Hi-Tech: From injury to inspiration and innovation

Only after Ziv Shilon was discharged from the hospital rehabilitation center one year after his injury, did he understand that much of the world was not built for those with disabilities.

6Degrees co-founders Aryeh Katz (L), Miri Berger (C) and Ziv Shilon (R).   (photo credit: IDO IZSAK)
6Degrees co-founders Aryeh Katz (L), Miri Berger (C) and Ziv Shilon (R).
(photo credit: IDO IZSAK)
One October night in 2012, amid thick fog, Givati Brigade company commander Ziv Shilon was leading his final mission on his very last day in the position, a combined operation to search for explosive devices and tunnels in an area close to the Israel-Gaza border. Shilon’s final task was to open a border fence gate to allow Israeli tanks to return to Israeli territory.
Due to limited visibility and the likelihood that enemy snipers would target his forces, Shilon left his soldiers approximately 250 meters behind him as he ran to open the fence.
“When I started as a commander in the IDF, I knew that you must always lead your soldiers, no matter the situation,” Shilon told The Jerusalem Post.
“I ran to that gate, opened the lock and took about three steps forward. I felt an enormous explosion that threw me backwards.”
When he finally managed to open his eyes, Shilon saw his left hand was full of blood. He tried to apply pressure to the wound with his right hand, but realized that his injured hand was almost disconnected.
“Within seconds, I understood that the worst thing that can happen to me and to Israel was to be kidnapped by a Hamas terrorist. By some form of miracle, I gathered the leftovers of my arms and managed to run some 250 meters from the Gaza border straight to my vehicle,” said Shilon.
There, he was given first aid and soon evacuated by helicopter to Soroka Medical Center, in critical condition.
Hanging between life and death, Shilon was unconscious for four days, underwent eight operations, and received 52 units of blood, more than eight times the amount circulating in the human body.
“When I finally stabilized, I realized that now the real battle of my life has begun. During the first few months, it wasn’t only the pain and the bad news, but the feeling that a second ago I was a company commander with responsibility for 130 combat soldiers, and now I need help to take showers, eat and dress,” recalled Shilon, who now has a prosthetic left arm and limited use of his right.
“I understood that I have two choices. I can either be dependent on my family for the rest of my life and wake up every morning and ask God why he took my hands away, or make the hard choice to wake up every morning and say thank you that I still have my life.”
Only after he was discharged from the confines of the hospital rehabilitation center one year after his injury, Shilon said, did he understand that much of the world was not built for those with disabilities.
“With this understanding, I started to research and develop companies and academic programs, mental wellness programs for wounded soldiers like me. I wanted to help them regain their ability to be a part of that world,” he said.
Initiatives launched by Shilon included an assistance program for wounded veterans who are commencing their studies at IDC Herzliya, where he studied law, and a fitness program for youth at Ofek Juvenile Prison.
Shilon began his latest project, combining impact with business, after being introduced to fellow disabled veteran Aryeh Katz and industrial designer Miri Berger, who were already designing a technology-based solution for a lecturer who had lost his hand in an accident.
Together, they cofounded 6Degrees, a Tel Aviv-based start-up developing motion-based, wearable technology that controls smart devices, enabling people with upper-limb deficiency – whether from birth or as a result of injury or illness – to join the digital world.
A PROTOTYPE of 6Degrees’ wearable technology. (Courtesy)A PROTOTYPE of 6Degrees’ wearable technology. (Courtesy)
The company is mentored by Rami Beracha, a successful hi-tech investor who was severely wounded during the First Lebanon War.
“I was their first tester in Israel, and I understood that they were developing something great. We have expanded the company, not just to replace a computer mouse, but for all operating systems; not only for people with amputations, but also for people with Parkinson’s, where we know how to filter out the tremors, and [for] kids with cerebral palsy,” said Shilon.
“There are more than 300 million people all over the world dealing with loss of fine motor skills. That is a lot of people who can’t really control technological devices, as they lack the ability use touch screens or a computer mouse, and voice control will never be as precise as imitating hand movement.”
Using a patented, adaptable, self-calibrating and learning algorithm, 6Degrees’ sleek wearable connects via Bluetooth to any smart device. The user simply places the battery-operated band on his or her upper arm and, within minutes, becomes able to accurately control the cursor or device, adjusted to the wearer’s individual limits or needs.
The desire to help children and disabled veterans and promote a feeling of normalcy are always at the heart of the company’s efforts. Rather than designing a big, bulky device, the company’s prototypes are intentionally unobtrusive and even fashionable.
“As the older generation, we struggle to understand the meaning of gaming in the world of children today. We used to play soccer or basketball in the playground. Today, without being able to play games with your friends, it’s like not being able to play soccer in the playground during break,” said Shilon.
“And at the other end of the spectrum, we are all temporarily able. The elderly also find it difficult to steadily hold a computer mouse. For both groups, whether it’s disabilities as children or older age, we will be the best option to communicate with the world.”
Boosted by initial backing by leading technology entrepreneur and investor Ron Zuckerman, 6Degrees hopes to soon close a seed-stage round of funding to complete its algorithm development and go to market, initially in Israel and the United States by the end of 2019.
Shilon, who has told his inspiring life story to large audiences across the world, will share the latest chapter as a speaker at the rehabilitation track of the MIXiii-BIOMED 2019 Conference taking place May 14-16 in Tel Aviv.
“We predict that by December of this year, we will be able to go to market with our 6Degrees technology. We can really change the life of a lot of people all over the globe, and we will do everything that we need to accomplish it,” said Shilon.