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Israeli Inventions: Waze

Israel may be a relatively small country in square footage and population, but it is home to some big inventions and innovations, particularly in the technology industry. As part of our Federation’s commitment to educating and advocating for our Israeli family, this blog is the first in a monthly series we’ll be posting about Israeli inventions that are touching lives in Los Angeles, Israel and the world.

Anybody out there remember tooling around Tinseltown with a booklet full of maps called the Thomas Guide? If you got lost while driving, you just pulled over, fumbled for a light, found the grid of streets you were on and found your way again. From 1915 through the early 2000s when GPS systems were invented, the Thomas Guide was the best transportation invention since, well, brakes.

As time went on, however, the Thomas Guide’s inconvenience became apparent:  you had to pull over and memorize your route. In 2011, that all changed when the incredible traffic-outsmarting app Waze came into our lives. But the story of Waze begins several years earlier in 2006 in Israel.

Originally co-founded by Ehud Shabtai as FreeMap Israel, Waze was created to offer Israelis an easy-to-access digital map of the Holy Land. According to the Waze website, “Apparently, the whole thing started because Ehud wasn’t very good at navigating his way to places.” After using a GPS and realizing the technology could be improved upon, he developed Waze.

Remember the terrifying 405 freeway closure that L.A. lovingly dubbed “Carmaggedon?” Ehud and his cofounders Noam Bardin, Amir Shinar and Samuel Keret visited Los Angeles ahead of this nightmare construction project and begged drivers to download the app so that the real-time crowdsourcing map would work. Evidently their chutzpah was successful, because in 2013, Google bought Waze for $966 million.

As quoted in a July 2013 issue of The Jewish Journal: “The Israeli people feel that they have some part in this huge success story,” said Izhar Shay, head of Israel operations at venture capital firm Canaan Partners. “We were the test group. We were the first users of an international breakthrough project, and we were part of the reason why Waze was so successful.”

If you’re a commuter and you haven’t heard of Waze by this point, you are in the minority. If you’re one of Waze’s more than 50 million regular users, you probably take great comfort in hearing the computerized voice state “red light camera reported ahead” or “car on shoulder reported ahead.” You probably laugh at the way she pronounces Los Angeles with emphasis on the last syllable or the strange inflections she makes as she guides you through traffic. You may even raise your voice to express discontent as she frequently repeats instructions to “exit right ahead.” But you love her. Because she routes you around accidents and traffic jams, lets you know when there’s an animal in the road, and gets you to your big meeting or your kid’s soccer game or your anniversary dinner on time.

And all of that is thanks to Israel.

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