There are several reasons Israel trumps the competition in the startup world, according to Tzahi Weisfeld, senior director of Tel Aviv’s Microsoft global startup group. He credits a lot of the success to Israeli culture, world-class engineering schools and the amount of Research and Development facilities in the area.
Weisfeld added that Israelis gain a lot of technology experience during their years of military service. The military also creates a cultured, more mature individual. Israelis are exposed to the violence of its surrounding countries, creating a strong, resilient attitude. This tenacity breeds a lot of confident, tech-savvy individuals willing to take the risk of starting their own company.
Israel has over 4,800 startup companies making its nickname “startup nation” very accurate. Many American companies are catching on and making the move to Tel Aviv, even Microsoft and Google are in on the action.
One such individual is Israeli startup founder Boaz Zilberman who has created an Android operating system designed for the blind. The first phones were recently released for the Israeli and European markets, and were built by Huawei. Soon they’ll be arriving in the US via an as yet-unnamed carrier.
The phones were specially designed around a touch system that every blind person, knows, the 12-key number pad. Every screen has the apps and commands arranged in a square. Simply move your finger and the phone reads the command. Lift your finger off and it executes the command. It’s called Project-Ray.
The phone’s apps can replace many other devices that a blind person currently uses, like an MP3 player and book reader. It also has a camera app that can help users with currency. Users scan a bill and the phone tells them if its a $5 bill or a $100.
Zilberman is the founder of Fring, a Facetime-like app with 100 million users worldwide that lets you chat or make video calls. It was one of the first apps of its kind and is so easy-to-use it is popular with the blind and vision impaired.
“I’m known in Israel as an entrepreneur in mobile. People from the blind community approached me with a few questions and it triggered a complete product,” he said.
The worldwide market of blind people is small, so the project is more of a labor of love right now. But eventually, he’ll expand this version of Android to tablets and add features that make it appropriate for the vision-impaired—people who need large-screen readers and other visual cues.
Project Ray uses the latest mobility technologies to increase independence, enrich social lives and improve accessibility of essential services for the visually impaired. It bridges the digital divide and unleashes the power of modern smartphone technology. It’s a single, powerful mobile device that combines all the capabilities of dedicated devices into one, the RAY device is poised to become the new gold standard for the blind and visually impaired.