An electric car for the elderly developed by students in the mechanical engineering department of Israel’s Ariel University was selected to participate in this year’s Global Grad Show, a now-virtual gathering of graduate and university social impact projects held in Dubai.
The selection was another sign of the changes wrought by Israel-United Arab Emirates normalization. This was the first year the exhibition has received applications from an Israeli school, and Ariel University was the only Israeli institution to win a place this year, an organizer of the Global Grad Show said.
Ariel University, in the city-settlement of Ariel in the central West Bank, became Israel’s eighth accredited university in 2012.
The student’s two-meter-long (6.5-foot) electric car can seat two people, and is small enough to park perpendicular to the sidewalk. It is driven by a joystick and contains a central computer system that sends commands to the motorized wheels.
The car’s door opens in the front and the seats can slide forward, allowing both passengers to easily transition from a sitting position in the car to a standing position on the sidewalk, and vice versa.
Zvi Shiller, head of the department of mechanical engineering and mechatronics at Ariel University, said the project aims to be less physically difficult for the elderly than a standard car.
The construction of the car — a department-wide operation that consisted of 25 students and four faculty advisers — was a two-semester project that ended in June 2018.
Aside from the motors, which came from China, most of the parts were sourced from local manufacturers.
It has now been chosen to be one of 100 projects showcased at this year’s Global Grad Show, out of over 1,600 submissions from 270 universities in 60 countries.
Now in its sixth year, the Global Grad Show is held in partnership with Dubai Culture and A.R.M. Holding. Its goal is to support the development of various student and university projects through funding opportunities, industry connections, mentorship and training.
Projects address environmental, economic and social concerns, and are organized around five themes: living with illness and disability; coping in a complex world; saving and protecting vulnerable lives; cleaning a waste-filled planet; and sustaining the urban experience.
The program — a year-long interactive exhibition generally held in Dubai — is being held virtually this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. It began earlier this month.
Guy Viplich, who was the students’ team leader on the project, is now working as a freelance mechanical engineer in the Tel Aviv area.
His greatest satisfaction in the project, he said, was to “sit side-by-side with my grandfather in the car at the graduation ceremony at the end of the year.”
“My grandfather was suffering from severe back problems at this time,” he added. “A car like this could have helped him very much.”
Viplich recalled the engineering challenges faced by the team, the late nights and sleepovers in the classroom, and then finally the joy of seeing the car function properly — coming a long way from the initial paper sketch.
The car is not the only social impact initiative to grow at Ariel University. The department submitted a handful of other projects to this year’s Global Grad Show, including a vertical bike lock, a motorized folding chair and a robotic weed killer. Only the car project was selected, however.
Schiller said the university places great importance on using final projects for the benefit of populations in society that most need help, like the elderly or new mothers, he said.
Past projects included automatic strollers, odorless trash, and wheelchairs with special features. The department-wide electric car initiative is the largest project to date.
Shiller said he hopes the Global Grad Show will be an opportunity to showcase the innovation happening in Israel, encouraging people from all over the world to come study or work here.
He is not certain whether the car can be developed commercially, but views it as a “concept car” that may inspire companies to develop the idea.
And though the car was developed two years before the pandemic battered the world, Shiller said the virus has made it clear that independence for elderly people is more necessary than ever. A car like the one developed by the project could provide a safe way to leave home without having to worry about contamination inside a taxi.
“We want to use the projects to do something good, we want to encourage creativity, we want to assist or solve problems for the weak segments of society, and we want the students to be aware of these needs,” Shiller said.