Robotic deliveries, 3D-printed organs: Israel seeks to bring the future closer

Israel Innovation Authority launches NIS 40 million initiative to fund startups developing tech in three areas: autonomous home deliveries, bio-convergence and school safety

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

A 3D printer prints a heart with human tissue during a presentation at Tel Aviv University, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP/Oded Balilty)
A 3D printer prints a heart with human tissue during a presentation at Tel Aviv University, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP/Oded Balilty)

In the future, walking robots will deliver same-day orders to your doorstep, 3D-printed organs will become a reality and children and youth will be kept safe at schools and campuses, according to a vision being advanced by the Israel Innovation Authority.

The IIA, the body that is responsible for the country’s innovation policy and that provides the majority of state grants to companies involved in research and development, is pushing a new initiative to help startups develop disruptive technologies in three areas: autonomous home deliveries, bio-convergence and education.

A NIS 40 million ($11 million) program was announced this month by the IIA to  fund tech solutions in these three areas, while helping create the necessary regulatory framework.

“The program is designed to propel Israeli technological leadership in the selected sectors,” said IIA’s CEO Dror Bin. “We are focusing on areas that we believe have tremendous growth potential, and in which Israeli technology companies have a relative advantage as well as the possibility of leading the development of innovative products that will change the world.”

The idea of the program is to foster synergy among different companies and technologies that will work together with regulators creating what the IIA calls a “regulatory sandbox” of trial and error for demonstrating the technology and proving its feasibility, and creating a business model for the products.

“We are funding experiments in tech fields with a huge market potential that do not have regulation, or full regulation, or regulatory processes for approval,” Sagi Dagan, vice president of the IIA’s strategy division, told The Times of Israel. “We are establishing regulatory sandboxes with local companies that do not exist globally to provide the Israeli high-tech sector with a promising way to create competitive advantages over its global competitors.”

Sagi Dagan, vice president of the Israel Innovation Authority’s strategy division. (Hanna Teib)

As part of the initiative, the IIA is calling on Israeli startups to submit proposals to get funding to develop solutions for solving pressing technological challenges in fields including home or “last mile” delivery, AI-powered clinical trials combining biology and engineering, and motion analysis-based security for educational institutions such as schools and campuses.

“Last mile” refers to the final leg of the delivery process, when goods are transported from the logistics or distribution center to their ultimate destinations.

“This phase, which accounts for over 50% of the total logistics costs, has become increasingly complex and expensive since 2020, driven by the surge in e-commerce sales and of home delivery services,” the IIA said.

In addition, delivery vehicles contribute to urban traffic congestion, parking issues, and heavy air pollution. To address these challenges, the IIA will be funding tech solutions submitted by startups in the field of autonomous or smart delivery such as walking robots for same-day delivery directly to a recipient’s doorstep. The selected startups will be working with the Transportation Ministry on the development of their tech solutions.

The second area earmarked by the initiative is bio-convergence, a growing industry with a market size of $120 billion in 2022 that integrates biology with additional disciplines from engineering such as electronics, AI, physics, computer science, nanotechnology, material science, and advanced genetic engineering, in a bid to meet global health challenges. The IIA selected bio-convergence for the program as an emerging sector that presents significant technological and regulatory challenges.

For this part of the initiative the IIA, in collaboration with the Health Ministry, is seeking to help companies in the early stages of their technological development facilitate rapid entry into clinical trials in Israel as well as breakthrough into global markets.

Professor Tal Dvir presents a 3D print of a heart with human tissue at Tel Aviv University on April 15, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“There are many areas in bio-convergence that still lack methods and processes for clinical trials and the regulatory environment such as, for example, letting AI robots decide what is the best personal chemotherapy for a patient or human organs printed overnight for transplantation,” said Dagan.

With the rise in violent incidents in schools, the IIA will select startups presenting innovative technological solutions to ensure security in educational institutions. The startups will work together with the Israel Police’s security division, the Finance Ministry and the National Security Ministry to solve challenges and fill gaps in this field. By 2030, this field is expected to show an average annual growth of 19%, primarily due to the growing need to keep children safe, the IAA said.

“The security of schools has very complex technological barriers and challenges, mainly to do with how to take existing AI algorithms and create a system that works in an environment with such a high level of privacy,” said Dagan.

The tender for the IIA program has started; submissions are due in September and the projects are expected to be selected and approved later this year. Dagan estimated that 15 to 30 projects will be approved, depending on the number of submissions.

The NIS 40 million in funds will be divided between all the selected projects of the program and will be used in 2024 and 2025.

“What we are trying to do is to create a very strong competitive advantage for Israeli companies on one side, while the government on the other side will have a huge benefit of creating world-leading regulators in terms of technological regulation,” said Dagan.

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