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Israeli ex-commandos innovating tech for campers, hikers and rescuers

The military is known as an incubator for high-tech firms started by former soldiers, but some entrepreneurs are using their military knowledge to develop physical tools as well

Idan Peretz, a former member of the Israeli army special forces and co-founder of the tactical solutions start-up Highnovate, holds up his "Roof Access Fast Anchor" (RAFA) tool during a demonstration at the Wingate Institute near Netanya in central Israel on June 11, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Idan Peretz, a former member of the Israeli army special forces and co-founder of the tactical solutions start-up Highnovate, holds up his "Roof Access Fast Anchor" (RAFA) tool during a demonstration at the Wingate Institute near Netanya in central Israel on June 11, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

MAAYAN TZVI (AFP) — As a young officer in an elite unit of Israel’s army, with its motto that no mission is impossible, Idan Peretz knew there had to be a better way to send rescue ropes across rivers.

It was crucial to rescuing people stranded on the other side, but the harpoon-like devices the army used at the time didn’t make the grade.

Years later, after over two decades of military service dealing with climbing, rappelling and rescuing, Peretz says he’s finally nailed it.

Along with a partner, he’s developed a solution involving a drone. Now he wants it to be a key part of his business.

Idan Peretz, a former member of the Israeli army special forces and co-founder of the tactical solutions start-up Highnovate, demonstrates his “Vertical Drone Rope Carrier” (VDRC) outside his office at the Wingate Institute near Netanya in central Israel on June 11, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

Israel’s military has long been known as an incubator for future high-tech firms started by former soldiers, but Peretz and others have adopted a different tack.

They are using their military knowledge to develop tools that can be used for camping and hiking by “weekend warriors” or as solutions for rescuers.

New products by other former soldiers include an all-in-one heavy duty tool for camping and hiking and a different take on a tourniquet.

‘Tried on myself first’

Besides military experience, Peretz has been helped along by his degree in mechanical engineering and his partnership with an experienced inventor, Beeri Katznelson.

His product uses a spool of thin lead-rope attached to a small drone.

It can be flown to the other side of an obstacle, whether a river, bridge or building, and detached by remote control.

Idan Peretz, a former member of the Israeli army special forces and co-founder of the tactical solutions start-up Highnovate, holds up his “Roof Access Fast Anchor” (RAFA) tool during a demonstration at the Wingate Institute near Netanya in central Israel on June 11, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

An adaptor connects the lead-rope to a sturdier one, which can then be set in place.

On the roof of a building recently, Peretz demonstrated another tool he has developed with Katznelson as part of their Highnovate company.

The tool, whose acronym RAFA sounds like a Hebrew nickname, is a compact and light clamp that Peretz unfolded and attached to the ledge before beginning to rappel.

“I don’t hang people on a product I haven’t tried on myself first,” the soft-spoken Peretz says.

A 27-year veteran of rappelling and climbing, Peretz understands the needs of the field, both for hikers and rescue forces, and has created with Katznelson what he says are “solutions that hadn’t existed.”

He believes his background in elite military units, where there is no room for mistakes, sets him apart.

‘Knew it was possible’

A similar line of thinking brought two other veterans of Israeli special forces to create an all-in-one hiking tool.

Yaniv Bar was an intelligence officer in what is considered the military’s top unit, where he served with Udi Cohen, who as an officer led soldiers in operations deep in the field.

Yaniv Bar, a former Israeli intelligence officer and co-founder of the start-up “Aclim8”, demonstrates hammering a peg with his co-developed “COMBAR” all-in-one hiking tool, outside his office in the northern Israeli Kibbutz of Maayan Tzvi on May 21, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

Out of the army and hiking in Bulgaria, Bar realized the need for a single tool that could combine a shovel, axe, hammer, knife and saw.

Without a background in engineering or product development, they consulted with professionals, who told them that the tool they envisioned wasn’t feasible.

“We geared ourselves up to action when we were told it’s not possible,” Cohen said in their office, located in what used to be a lens factory in Maayan Tzvi, a community in northern Israel.

Bar said: “We knew it was possible since we learned in the army that there’s no such thing as impossible.”

The two men, both in their early 40s and who spent years planning and executing seemingly impossible military operations, went on to create it, naming it COMBAR.

In a clearing of a nearby meadow, Bar and Cohen hacked, sawed and whittled pieces of wood for a small fire with COMBAR, changing its functions with smooth motions punctuated by clicks.

The two men approached the development of their product the way they would a military operation, Bar said.

“The same level of intelligence, the same research, the same level of execution and trials.”

‘Doing things seriously’

COMBAR and Highnovate, as well as other devices such as a tourniquet being developed by a former military medic, may seem to have little in common with the high-tech firms Israel is known for.

But their inception is similar, according to one expert.

Idan Peretz, a former member of the Israeli army special forces and co-founder of the tactical solutions start-up Highnovate, demonstrates his “Quick Release Belay Device” (QRAB) outside his office at the Wingate Institute near Netanya in central Israel on June 11, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

“You can learn technology in lots of places,” said Saul Singer, who co-authored the bestseller “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.”

“What’s harder to learn is to be mission-oriented, to become very oriented toward solving concrete problems and having responsibility and getting challenged.”

Israeli military service, mandatory for most Jewish citizens, sees young officers receiving “incredible amounts of responsibility” and facing major challenges, Singer said.

Peretz says Highnovate is a way for him to utilize his military training in the civilian world.

“Today I can say that some of the problems we solve are such that for years I had to circumvent with all kinds of other solutions,” he said.

For Bar, “what we took from the army is (the culture of) doing things seriously.”

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