of malware to attack infrastructure, SCADA systems (the automated low-level computer systems that control machinery, transportation systems, gas stations, utility systems, security installations – and electrical grids, among others.

“There is an international army consisting of tens of thousands of engineers out there developing SCADA malware,” said Kaspersky. “One day, a terrorist organization is going to get the bright idea to acquire one of these tools and deploy it to make their ideological point. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s just a matter of time until it does.”

mPrest CEO Natan Barak speaks about Iron Done at the Israeli Semiconductor Club (Photo credit: Shmuel Auster)

mPrest CEO Natan Barak speaks about Iron Done at the Israeli Semiconductor Club, December 20 2012 (Photo credit: Shmuel Auster)

Hoping to avoid a situation in which Israelis are victims of an “ideological point” made by Hamas or another terrorist group, the IEC partnered with a subsidiary of mPrest Systems, called mPrest Electric, which was a member of the IEC’s KARAT Incubator. Drawing on the tech used by mPrest to design and operate Iron Dome, the companies designed the Information Grid, which checks the flow of electricity to ensure that lines are not overloaded, and that electricity “viruses” – attacks on specific sections of the grid – don’t spread, allowing administrators to quickly identify suspicious activity and isolate it.

Like with Iron Dome, the key to the Grid’s capabilities is the creation of specific rules that quickly deploy resources and issue commands on the grid in response to ever-changing circumstances. The heart of the Grid is a command and control system similar to the one that controls Iron Dome. When an attack is detected – if a SCADA system that is controlling electrical flow starts acting “funny,” for example – the Grid will notice it right away, and automatically shut off connections to the substation or segment of the system that has been compromised, preventing further damage and allowing security personnel to better track the source of the attack

The system allows integration and control in real-time of thousands of sensors, which are installed at about 300 different sites in Israel. The sensors measure a wide variety of data, which flows into the Grid and is analyzed in real time. The Grid is based on a unique architecture which allows the integration of an infinite number of systems and assets, with no limitation on the number of links or data, said the IEC, and can also handle additional information from a wide variety of legacy programs that measure and record data. And to ensure full preparedness, the Grid prepares potential problem scenarios based on permutations of the data, providing daily “what if” scenarios and solutions based on the trends it discovers on the electrical system.

That is the technology mPrest hopes to bring to the NYPA, although terrorism is not necessarily the only thing the New York electricity officials are concerned with.

“Power transformers are among the most costly assets in the electric grid, so research in this area is critical,” said Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA president and CEO who also serves as chair of EPRI. “Providing service without interruption is the best way for everyone to measure how we’re doing our job.”

As part of the project, EPRI’s Power Transformer Expert System software will work in conjunction with mPrest’s Transformer Command and Control Software.

Other BIRD projects have paired Israeli start-ups with several large US companies. Israel’s Life-Beam, for example, will work with apparel firm Under Armour to produce advanced smart fitness earbuds integrated with bio-sensing technology; Ramat Gan-based Compedia and AllenComm will work on an augmented reality project for manufacturing; Telesofia of Tel Aviv, Israel will develop personalized wellness videos with the Tribune Content Agency of Chicago; and American Water, the largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility company in the US, will partner with Israel’s IOSight, Ltd. to develop decision support systems to improve the efficiency of treatment plant operations.

Dr. Eitan Yudilevich, executive director of the BIRD Foundation, said that the group “continues in its tradition of promoting joint projects between US and Israeli companies which are multidisciplinary in nature and contain a high level of innovation and knowledge. The Foundation initiates diverse activities to promote partnerships in new areas which are of great importance to both countries.”