January 22, 2019

Car accident puts inventor on his life’s path

Josh (Yehoshua) Shachar’s resume is impressive: more than 160 patents on innovations he has helped develop, founder of more than 10 high-tech companies and author of countless research papers. A typical day for him could mean working on multimillion-dollar aircraft and missiles for the Department of Defense or the next generation of smart medical device technologies. 

But to this 58-year-old, these are all simply milestones on a journey that began when he was a young child. 

Born in 1956 in Haifa, Israel, Shachar recalls, even from his earliest days, being someone whose passion was to learn the “why” behind all things — from trying to figure out how a particular machine worked, to understanding the rules of sociopolitical interactions, to looking up at the stars at night and pondering how the whole universe fits together.

“As a young boy, I remember I always tried to figure out how things work and how to solve problems in a different way,” he said. “I was about 9 or 10 when I built my first refrigerator using a box of ice. Then I built a radio with a cord and nail that received AM frequencies.”

After his service in the Israeli military and his studies at the University of Haifa and at the Sorbonne in France, Shachar decided to pursue a doctorate at UCLA. Three years into his studies, however, he was involved in a serious car crash that sent him to the hospital, where he stayed on and off for six months for surgeries and treatments. 

The accident changed his life in a profound way, he said, cutting short his studies but making him realize that it was more important to pursue his real passion: inventing.

In 1981, Shachar created his first technology company, the Chatsworth-based ThermoControl Inc., which developed a laser temperature-sensing system. Other advanced engineering and technology companies followed, some founded and then sold. They worked on technologies and equipment used today by the U.S. military as well as in aviation and medicine. All of this was done with almost no prior knowledge in these fields. He learned as he went along, studying what he believed could bring better results in the operating room or on the battlefield.

Eventually, he began to move away from his successful work with the military and aerospace. The idea started after speaking with Edward Teller, the Jewish father of the hydrogen bomb.  

His mother developed heart issues that required a cardio-catheter procedure. After watching the doctor at work, he thought, “Can we do this better? Can we do this smarter?”

“Teller, who was arguably one of the greatest physicists of our time, spoke to us about the need to move away from a military complex mindset to one of ‘dual-use technology,’ where whatever work we were doing could be adapted over to civilian application,” Shachar said. “He obviously foresaw not only the movement away from the dependence on defense budgets but also the growing opportunity for commercialization of the technologies we were creating.”

But there was a secondary reason: His mother developed heart issues that required a cardio-catheter procedure. After watching the doctor at work, he thought, “Can we do this better? Can we do this smarter?”

That was in 1998, and it led, four years later, to the creation of Magnetecs Corp. Shachar is CEO and chief technology officer of the Inglewood-based company, which features 25,000 square feet of office and lab space and employs 130 workers (engineers, technicians and doctors) developing inventions for military and medical use. The company makes a robotic Catheter Guidance Control and Imaging system (CGCI) that enables physicians to precisely control surgical tools in highly dynamic or previously inaccessible environments.

“It’s less invasive and the recovery period is much faster,” Shachar said. “I’ve seen a patient in Madrid who suffered from a serious heart problem. His doctors used CGCI during the operation, and he came out after four hours, feeling great. The results are immediate.”

He said CGCI systems have been installed in Spain and South Korea. Now the company is in its final negotiation stage with a major medical center to test it in the United States and is seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration. 

Knowing that one of his inventions has the power to help someone makes Shachar happy, but it’s not what drives him.

“What makes me the happiest is starting on a new invention, a new project,” he said. “This is my calling in life, and when you do what you love, you are happy.”

This, despite the fact that his calling involves a lot of patience, given that it can take years to complete a project and see it to market.

“I like the saying: A thousand miles start with the first step,” Shachar said. “I have patience and I know that along the way, I’ll face waves and bumps, and I’m ready for that. The waves in life don’t faze me. Happiness never exists unless you work hard.”

Shachar has worked hard, sometimes funding projects on his own.

“We have shareholders, but in the beginning, I used to fund all my ideas and patents myself,” he said. “I invested a lot of my own money on my inventions, and I like to say that I have never earned a penny I didn’t work for.”

Shachar still manages to find time to watch movies and write. His office library contains professional books written by him on such subjects as robotics and remote navigation, side-by-side with “The Dread in the Literature of the Anonymous,” a work of fiction he wrote.

His three children, born and reared in Los Angeles, now live abroad. His older daughter is a doctor in Israel, his son studies medicine in Italy, and his youngest child is a soldier in the Israeli army. He and his wife, Dorit, live in Santa Monica, near the beach, and have another home in Caesarea, Israel, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. 

Whatever you do, though, don’t mention the word retirement.

“Retiring? Never. But moving back to Israel eventually? Sure,” he said. “I can’t picture myself ever doing nothing. If I won’t be able to invent, I won’t be happy, and I was never unhappy in my life. I’m looking forward to each day at work. For me, it’s not really work. It’s my passion in life and what drives me.”