Israeli Start-up Develops Technology to See Through Walls

An Israeli start-up has developed a revolutionary technology that allows the user to see through walls. If commercialized, it could benefit both the military and the rescue services.

Zuri Dar, Oded Hermoni
Zuri Dar, Oded Hermoni

An Israeli start-up has developed a revolutionary technology that allows the user to see through walls. If commercialized, it could benefit both the military and the rescue services.

In military operations, such a device could sometimes mean the difference between success and failure. In October 1994, for instance, an Israeli force assaulted a house in Bir Naballah, north of Jerusalem, in an effort to rescue kidnapped soldier Nachshon Wachsman, whom Hamas had threatened to kill if Israel did not release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. But the force could not see what was happening inside the house, and Wachsman was killed during the assault. This lack of information also cost the life of Captain Nir Poraz, who commanded the force.

The hundreds of anti-terror operations that have taken place since have only sharpened the need for a way to see through walls in urban fighting. Over the last four years, many soldiers have been killed by wanted men firing from inside houses full of civilians.

But now, a small, Herzliya-based company called Camero is offering a solution: a radar system, based on UWB (ultra wideband) technology, that can produce three-dimensional pictures of what lies behind a wall, from a distance of up to 20 meters. The pictures, which resemble those produced by ultrasound, are relatively high-resolution. Although the figures are somewhat blurred, the system enables the user to follow what is happening behind the wall in real time.

"The company was born of urgent operational needs," said CEO Aharon Aharon - and not only those of the military. "When disaster victims must be rescued from a collapsed building or a fire, time is of the essence," he explained. "Rescue forces often invest enormous resources and precious time in combing the rubble, or endanger their lives by entering the flames, even if it is not clear that there are any survivors behind the walls."

There are partial solutions to this problem, such as fiber optic cameras that are inserted through holes drilled in a wall. But such cameras are limited to line of sight: They cannot "see" through internal walls.

Camero was born at the Jerusalem Global venture capital fund (JVG), when Amir Be'eri, a former defense establishment employee associated with the fund (his most recent position was CEO of Infineon), developed a way to emit UWB radio waves. UWB was a new technology at the time, and it was necessary because ordinary radio waves do not provide high enough resolution to be useful. Yet radio waves are necessary because other types of waves do not pass through walls.

Another problem with radio waves is that they do not function well around metal. However, Camero has developed sophisticated software that enables its technology to work even on steel-reinforced concrete walls.

Be'eri, with his defense background, recognized the potential of the new technology and recruited Aharon, a former senior executive at Zoran and Seabridge. Together, the two recruited seven experts in RF (radio frequency) technology, signal processing and three-dimensional imaging. Camero also recently raised $5 million from JVG, Walden Israel and Motorola Ventures.

In addition, several big names have joined Camero's advisory board, including the Israel Defense Forces' former GOC Northern Command Amiram Levine and a high-ranking American general.

Aharon said an initial prototype of the device is expected to be ready in 18 months - a rather long wait for such a "hungry" market, where customers would be willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for such a device.

Moreover, Camero has a competitor: A company called Time Domain, which also uses UWB technology to see through walls, has been active for six months and is already selling millions of dollars worth of devices a year. But Camero's technology is superior in several important respects. First, it can be used from a distance of 20 meters, whereas Time Domain's product must be right next to the wall in question. Second, it gives a detailed picture of everything in the room, whereas Time Domain's product locates objects, but gives no information about their shape or size.

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