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In Technion contest, kids design next generation of self-driving cars

RoboTraffic event puts 1,000 students from Israel and abroad in front seat for innovative autonomous vehicles

Students watch a self-driving vehicle they designed a the 2015 RoboTraffic competition (Photo credit: Shiatzo Photography Services, Technion’s Spokesperson’s Office)
Students watch a self-driving vehicle they designed a the 2015 RoboTraffic competition (Photo credit: Shiatzo Photography Services, Technion’s Spokesperson’s Office)

Self-driving cars appear to be the next big thing in the auto industry, and if Apple or Google are looking for engineers to help develop the driverless vehicles they are working on, they need look no further than the sixth grade in Karnei Shomron, in central Israel. Students there designed a driverless robot car which won first place in the elementary school portion of this year’s RoboTraffic contest, where kids from elementary and high schools get together to develop tech ideas to enhance road safety.

The team was one of dozens from 50 countries, featuring over 1,000 students, who came to the Technion for the sixth annual competition last week. Students from the US, Israel, Argentina, Russia and Ukraine vied for top honors in a contest that seeks to help kids build their robotics knowledge and skills, and prepare them for a career on the road by inculcating safe driving habits in future drivers at an early age.

RoboTraffic is organized by the Leumi Robotics Center at the Technion’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, World ORT organization, and the World Zionist Organization in cooperation with the YTEK Foundation and Eytam Robotics Ltd.

While the project concentrates on robotics, it’s how that science is applied that makes the contest very interesting – because it sounds a great deal like the technology that is going into self-driving cars.

“In preparation for the competition, the Leumi Robotics Center developed a ‘safe roads’ route course containing sensors that make contact with the car robots, and provide the vehicle with an automatic response to signaled obstacles as well as traffic lights and road signs,” said Dr. Evgeny Korchnoy, the director of the Leumi Robotics Center at the Technion. “During the competition, the robots move along the track autonomously, in a manner that ensures that they do not get into an accident in keeping with traffic rules. As part of the preparation for the contest, students learned about mechanics, programming, control and electronics as well as road safety skills.”

Students competed in six different categories: safe driving, racing, knowledge of driving rules, road safety ideas, innovations in robotic car structure, and knowledge acquisition of vehicle structure using Solidworks software.

Winning the high school part of the competition for the best, fastest, and safest robot car – and the best developed using the software – were Rachel Lubarsky (14) and Leah Baram (15), along with their team from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.

Lubarsky, apparently a quick study, said she didn’t know much about robotics before coming to RoboTraffic. “My connection to technology is limited,” she said. “We study in a Jewish school, part of the Chabad network of schools, and it doesn’t offer any subjects in technology. This is where we were first introduced to robotics, and how we became involved in the competition.”

“Six years ago we held this competition for the first time with only five Israeli schools,” said the Technion’s Prof. Moshe Shoham told participants. “Today, dozens of schools from Israel and abroad are competing in this competition. You are the next generation and you will be the ones that will bring Israel to the forefront of international robotics. Your generation will witness the revolution of autonomous transport vehicles and the roads of the future, and it will happen sooner than we think.”

“As part of the exposure of the younger generation to science and technology, the Technion attaches great importance to investing in young students,” said Prof. Moshe Sidi, Vice President of the Technion. “It is heartwarming to see such a great number of students from Israel and abroad partaking in this competition here at the Technion – all of whom share a common pursuit – a curiosity and interest in robotics and road safety.”

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