Barak's dream of a firefighting robot lives on through fundraiser

12-year-old Barak Houri's project was left unfinished after his tragic death on Yom Kippur. His parents, Tzofit and Isaac, launched a fundraiser to see his vision through.

 Barak Houri and his firefighting robot.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Barak Houri and his firefighting robot.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

At around 7 p.m. on Yom Kippur, 12-year-old Barak Houry was run over and killed by a drunk driver on Highway 4 in central Israel.

Using his own map to track his path, Barak rode his bicycle from the Houri family home in Ramat Gan to Petah Tikva where his friend lives – with whom he went to swimming class six days a week.

“He was so excited he didn’t even say goodbye when he left the house,” his mother Tzofit said.

After two hours, Tzofit received a call from the friend’s parents, informing her that Barak never arrived at their home. Following a number of missed calls to her son, Tzofit called Israel Police.

“Police knocked on my door and told me, ‘There was an accident, we are taking you to [Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus],” Tzofit recalled. “They showed me a photo of the bicycle and refused to give us any more information on the way there. We were feeling such intense uncertainty.”

When the Houris arrived, the medical staff told them their child didn’t have a pulse.

“It was over after 15 minutes, more or less,” they said. “We were confused and disoriented at the time but it was over quickly,” Tzofit added.

 Barak Houri posing with his hand-made guitar. (credit: Courtesy) Barak Houri posing with his hand-made guitar. (credit: Courtesy)

A self-taught painter, carpenter, composer and tailor, Barak did not waste a single minute of his life.

“He would constantly write up and sketch his thoughts in school, always thinking of the next project,” Tzofit said. “He managed to pack five minutes’ worth of work into one.

“For Barak, a problem is not really a problem but an opportunity to fix something broken,” the parents said. “He’s a kid who makes you want to wake up in the morning. “He gave us the motivation to be daring, to not be afraid of anything.”

The parents spoke of Barak’s influence on those around him, before and after his death: From a teacher of his who wants to give a lecture at the school on Barak, to children’s publications that want to use his works to motivate and encourage creativity in children.

“Musicians have approached us with the intent of performing songs he has written and lead concerts in his memory,” they said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic that kept students locked up in their homes, Barak thrived.

“While his classmates were climbing up walls, he was busy writing songs on his piano and painting,” Tzofit said. “I can finally do the things I am interested in, instead of going to school,” Barak told his mother.

That is when Barak came up with the idea of a solar-powered robot, designed to identify, locate and extinguish fires, all without endangering human life.

Barak built his automated firefighter with no prior knowledge or experience in robotics or electronics, sitting at his computer for hours every day, teaching himself how to program codes and how to weld.

Despite his hard work throughout the year, Barak’s firefighting robot – equipped with object-detection, gas, heat and light sensors, a speaker and light bulbs that automatically switched on in the dark – remains unfinished. “He built the robot so he could serve the public and help people,” his father Isaac said.

After his death, Tzofit and Isaac set out to make sure that Barak’s legacy is one of creativity, curiosity and resourcefulness. A crowdfunding project titled “Barak Houri’s Robot” was launched with the aim of completing his robot and making his dream a reality.

In addition, the Houris seek to inspire children and teenagers to learn and invest in robotics and programming through Barak’s robot.

“A week prior to Barak’s passing, he said he wants to open a Facebook page, where ‘children who are interested in robotics can help me improve the robot,’” Tzofit said. “If that was his last wish, we will fulfill his vision.

“Electrical engineering students have offered to complete Barak’s robot as their thesis. Large companies are also interested in taking part in this project,” his mother said.

As of Thursday, more than NIS 400,000 had already been donated by Israelis and others around the world for the completion of Barak’s project.

Eran Azoulay, the driver who killed Barak, has previously been convicted twice for driving under the influence.

“We don’t want to comment on him.... All we want is for him to get everything he deserves [in court],” the family said.

In a message to parents everywhere, Tzofit and Isaac urged them to appreciate every messy room in the house.

“I constantly complained about the clutter Barak left due to all his creations and inventions,” Tzofit said. “You cannot complain.... Now the house is tidy but the silence is truly profound.”

For the project fundraiser, go to https://giveback.co.il/project/64372?lang=en