X-Ray vision now available through technology

Vayyar was founded in 2011 by Raviv Melamed, former Intel vice president; and Miri Ratner and Naftali Chayat, hi-tech veterans from Alvarion, a Wi-Fi company

A marcher dressed as Superman performs opposite the Great Synagogue in the annual Jerusalem parade during the festival of Sukkot  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A marcher dressed as Superman performs opposite the Great Synagogue in the annual Jerusalem parade during the festival of Sukkot
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Science fiction writer Arthur Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey) once wrote: “Truly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Many Israeli start-ups make magic. But here, below, is a unique Israeli technology that I believe is a leading candidate to top the magic list.
Four years ago, writing in Forbes magazine, Jennifer Kite-Powell described an Israeli start-up, Vayyar, whose product could see through walls.
“The company’s low-power sensors can see through skin and tissue to detect breast or other cancer masses, peek through walls to detect structural foundations or fractures and track a person’s location and vital signs as they move through a smart home,” she wrote. “To see through things, Vayyar’s technology creates a 3D image based on radio frequency (RF) waves, which allow Vayyar’s sensors to look into and inside an object and detect an image of what’s inside.”
I recently visited Vayyar at its offices in Yehud, a city of 30,000 in central Israel and spoke to some of the company’s managers about product development. At the time, I recalled reading Superman comics as a child. Superman, you may remember, had X-ray vision and could see through walls.
Vayyar has closed a circle. Superman’s creators – writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster – were Jewish. Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1, published on April 18, 1938. Some 81 years later, Israeli entrepreneurs made X-ray vision commercially available and viable.
Vayyar was founded in 2011 by Raviv Melamed, former Intel vice president; and Miri Ratner and Naftali Chayat, hi-tech veterans from Alvarion, a Wi-Fi company. Vayyar’s core technology is an advanced 4D (3D plus time) imaging sensor able to track everything in the surrounding area in real time without a camera. It does this by sending and receiving radar signals and cleverly interpreting what the bounce-back signal means.
Among Vayyar’s magical products: Automotive (e.g., keep parents from forgetting children in hot locked cars); Smart homes (alerts when elderly people fall); Retail (track customers in a store, track product movement on shelves); and Medical (early stage cancer detection, without X-rays). I asked Vayyar managers which of their products was the most revolutionary. Someone responded, mammography – imaging without X-rays, with fast results.
I asked Melamed several questions by email.
You left a senior secure and well-paid position at Intel to embark on the risky adventure of Vayyar start-up. (Melamed was general manager of Intel’s Worldwide Mobile Wireless Group). Why?
I did wireless for many years and I wanted to do something else that will have a direct effect on people lives. The medical world intrigued me and I felt there is a lot of room for innovation there, especially if you bring new capabilities from the wireless world to the imaging world. Since I enjoy building things from scratch, a start-up was the best way to go.
Research of some 800 Israeli start-ups showed that the average age of the protagonists is 36. I noticed that you have some graying hair. I recently wrote a column about “snow-capped idea volcanoes” – entrepreneurs over 60 or 70.
What in your experience are the advantages and disadvantages of “gray-haired” start-up entrepreneurs?
I don’t think that innovation relates to age. I think that when you get older you let your experience guide you, which sometimes can save time and money but, on the other hand, can hold you back from trying new things as you assume that you will know the result. If you are willing to challenge your own experience and not be limited by it, then I believe that innovation will always continue no matter how old you are.
Raviv, when we met, we discussed Vayyar’s unusual business model – your 4D imaging sensor technology finds use in a wide variety of applications, which creates a complex management challenge for a relatively small start-up. Normally business schools emphasize focus. Find your best product, identify your niche market, and single-mindedly focus on it. Vayyar operates in a dizzying variety of diverse markets. You agreed that Vayyar’s core competence is expertly managing this very complicated business model. Can you tell us whether this business model just happened, owing to market demand, or did you envision it and shape it from the outset?
We envisioned that from the beginning. Our logic was based on the fact that imaging sensors were always used in many industries and betting on one industry for a new technology will be a higher risk than seeding different markets in parallel. It also gives the company a wide base that makes it more stable. We believe that this stability is important to overcome any changes in the market trends especially if you are trying to build a large company that will last a long time. I think this approach can only be relevant to companies that have technology that can serve multiple markets and doesn’t need to conform to a specific industrial standard.
You say, “Build a large company that will last a long time.” This compels the usual question: Can Vayyar remain independent and grow into a global giant – or is it possible that you will be acquired? What are your views in general on Israel’s lack of ability to grow large independent global hi-tech companies, perhaps since Amdocs?
Recently, Dov Moran (founder of M-Systems and the USB flash drive) spoke at the Technion to students and admitted that selling his start-up to Sandisk for $1.6 billion brought him major “heartache” – he really wanted to grow the company independently.
Everything is possible, but we are trying to create a large company. It starts from the way we structured the company and it also shows in the focus we put on growing a skilled management team at all levels.
With regard to large companies I think the market is changing and larger investors are coming to Israel looking for growth companies. This was one of the key elements that was missing for Israel to have more homegrown large companies. The other thing that was missing was people who knew how to run a large operation. This gap was also closed in the last decade as start-ups were acquired and many people got exposed to the way a corporate company thinks and acts at the highest management levels. I think that in the future we will see more large companies but we should keep the fast innovation cycle and diversity of small start-ups as they will always be the real driver for Israel’s name as an innovation hub. ■
The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at the S. Neaman Institute, Technion and blogs at www.timnovate.wordpress.com