Fighting Terrorism with Technology

The second US Defense Department's competition for Israeli start-ups is being held these days, in the field of counter-terrorism technologies. Contest prizes will amount to a total of $200K

Last year's contest winner receives the award from US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro

An important startup competition has just opened in Israel's high tech heartland. Following a successful pilot in 2015, the US Department of Defense (CTTSO/TSWG) has partnered with the MIT Enterprise Forum of Israel and Israel Ministry of Defense to provide $210,000 in prize money for the best startup innovators in anti-terrorism technology, cyber, and specialized mobile applications.

The 2016 Combating Terrorism Technology Startup Challenge (CTTSC) is open to any early-stage startup or research group with innovations that can help detect, prevent, or respond to terrorist activities (both physical and cyber).

This year the contest has two tracks; one for general technologies and the other specifically for mobile apps.

The general technology track is expected to attract entries such as cyber, explosives detection, emergency response, personal protection, surveillance, etc. In this track, a single winner will receive $100K and the runner-up $10K.

The mobile applications track is open to any app that can have significant value against terrorism. The organizers are particularly interested in mobile applications that can be of use to operators in the field.  For example apps that can help soldiers or law-enforcement personnel understand a scene, connect a field-operator with back-office resources and analysts, apps that can enable navigation even when disconnected, apps for Internet of Things (IoT) management, etc. In this track, the best apps will share $100K in prize money.

The organizers note that in addition to cash prizes, all contest participants will receive invaluable exposure and feedback as their applications will be reviewed by a distinguished international panel of judges from the US Defense Department and other relevant organizations.

All first round entries must be submitted online by March 4, 2016.  A small number of the entries will be selected to present live at the Combating Terrorism Technology conference at Tel Aviv University on June 7, 2016, where the prizes will be awarded.

According to Gideon Miller, Chairman of the CTTSC, the goals of the program are to identify promising technologies and apps that already exist, and to encourage entrepreneurs to develop new solutions for the growing range of opportunities and new technology requirements coming out of the combating-terrorism community.

Miller added that the program is designed to help address several key trends which are playing out simultaneously. The first trend is the alarming proliferation of global terrorism, itself often driven by technological advances (as seen for example in the increasingly savvy use of social-media by terrorist organizations). A second trend is that with national defense budgets trimmed, counter-terrorism agencies simply have to find ways of doing more with less. Thankfully, a third trend is on the plus side: technology is advancing so rapidly that solutions unimaginable to the 'good guys' just a few years ago are suddenly becoming feasible. And so is a fourth trend: that governments are learning to leverage the civilian startup ecosystem and its models of developing and deploying solutions far faster and more cost-effectively than the traditional defense-contractor model.

Ayla Matalon, Executive Director of the MIT Enterprise Forum of Israel adds that the US Defense Department’s choice of Israel as the location for this program was very deliberate. The Israeli startup ecosystem is known as being especially innovative and productive, with the country often referred to as the “Startup Nation”. Israeli startups are behind many of the truly disruptive innovations of the past decade, and have had a completely disproportionate impact on the global technology scene. That track-record, along with the extensive expertise that Israeli companies have acquired in combating and addressing security threats of all kinds made Israel an obvious starting point according to Matalon.

The organizers note that although the finals will be held in Israel, startups from any country are welcome to apply.

The winners and finalists of last year's competition reflected a wide variety of cutting-edge technologies. US Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro presented the 2015 first prize to InSoundz, a startup whose technology zeroes in on and isolates any sound of interest even in extremely noisy environments. One can envision law-enforcement personnel using this technology to listen in on terrorists whispering their plans on the other side of a crowded coffee shop or border-crossing.   

Runner-up InnerEye’s technology analyzes a user’s EEG (“brain-wave”) signals in real-time to help them “see what they didn’t know they saw” – for example, an image-analyst wearing the InnerEye system receives an alert that something he or she just looked at triggered a peak EEG response and therefore may be worth a second look.  The image of interest may never have made it to the analyst’s conscious attention, but the EEG peak was captured and analyzed before the brain’s other mechanisms had a chance to filter it out.

Many of the other 43 participants in the 2015 competition had similarly intriguing innovations; the sterling list of attendees whose influence extends far beyond Israel's borders, testament to the event's perceived usefulness.

This year's finals will take place June 7th at the main auditorium of the Porter building at Tel Aviv University. There will be separate finals for mobile apps and general technologies, as well as a conference program focused on the growing role that technology entrepreneurship to assist in the struggle against terrorism.

More information about the event and how to register at this link