9 Technologies To Help The World’s Trees

9 Technologies To Help The World’s Trees

Gene-editing technology can revolutionize the world of perennial crops such as apple and citrus trees. (Matthew Rumph/Unsplash)

By Naama Barak

Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for the trees, is a wonderful occasion to celebrate two Israeli fortes: green research and Start-Up Nation.

Therefore, trees, research and tech all form the very roots of this article, highlighting the top technologies that ensure the wellbeing and prosperity of our seedlings, saplings and fully grown green friends.

This year, Tu B’Shvat (the 15th of the Jewish month of Shvat) falls on January 17. Celebrate by sampling some new fruits while you read about these nine innovative ag-tech companies.

  1. SeeTree
SeeTree analyzes whole citrus orchards using drones and censors to prevent devastating disease. (Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

SeeTree is perhaps the most Israeli startup in the world, combining as it does military intelligence and that ultimate local symbol, citrus. Founded by a former military intel exec, the company collects and analyzes whole citrus and other orchards using drones, sensors and machine learning, giving growers a “medical record” for each tree. This can allow farmers to prevent devastating disease such as HLB, or citrus greening, as well as to monitor the general wellbeing of their trees and their fruit yield. SeeTree operates out of Tel Aviv, but also has offices near some of its largest markets in California and Brazil.

  1. Fieldin
Fieldin attaches sensors to farm equipment to allow smart harvesting and smart spraying practices. (Flor Saurina/Unsplash)

Fieldin is an Israeli startup that aims to digitize the entire growing process of high-value crops such as almond and olive trees, allowing farmers to stay on top of their work and making farming more sustainable. It does so by attaching sensors to farm equipment such as plows and pesticide sprayers that in turn allow for smart harvesting, smart spraying and smart cultural practices. By getting all the data needed, farmers can address issues such as water usage, carbon emissions and spraying efficacy, leading to healthier trees and more profitable farming.

  1. Fighting Treetop Fire

Fighting Treetop Fire is a startup that does exactly as it says: applied in forest fires, it uses algorithm-controlled laser beams to zap leafy treetops in order to direct the fire back down to the ground and prevent it from rapidly spreading from one tree to the next. The startup was inspired by the massive forest fires that often rage in Israel during summers, leading founder and electro-optics physicist Daniel Leigh to work out how he could contribute to combating the issue.

  1. BetterSeeds

Israeli startup BetterSeeds is working on genetically changing the architecture of many kinds of low-lying crops to enable mechanized picking using a cutting-edge gene-editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9. But it is also setting its sights on higher ground in the form of perennial crops such as apple and citrus trees, which could be revolutionized to make them less lengthy and risky investments. The gene-editing technology is set to enable trees to quickly mature within the space of a couple of years, increasing the range of trees planted, cutting down risks of disease and making farming more profitable and sustainable.

  1. CarobWay
Young carob trees planted in the Hula Valley in northern Israel. (Gilad Artzie/CarobWay)

CarobWay is all about giving the ancient biblical tree, the carob, a tech makeover and bringing it into the 21st century. After creating a huge databank of thousands of trees, the company chose the top 10 to form the basis of cultivation of the ultimate carob tree, seedlings of which were planted across the Hula Valley in northern Israel. The company has promised farmers to purchase the whole yield for 10 years. The seeds will be resold to a European manufacturer of locust bean gum, an important element in food manufacturing, and the rest of the fruit will be turned into advanced products. This way, not only have 170 acres of trees been planted in Israel, but their growth is being carried out in a sustainable, viable way that promises a green future for both them and their farmers.

  1. SupPlant
SupPlant allows farmers to optimize care for their crops in terms of irrigation and freak weather management. (Courtesy of SupPlant)

SupPlant promises to “Help farmers speak better Plant.” It does so in two ways: either by attaching sensors to monitor soil moisture and salinity, leaf temperature and more and combining this weather forecast data, or by using its already existing data from large farms to give similar predictions to smaller, sensor-less farmers unable to shell out on the technology. Either way, it allows farmers to optimize care for their crops in terms of irrigation and freak weather management, ensuring healthy crops, food security and sustainable income even with climate change. SupPlant has customers worldwide, including in the Middle East – it has already worked with Emirati farmers to cut down 50 percent of water usage in palm tree irrigation.

  1. TreeTube
TreeTube develops and distributes innovative products and solutions for urban greening. (Courtesy of FrizWeed)

Ever stumbled on an upturned piece of pavement moved out of place by a determined tree root? Then you will appreciate TreeTube, the Israeli startup developing a root structure system that allows trees to peacefully grow their roots firmly underground. The tube-like modular design of the system includes soil, water and a ventilation system, giving the tree all that it needs and directing its roots in an unobtrusive direction. Led by a team of entrepreneurs and landscape architects, it’s already been put in place in Tel Aviv and Europe, creating harmony between mankind and trees once again.

  1. Treetoscope

Treetoscope, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, has developed an IoT device that can sense the internal water flow of plants, giving real-time inside information on trees’ water consumption and needs. According to the company, it is the first such commercial device, boasting affordable technology and easy deployment for farmers worldwide. The solution not only aids growers to save water, but it also helps to better manage plant stress, increase resilience and boost fruit quality.

  1. Biofeed
Biofeed’s FreeDome lures on a mango tree in Tamil Nadu, India. (Courtesy Biofeed)

For fruit growers, the enemy is surprisingly small: pesky fruit flies that devastate crops. One solution to the problem is to spray trees but this is not necessarily eco-friendly or, for many growers, economically viable. Step in Biofeed, which has developed fruit-fly lures that use slow fluid release technology to attract and feed or kill the harmful flies. The easy-to-use and reliable suspended devices and traps have already been used to great success by mango growers in India and Togo, saving both tons of fruit and the livelihood of many farmers.

Produced in association with ISRAEL21c.

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US Energy Market Facing Supply-Side Pressures

US Energy Market Facing Supply-Side Pressures

Oil suppliers are having a hard time keeping up with consumer demand. (George Frey/Getty Images)

By Daniel James Graeber

Energy demand seems to be floundering a bit, but it’s the supply side of the energy equation that’s keeping the price of oil elevated, analysts said.

The price of oil increased on Wednesday in part in response to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on inventory levels of crude oil and refined petroleum products such as gasoline. Data showing a dip in inventory level is usually synonymous with an uptick in demand, while the opposite holds for increases in storage levels.

The Energy Information Administration on Wednesday reported total commercial crude oil inventories, not counting strategic reserves, declined by 4.6 million barrels from the previous week. That would normally be a sign of healthy demand, though gasoline inventory levels increased by 8 million barrels, presenting a bit of a mixed bag.

Giovanni Staunovo, a commodities analyst at Swiss investment bank UBS, said the gasoline data did not paint a strong picture for demand. Much of that, however, is part of the usual post-holiday slump in travel.

A decline in total petroleum inventories, which includes crude oil as well as oil products, offset what would otherwise be a negative report.

“These factors probably explain the solid price rally after the report was issued,” Staunovo told Zenger.

West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil, had already broken through the $80 per barrel threshold early this week. It finished trading Wednesday at $82.61 per barrel, up some 1.75 percent on the day. Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, ended the day up 1.1 percent to close at $84.67 per barrel.

The surge in prices comes on the heels of an update on consumer-level inflation. Consumer prices over the 12-month period ending in December increased by 7 percent, the fastest pace since 1982. Inflation for energy goods, however, jumped by closer to 50 percent, though that actually marks a small decline from last month’s estimate.

Nevertheless, consumers flush with cash from government injections show no sign of letting up. While in a bit of a post-holiday slump, demand still looks close to pre-pandemic levels. However, some say the problem may now be on the supply side.

“Global oil producers are behind the curve in regard to keeping up with ever-growing demand,” said Phil Flynn, a senior energy analyst at The PRICE Futures Group in Chicago.

The U.S. market is facing something of a supply-side problem. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are exercising production restraint in an effort to prevent the market from running too hot or too cold. U.S. crude oil production, meanwhile, is also on a bit of a decline despite steady reports of increased drilling.

Al Salazar, the managing director at energy data firm Enverus, said the week-on-week decline in domestic crude oil production was a disappointment given the ongoing struggles in the broader market.

Outside the United States national security issues threatened supplies from oil-rich Libya and Kazakhstan, while a geopolitical risk premium continues to emanate from tensions over Ukraine.

“Ultimately, we believe the combination of significant supply outages abroad and expectations of a milder Omicron demand impact will keep Brent prices well supported,” Salazar added. “That is until crude and product builds are sustained on a weekly basis.”

Edited by Bryan Wilkes and Kristen Butler

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Moovit Powers Public-Transport Independence For The Blind

Moovit Powers Public-Transport Independence For The Blind

After a partnership with transit app Moovit, visually impaired users of the WeWALK smart cane will be able to identify and navigate to bus stops and train stations, access real-time arrival information, and get live step-by-step guidance for the entire journey. (Courtesy of WeWALK and Moovit)

By Abigail Klein Leichman

Moovit, the world’s No. 1 mobility app, has begun a partnership with WeWALK enabling blind and partially sighted users to navigate public transportation independently.

Introduced in 2012 and acquired by Intel in 2021, the Israeli-developed Moovit app is used by more than one billion users in 3,400 cities across 112 countries in 45 languages. WeWALK is a UK startup that developed an award-winning smart cane for visually impaired people.

Moovit’s technology allows WeWALK users to identify and navigate to the correct bus stops and train stations; access real-time arrival information; get live step-by-step guidance for the entire journey; receive audio and text Get Off Alerts; and obtain service alerts regarding changes and disruptions on their route.

“This is a really important partnership for us, as it aligns perfectly with our mission to simplify urban mobility for everyone and make it more efficient and sustainable,” says Luke Redfern, Moovit’s UK and Ireland partnership manager.

“We were introduced to WeWALK earlier this year and it was clear we had a shared vision to make sure no one is left behind,” Redfern tells ISRAEL21c.

According to the World Health Organization, there are about 253 million visually impaired people worldwide, many of whom use a white cane.

While the standard white cane helps users avoid obstacles at ground level, it can’t help them navigate higher obstacles and it certainly can’t assist in finding the correct bus or subway station or planning the journey.

Using a WeWALK cane on the street. (Courtesy of WeWALK and Moovit)

This means many people with visual impairment simply don’t use public transportation, making them dependent on others to get where they need to go.

In fact, says Redfern, Moovit did a case study a couple of years ago in Toronto that revealed many of those in the disabled community had stopped using public transport because of a change to the system. In cooperation with a nonprofit organization, Moovit produced a white label application to solve this problem.

But the partnership with WeWALK reaches all Moovit users everywhere.

“WeWALK created a smart box that attaches to the white cane and shares sensory information from waist high and above through ultrasonic sensors and a vibrating handle,” says Redfern. It also has a voice assistant.

“We added to that, at no cost, a transport API which enables WeWALK app users to navigate to bus stops and get real-time information about when the train or tram is arriving, in addition to step by step guidance to get off at the right stop.”

A Bluetooth connection to the cane provides extremely granular information. For instance, the voice assistant may instruct the WeWALK user to “walk 100 meters in the 3 o’clock direction.”

A WeWALK user on a subway train. (Courtesy of WeWALK and Moovit)

Redfern notes that Moovit is constantly enhancing its own application and already offers features designed for people with vision impairment, color blindness, hand-motor impairment and mobility challenges.

A wheelchair user can find out if a particular bus has adequate space for the chair, for example.

Mobility is a basic human right

“We believe mobility is a basic human right,” says Redfern.

“We’ve spent the past 10 years investing heavily in making mobility available to everyone. So it makes total sense for us to work with WeWALK to enhance services to those in the disabled community, ultimately providing greater access to opportunities for employment, education and social activities.”

Jean Marc Feghali, WeWALK’s Head of Research and Development, said WeWALK’s mission of creating life-changing mobility tools is a collaborative process with word-leading partners.

“A prominent example is the delivery of efficient, usable and reliable access to public transport data. The WeWALK team’s lived experience of visual impairment only makes this need more apparent, a solution more critical, and our promise more personal,” Feghali said.

“Moovit’s partnership with WeWALK is an extraordinary step forward to realizing our mission, and our promise, of uncompromised visually impaired mobility.”

Next summer, Moovit and Mobileye — both Israel-based companies acquired by Intel — will launch MoovitAV, a six-passenger, road-ready electric autonomous vehicle (AV) for commercial driverless ride-hailing services in Tel Aviv and Munich.

Produced in association with ISRAEL21c.

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Here’s Why Supply Chains Are So Broken — And Aren’t Really Getting Better

Here’s Why Supply Chains Are So Broken — And Aren’t Really Getting Better

One strategy to keep supply chains flexible and capable of managing disruption is supplier diversity, both in the number of sources of any given product and geographic location. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Image)

By Erik Sherman

If you’re in business, any of these may sound familiar at this point. You can’t get large plastic cups for iced drinks. Building supplies. Pet food. Car parts. Cars. And lord knows what else. The supply chain blues.

GMH Communities, which builds and operates student housing and hears that if it needs appliances for 400 units, that could take six to eight months. “It’s a nightmare,” GMH president Gary Holloway says of the shortages. “It was everything from appliances to steel to more.”

“Companies are saying, ‘My product is being stopped, not because of some critical thing, but because of a plastic holding device for a custom box on an automated line I have,’” says Ethan Karp, CEO and president of MAGNET, a manufacturing advocacy and growth network in northeast Ohio. “I designed my line to work with this piece. It will take time to find another vendor, to get the molds made.”

Even as things supposedly are easing up, the improvement is in the symptoms. Three classes of causes remain to rise up at the next disruptive trigger, because Covid-19 was a trigger, not an absolute cause.

Poorly executed supply chain management

Many have pointed to back-ups at jammed ports, a lack of truck drivers, labor shortages, Covid-19, and the saying that “it’s a lot easier to go from 60 to 0 miles per hour than from 0 to 60.” All of which may be true.

But there’s a bigger cloud over supply chains and logistics. For decades, such strategies as lean and just-in-time supply chains have been popular, reducing the amount of on-hand and in-transit inventory through greater efficiency in production and distribution, freeing up money to invest in other areas of a business.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with his administration’s Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force and private sector CEOs in the South Court Auditorium of the White House December 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden spoke on measures the White House is using to mitigate supply chain bottlenecks, incentivizing new truck driver hirings and expanding domestic production. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

At the same time, experts in logistics have warned that there are good and bad ways of using these tools. Too many corporations take the latter approach.

“Just in time inventory works really, really well if you believe [your] Tier-1, Tier-2 suppliers are ironclad,” says Aaron Alpeter, founder and principal of supply chain and operations firm Izba Consulting. To ensure that they are working as they should, a business needs to monitor their supply chain. “You don’t have to wait until something bad happens. You should be partnering with your suppliers, knowing what’s going on in their business.”

“The reality is that many global supply chains were totally unprepared for Covid-19,” says Anthony Nuzio, CEO and founder of ICC Logistics.” For years now, industry leaders have been warning companies to be prepared for supply chain disruptions.”

A corporation also needs critical information from outside the chain, including checking available financial data on suppliers to ensure they are stable enterprises. That involves but checking public records if available to see whether they are solvent and have sufficient liquidity. Information on port delays and freight carriers—including trucks, ships, planes, and trains—can alert a business to slowdowns.

A company should also monitor reports of potential disruptions, whether global contagion, natural disasters, or geopolitical upheaval, and how they might affect production of products, components, or materials that a company needs to manufacturer or to sell.

The urgent point is to develop the ability to anticipate when and where disruptions will happen and take appropriate steps to keep a business running.

Unfortunately, gathering information and keeping ahead of problems is exactly not what happens. Preparation requires information, and most companies don’t have visibility into their full supply chains. The result is doing business on a bet that everything will be fine.

“The inventory policy and how they’re implemented—that’s the first fatal flaw in the system,” Alpeter says. For years, experts of all sorts told executives that if they held less inventory, it made the balance sheet look stronger. They likely said more, but at too many companies, that’s all that stuck. “If you’re optimizing to minimize risk, you likely get a different outcome than if you’re optimizing for a balance sheet.” The balance sheet choice is fine until the supply chain isn’t because there hasn’t been the monitoring and adjustments to reduce the impact of a disruption, as the pandemic has shown.

Gantry cranes, shipping containers and trucks are seen inside the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California, November 30, 2021. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Over concentration in markets

One strategy to keep supply chains flexible and capable of managing disruption is supplier diversity, both in the number of sources of any given product and geographic location.

Corporate approaches have been largely out of sync in three ways. One is that in many industries, consolidation among companies reduces the number of potential vendors. Two, companies try to reduce the number of vendors they work with to gain importance and improved terms as they become bigger customers of their business partners as well as to simplify vendor management.

Third, in some markets, a few suppliers can become dominant or at least significant, like the factories in Japan that were major suppliers of resins and cleaning solvents used in semiconductor and printed circuit board manufacturing. When the tsunami hit in 2011, those plants were shut down, leaving the industries they served unable to get the volumes of materials they needed.

“I think the consolidation is such a big piece of it, especially for larger companies that focus to consolidate things, streamline them,” says Carlos Castelán, managing director of The Navio Group. “They can typically move really fast and cost-effectively when there are limited issues. But when something happens, it ripples throughout the supply chain. There are sometimes options, but it’s going to take more time. We’re talking months of time where you have to go find a new vendor.” Having existing alternatives reduces the delay.


The third major factor is sub-optimization, a term that was popular in the 1990s when consultants explained operational weaknesses within companies. Rather than directing all the parts of a company to achieve a common goal and shared measures of success for compensation, siloed divisions focused on departmental goals, potentially throwing the whole operation out of kilter because the compensation drove behavior focused on the success of the silo, not the company as a whole.

It is like a car where, to ensure the best performance of brakes, that part of engineering would design them to lock tight and never release. The result is absolute cessation of movement. Of course, that undercuts the point of the automobile.

Trucks haul shipping containers across the Long Beach International Gateway Bridge at the Port of Long Beach on December 2, 2021 in Long Beach, California. The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have delayed a plan for a fourth time to charge shippers fees for container storage as a backlog of aging cargo at the ports has decreased 37 percent since last month. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As difficult as this is to control within a single organization, it becomes exponentially harder when companies must work together to enable a supply chain. One example is in the backup of ports in California.

“People think it’s a lack of truck drivers, but that’s not even close to the issue,” says Caitlin Murphy, CEO of Global Gateway Logistics, which is a freight forwarder. “The congestion at U.S. ports is complex because there are so many issues at play.” One is a lack of gate hours. “You have all this bottle-necked freight, and the drivers line up all day long to get their freight. If it’s 6 p.m. and there are still 35 drivers trying to get containers, the port tells the drivers come back tomorrow.” There aren’t enough people available to process paperwork and release contents to drivers because “the amount of customer service they have to do every day has quadrupled.”

Another issue is the handling of containers. “An empty container would come into LA,” Murphy says of the past. “A lot of times it would go inland on rail.” A company would receive it, fill the container, and send it back, the process taking about a month, at which point there’d be a vessel to take it to another country.

“Now what you’re seeing is the steamship lines are making hand over fist in various lanes, especially Asia Pacific,” Murphy says. The steamship lines route empty containers to ship immediately to China and pick up content at extremely high rates.

Companies in the Midwest now must unload cargo at the ports from containers to trucks and also send products in trucks to ports. The additional load makes a shambles of scheduling, with no no cohesive system to match trucks and containers. “Unless the steamship line is part of the solution by allowing empty containers back to the Midwest, we will never resolve this problem,” she adds.

An international problem

The supply chain might improve if conditions allow, but that will only mean the problems recede into the shadows—until some other situation again sets everything upside down.

Executives can take steps within their own companies by instituting the types of changes experts have suggested: using technology and data to monitor their supply chains, looking for advanced signs of trouble, and then taking appropriate action.

That doesn’t solve all the problems by any means. But it would give companies a fighting chance to make smarter choices, keep total operations as efficient as possible, and find solutions for problems before entire supply chains get bogged down.

Edited by Bryan Wilkes

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Gas Prices Just Keep Going Higher And Higher

Gas Prices Just Keep Going Higher And Higher

The pain at the pump continues, with gasoline prices continuing to jump higher, particularly in California. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Daniel James Graeber

Demand for motor fuels in the U.S. economy does not warrant the current price at the pump, though analysts told Zenger they do expect these elevated prices to continue for most of the year.

Travel club AAA listed a national average retail price of $3.30 for a gallon of regular unleaded on Tuesday, unchanged from a month ago. While California’s state average of $4.65 per gallon distorts the picture, retail gasoline prices nevertheless remain at multiyear years.

Patricia Hemsworth, a senior vice president at Paragon Markets, said the elevated price at the pump does not match up with current demand for gasoline.

“Consumption is looking dismal now on the retail side,” she said.

Hemsworth said the U.S. market appetite is in a bit of a post-holiday slump, with gasoline imports from Europe to the East Coast on the decline. The price of crude oil, however, is keeping prices at the pump elevated.

The U.S. Energy Department explains that crude oil prices account for the bulk of what consumers see at the pump and those prices continue to march higher. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil, was trading above $81 per barrel on Tuesday and is up more than 7.5 percent over the few short trading days of 2022.

Crude oil prices account for the bulk of what consumers see at the pump. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

Crude oil prices are edging higher on the back of security risks in Libya and Kazakhstan, both rich in oil reserves.

“The unrest overseas is giving the market enough pressure that oil isn’t really likely to respond to our sluggish consumption — for now — but that may change,” added Patrick DeHaan, the senior analyst at GasBuddy.

At home, higher prices caught the attention of the U.S. Federal Reserve, which said that runaway inflation could jeopardize recovery in employment. The cost of all consumers goods had increased by nearly 7 percent over the 12-month period ending in November, but it’s closer to 60 percent for energy goods.

The U.S. government continues to forecast retail gasoline prices eclipsing recent highs. (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

Attention, however, does little to arrest the sharp rise in commodity prices. Tom Kloza, the president of the Oil Price Information Service, said that even he’s surprised by current price levels given what seems to be lackluster demand. That said, prices are on pace to get even higher.

“A typical autumn-to-late spring rally points to RBOB prices in the $2.75–$2.97 per gallon range, which would equate to more than $4 per gallon for much of the country,” he said.

RBOB stands for reformulated blendstock for oxygenate blending and is considered a reflection of gasoline prices at the wholesale, not the retail, level.

The federal government said Tuesday, meanwhile, that it is expected the national average to hit $3.06 per gallon for 2022, 4 cents higher than last year’s average and 88 cents higher than the average for 2020.

Edited by Bryan Wilkes and Kristen Butler

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The Answer To Parkinson’s And Alzheimer’s Is All In Your Eyes

The Answer To Parkinson’s And Alzheimer’s Is All In Your Eyes

Neuralight product manager Tali Band making a presentation. (Courtesy of Neuralight)

By Brian Blum

“Look into my eyes. What do you see?” the man says to his wife.

“I see Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and MS,” she replies.

Not the most romantic interchange.

But imagine if gazing into someone’s eyes were the key to diagnosing neurological disorders, which are the world’s leading cause of disability and cost some $800 billion a year in direct treatment expenses.

The correlations between “oculometrics” (the biometric measurement of the movement and condition of the eyes) and neurological conditions is a much-researched area of study, with over 750 papers published in journals such as The Lancet, Nature and Neurology.

Developing a technology that can decode the data from the eyes has proven to be challenging, however. No one has successfully made strides toward commercializing an oculometric approach.

Until now.

In October 2021, Tel Aviv and Austin, Texas-based startup Neuralight launched out of stealth with a $5.5 million seed investment and a goal of digitizing and even automating neurological evaluation and care.

You can only improve what you can measure

Neurological exams have traditionally relied on a subjective, manual assessment of symptoms.

Neuralight CEO Micah Breakstone. (Courtesy of Neuralight)

“The physician will ask 50 questions, like how hard is it to button your shirt? Or the doctor asks the patient to walk across the room so they can assess their gait,” explains Neuralight CEO Micah Breakstone.

The lack of objective criteria has prevented pharmaceutical companies from developing effective drugs. Breakstone notes that for dementia, studies have shown that two physicians looking at the same patient on the same day could have a 35 percent variable in diagnosis.

“We need a statistically significant result,” Breakstone says.

Neuralight’s technology is not a cure or a treatment for neurological disease.

Rather, the platform is meant mainly to accelerate pharmaceutical development, with an initial focus on Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.

The platform automatically extracts microscopic eye movement measurements that serve as “digital endpoints” for neurological disorders.

A physician will record a short, five-minute video of a patient’s eyes. Neuralight’s imaging tools clean up the video, then artificial intelligence and machine learning get to work at deciphering what’s behind the eye movements.

Once Neuralight has extracted ocular metrics on a patient, it plans to sell the data to pharma companies. As Breakstone tells ISRAEL21c, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.”

Neuralight CIO Rivka Kreitman. (Courtesy of Neuralight)

“Digital endpoints are the future of neurology,” adds Rivka Kreitman, the company’s chief innovation officer and the former head of global innovative research and development at Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva.

“This technology has been the missing piece pharma has needed to make drug development for neurological diseases effective and ultimately more successful.”

Privacy compliant

In Breakstone’s ideal world, all the data extracted from videos by Neuralight would be processed on the Neuralight cloud, which he says is HIPAA compliant with all data de-identified (“We don’t need to see a patient’s face, only his or her eyes”).

Some organizations do want to keep the data in-house for privacy reasons; in those cases, Neuralight brings its own server.

Neuralight does not require eye-trackers, making the process simpler for patients because they don’t have to sit still for a relatively long period of time.

Neuralight Head of Engineering Vova Anisimov. (Courtesy of Neuralight)

Instead, a simple iPhone or even Zoom recording is fine. A Neuralight video recording takes 10 minutes vs. 40 minutes when working with an eye-tracker.

Neuralight’s AI “amplifies and augments standard video resolution so you can glean from standard video signals what you could traditionally do only with professional lab equipment,” Breakstone explains.

He likens the resolution to how satellites in space can make out the numbers on a car’s license plate using a similar kind of “super-resolution.”

Neuralight analyzes close to 100 parameters, including blinking rate, how quickly the patient can fix on a specific object, and the speed of pupil dilation (the latter is highly correlated with Parkinson’s).

Digital biomarkers

Neuralight CTO and cofounder Edmund Benami. (Courtesy of Neuralight)

Breakstone cofounded Neuralight with CTO Edmund Benami after Breakstone sold his previous startup, Chorus.ai, to ZoomInfo for $575 million.

“I could have retired, but that would have been a little empty,” he says. His grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s, and that led Breakstone to want “to do something to make the world a better place, something I deeply believed in,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

“Digital biomarkers are very much in vogue,” he says, and investors agreed.

Initial funding for Neuralight came from VSC Ventures, Operator Partners, Clover Health CEO Vivek Garipalli and Noam Solomon, the CEO of Immunai.

While most of the 19-person team is in Israel, where R&D is based, Breakstone relocated to Austin to build up the company’s connections in the United States.

Neuralight has a working MVP (tech speak for “minimum viable product”) and Breakstone hopes to receive initial FDA clearance by the end of 2022 with the first commercial contracts signed in 2023.

Clinical trials are due to kick off in the next few months. Neuralight is in conversations with three large pharma companies.

Although neurotechnology is a booming industry, Breakstone says most of Neuralight’s competition “is doing things with devices, not with the eyes.” Boston-based Beacon Biosignals, for example, uses EEG data to create biomarkers for neurological disorders, which he says “will be harder to be adopted as a universal solution.”

Fortunately for the billion people suffering from neurological disorders, Breakstone feels that Neuralight is “on an urgent mission. We are building a value-driven company.”

For more on Neuralight, click here.

Produced in association with ISRAEL21c.

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