Elite IDF tech unit working to develop medical equipment, protective gear
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Elite IDF tech unit working to develop medical equipment, protective gear

Amid shortages, Military Intelligence’s crack 81st Unit trying to convert cheap CPAP breathing machines into ventilators, better protective gear for medical personnel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A soldier in Military Intelligence's technology unit works on a project to convert CPAP machines into ventilators to help combat the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
A soldier in Military Intelligence's technology unit works on a project to convert CPAP machines into ventilators to help combat the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces has been working to develop protective gear and improvised medical equipment to assist health care workers as part of the country’s efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak, the military said Thursday.

On Friday, the Defense Ministry said that it too had begun working on the issue, tasking its research and development department with creating technologies and products to help address pandemic.

Military Intelligence Directorate’s 81st Technological Unit has focused on tackling several main issues: ventilators, protective equipment and improved data collection.

The Defense Ministry team will be led by Brig. Gen. (Res.) Dani Gold, head of the Directorate of Defense Research and Development, also known by its Hebrew acronym MAFAT, and it will focus its efforts on a number of key areas: quick diagnosis and early detection of virus carriers, prevention of virus transmission and infection, medical monitoring and prevention of infection within hospitals, and manufacturing protective equipment for medical staff.

“The team is using advanced technology, both civilian and military, to develop the aforementioned capabilities. This includes the use of big data, artificial intelligence, command and control systems, various sensors and mobile technology,” the ministry said.

The group is meant to be “inter-institutional and multidisciplinary” and will include officials from the Health Ministry, Finance Ministry, Israel Defense Forces, Innovation Authority and National Security Council, as well as representatives from civilian institutions like hospitals, defense contractors, startup companies, think tanks and academic institutions, the Defense Ministry said.

“The brightest minds in the country, from all the various sectors, are committed and working around the clock in order to identify and develop the technological solutions that will contribute to the national effort to cope with the corona pandemic. We hope to share good news with the State of Israel, as soon as possible,” Gold said.

The Military Intelligence unit has been working to find a way to easily convert simple breath regulating devices known as CPAP machines into ventilators; these are in short supply and are expected to be needed as the number of coronavirus cases grows, the military said.

“At this point, they are making a prototype to study it and find a way for broader development,” the IDF said.

The soldiers are also developing new protective masks and other equipment for medical professionals in light of a shortage in Israel.

“The unit is prepared to produce up to 1,000 masks a day for use in military and civilian medical teams,” the IDF said.

Soldiers in Military Intelligence’s technology unit work to install safety gear in an ambulance to protect drivers from the coronavirus in March 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

In addition, they created a way to seal off the front seat of an ambulance or van so that it can be used to transport carriers of the disease without risking infecting the driver. So far 50 such screens have been manufactured, the military said.

The intelligence unit has also been working to develop a new application to better manage the data from the thousands of checks being performed each day on suspected coronavirus carriers.

“We are in the midst of an international and national event of large proportions. As commanders in a leading and advanced technological unit, the responsibility is on us to reach out and help authorities find an answer to the present challenges,” said the commander of the unit, who can only be identified by his rank and first Hebrew initial, Col. “Lamed.”

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