Online bookings made easier

The internet is changing the way flights and hotels are booked

people at the airport 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
people at the airport 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Before the days of online booking sites, travel agents took care of our flight and hotel reservations; and while many of us appreciated the personal service of the agent, we weren’t always very happy about the fees.
Enter the Expert Virtual Agent, or EVA, a free-text search application developed by Israeli start-up Evature (, after its founder, CEO Barry Volinskey, a frequent-flying high-tech executive, invested time and patience to do his own travel bookings online.
While the company does have its own website, the idea behind EVA is for existing travel-booking companies to add the technology to their own websites – a simple procedure that involves the addition of a single line of HTML code, in the same way that many websites today have added a search function developed by Google.
Having a search function on a business website helps users find what they are looking for quicker and easier. Despite these advantages, some of the best known online travel sites (, or don’t offer a free-text search function. Instead, users must mark all their choices in a number of different categories before the search can be undertaken.
The problem, according to Evature, is that a regular keyword search simply doesn’t cut it when looking for travel information. The company, therefore, decided to introduce EVA, which enables free-text search by recognizing the semantic meaning of the request.
For instance, if a user does a search for “vacation for wife plus three kids,” EVA will understand that the search is for a total of five persons. In addition, if a user types in Paris as a possible destination, EVA recognizes that the user means Paris, France, and not Paris, Texas.
Furthermore, a user can type “<$1200,” and EVA recognizes that the user is willing to spend no more than $1,200 per person on the trip. The search software also recognizes more loosely defined search terms such as “end of August,” attribute-based words and phrases such as “romantic” or “island vacation,” and abbreviations too.
With the number of people accessing the Internet via mobile devices continuing to increase, and soon set to surpass the number using laptops and desktops, the free-text search option offers another advantage: While some smartphones do have relatively big screens, they tend nevertheless to be too small for complicated searches that include multiple variables.
The EVA software has already been incorporated into a number of travel websites – mostly English-language sites, but some in Russian and Chinese too – and the company is currently said to be working on a voice-controlled search function that will be based on existing voice-to-text conversion technology and thus eliminate the need to type altogether.
Bad news in this regard, though, for Apple users. Apple doesn’t allow other companies to directly integrate their technologies with its own Siri voice-recognition software.
Apple users, therefore, may have to continue to use their fingers, while users of smartphones based on Google’s Android operating system should be able to fully enjoy the benefits of voice-activated searches.
After a test of the search function by online news magazine Israel21c yielded a number of errors, Volinskey insisted that the system is 85 percent accurate.
The Evature CEO added that EVA shouldn’t be seen as a threat to travel agents, since they, too, could benefit from the software, which would eliminate their need to learn the international airport codes used in their booking system.
Protecting airliners from missiles
Elbit Systems has conducted successful trials on its C-MUSIC anti-missile system.
The system, developed by the Israeli defense contractor, is the first of its kind in the world that offers civilian passenger airlines comprehensive protection against shoulder-launched missiles. The tests were conducted using a Boeing 707 aircraft, but sources at Elbit say the system can be employed on any airplane.
MUSIC stands for Multi Spectral Infrared Countermeasure and is part of Elbit’s series of Directed IR Countermeasure products that are designed to protect aircraft from heat-seeking missiles. In addition to the C-MUSIC, which is specifically designed to protect civilian aircraft, Elbit has also developed the J-MUSIC system for protecting medium and large jet aircraft, and a MUSIC system for protecting helicopters and small to medium aircraft.
According to Elbit sources, the system combines sophisticated fiber laser technology with a thermal camera and a small, highly dynamic mirror turret to provide effective, reliable and affordable protection to all types of aircraft and under all operational conditions.
Development of the MUSIC system began after terrorists in 2002 fired two surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli charter plane shortly after takeoff in Mombasa, Kenya, narrowly missing the aircraft. In 2009, the Transport Ministry contracted Elbit subsidiary Electro-optics El-Op to outfit all El Al planes with the system.
While the system does make the plane safer, it forces the airline to reduce the number of passengers it can carry due to weight and space requirements.
Early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s
While neurodegenerative illnesses are not only unpreventable, incurable and largely untreatable, a new Israeli medical breakthrough may open the door to early detection and management of such illnesses, and Alzheimer’s in particular.
By focusing on a number of biomarkers that indicate how healthy an organ is, NeuroQuest ( hopes to develop a fast and cheap way to test a patient for any signs of early stages of the illness, when the potential for delaying its progression is higher than at later stages.
The science behind the patentpending technology is based on research carried out by Prof. Michal Schwartz of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. Schwartz discovered that certain key cellular immunological components in the blood are needed for normal brain function, and that a malfunctioning of these specific cells allows illnesses to develop and progress.
The discovery of these immunological components led to the establishment of the biomarkers. NeuroQuest has recently completed a human feasibility study that demonstrated diagnostic accuracy at early stages, along with the ability to monitor the progression of Alzheimer’s and ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The study was conducted at three hospitals in Israel and one in Houston, Texas, and NeuroQuest is now preparing for additional validation clinical studies of its diagnostic test.