In honor of IDF Injured Veterans Day, Makers for Heroes does it again

From building VR glasses to a wheelchair-bound vet so he can experience running again, to helping another without an arm fly a drone, MFH helps people restart their lives.

Restart CEO Niv Efron (photo credit: RESTART)
Restart CEO Niv Efron
(photo credit: RESTART)
Thursday marks the day when the entire nation honors those injured during their military service. Established in 2014, the Hebrew date alludes to the 1947 UN General Assembly decision supporting the creation of the State of Israel.
There are roughly 50,000 disabled IDF vets currently coping with the complexities of returning to civilian life after being injured while serving their country.
Last month, the NGO Restart completed its fourth annual “Makers for Heroes” event, showcasing 20 innovative solutions created for a variety of needs felt by such soldiers.
Ilay Hayut was given the option of being an athlete during his IDF service, but opted to serve in a combat unit where a training injury damaged his spinal cord. Now in a wheelchair, he sought Virtual Reality solution to mimic the sensation of running.
Former Golani Brigade soldier Ben Spitzer suffered serious injuries during the 2008 Operation Cast Lead. Eventually, his right hand was removed and his short-term memory suffered greatly. His need was to find a path back into his pre-army hobby of flying a drone using only his left hand.
CEO Niv Efron, who is himself an IDF veteran disabled during his army service, told The Jerusalem Post that Restart was founded in 2014.
“Imagine that you are at the prime of your life, and one day that [set of abilities] is cut, and you are no longer at that place,” he said.
“I was unable to do various things I was able to do before,” he explained. “We are here to bridge that gap.”
During the first run of Makers for Heroes (MFH), Efron requested to be able to do pull-ups again, as his left arm was damaged. The solution, an innovative splint, enabled him to succeed.
“That success made me realize there are other things I imagine myself as not being able to do, due to the fact you need – and are told – to accept your injury,” he shared – “even solvable things.”
For Efron, it’s important to note that some things can’t be changed.
“Due to my lung injury, I can’t travel in countries with a high altitude like Nepal,” he explained, “but I can still go and visit New Zealand.”
THERE IS more than one way to do things. If a person needs a prosthetic leg, it can come with a release button, so that the person doesn’t have to use straps. That little thing can make a world of difference to a disabled person.”
The process is as follows: MFH gets requests with each of its annual rounds. The guiding questions are: Is there a solution for this in the market? If so, it directs the request to the existing option. Is the need doable? “For example, there is no way to replace the wrist of my left hand,” Efron points out. Last, can the solution be created in the space of one year?
Accepted requests are then matched with technology firms, which find volunteers who work for a full year to answer the need. The MFH event days are, in essence, putting the final touches on a solution that had been roughly 12 months in the making.
“This year we had 20 teams, which means there were 300 volunteers who were willing to put in the work despite the COVID-19 restrictions,” he said. “We had to adjust and work in small groups to complete our primary mission, which is to help wounded soldiers to do [even] one thing they couldn’t do before. We got amazing results – and I really didn’t expect this kind of advanced tech.”
For Hayut, part of the VR solution charm is that it is based on the Korazim landscapes he used to run in before his injury, when he was a mountain running champion.
“The solution is based on securing me with a harness and putting on the VR glasses,” he explains, “even if this is in a room with the AC working, it gives me the sensation of running again. Even if I can’t feel it, this is as close as I can be to it right now.”
In the case of Spitzer, the team debated what to use: maybe a control helmet so he could direct the direction of the multicopter? Or how about Tongo, an Israeli start-up that allows people to control digital devices with their tongue? Spitzer answered the questions himself when he explained that he wants to use a joystick to the greatest extent possible.
“We used a DJI drone,” said team leader Drory Shohat from Intel. “And thanks to the cooperation of industrial designer Lidor Yaish and 3D designer Eyal David, we were able to create joystick extensions that, with a harness, solved that need.”
“We presented Spitzer with the DJI and the controls during the Makers for Heroes event at Ruppin College, and he was delighted,” he told the Post, “we get videos from him every weekend when he flies it.”