Thanks to Israeli robots, the future is here

At the Jerusalem College of Technology, we expect to be an integral part of Israel’s path to becoming a major force in robotics around the world.

Rafael’s Coronavirus Robot (photo credit: RAFAEL ADVANCED SYSTEMS)
Rafael’s Coronavirus Robot
Abraham Lincoln once said “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Imagine a hospital full of coronavirus patients. How can a doctor or nurse perform their work without directly exposing themselves to the virus? The answer is here – and it lies with robots.
Already taking place in many hospitals globally, robots are visiting patients with cameras attached, facilitating interaction between doctors and patients via a screen. Meanwhile, other robots are whirring down the hallways outside, disinfecting their surroundings with UV light that can kill the virus almost instantly.
This is not a far-fetched dream, but a reality taking place around the world. Israel has a choice of being left behind or leading the wave of future opportunities. Millions of people are being displaced by robots and artificial intelligence and yet many jobs are being created by these exciting brand-new areas as well.
Robotics is, by all accounts, a booming industry set to be valued at some $70 billion by 2023.
Naturally, as the Start-Up Nation, Israel is claiming a significant slice of the robotics pie. Some 4% of Israel’s hi-tech sector is dedicated to the industry, with that figure expected to grow significantly in the years ahead.
At the Jerusalem College of Technology, we expect to be an integral part of Israel’s path to becoming a major force in robotics around the world.
As such, we are opening a robotics center. With the generous support of donor Ilan Goldstein, active entrepreneur and angel investor, the center will kick off by awarding NIS 10,000 scholarships to a handful of engineering students who have demonstrated academic excellence and are performing capstone projects in the field. “The area of robotics will continue to change the world in significant ways,” Goldstein said. “We need to make an effort to bring students into the field so Israel can lead the robotic revolution.”
Two JCT students, Shlomichai Nagari and Daniel Biderman, are working on their degree project with a top-tier medical technology company focusing on robot programming for the purpose of conducting operations on medical patients via hand gestures and vocal control. Both Nagari and Biderman were excited about this field because of the opportunity to make an impact on health care and to bring new possibilities to the operating room.
Additionally, two other JCT students are working with robots to enable human-less care to patients that are extremely contagious. By fully protecting medical staff, this would allow front-line workers to stay healthy and work to continue courageously fighting this global pandemic.
JCT currently has two robotics labs, each equipped with a state-of-the-art industrial robot. The center will enable us to leverage these labs, our faculty and our students to spearhead research that will, for example, help increase productivity in heavy industries and help develop new medical applications. By collaborating with experts in hi-tech and bio-med fields, we can develop a myriad of ways to make the world a better place.
This initiative is exactly what our students need to incentivize them to become more involved in a field that is rife with opportunities for expansion.
This also provides a great opportunity for our female students – a demographic who are sadly under-represented in STEM. Not so at JCT, where, for example, 53% of the institutions’ computer-science students are women; this figure accounts for 20% of the women computer science students across Israel.
Immersing oneself in a booming and lucrative field like robotics, then, is another way for an entire generation of women to break through the glass ceiling.
Additionally, for our haredi (ultra-Orthodox) students, studying robotics will help ensure that they won’t be washed up by the hi-tech tidal wave overcoming the nation. According to the Labor Ministry, only half of ultra-Orthodox men are employed. To counter this, at JCT our students are served well by an intensive curriculum in math and science, which makes them serious contributors to the workforce upon graduation. In fact, 89% of JCT’s haredi students gain employment immediately, including 77% in their field of choice.
In an age where machines are doing more and more tasks for us, Israel can’t afford to leave large swaths of its population behind, especially as the demands in the workforce shift to reflect our new reality. Drivers, cleaners and many other professions may be obsolete in a generation or two and, therefore, the time to teach young people new skills in hi-tech is now.
These robots can also free us up to do so many more things with our time. Whether it be studying Torah or spending time with our loved ones, a future where we have fewer mundane tasks on our plate can enrich us all.
But for Nagari and Biderman, it comes down to usefulness and efficiency. Risky activities such as disarming bombs, conducting critical operations on the human body, or experiments in dangerous conditions are preferred with robots. In addition, the technology will also improve quality of life and innovate for the future with things like autonomous vehicles.
It is our responsibility to ensure that Israel will be a part of this trend. Higher education isn’t a luxury; it is what’s required for the next generation to thrive in the midst of this latest industrial revolution.
Israel will be a pioneer in the hi-tech world because of our sheer chutzpah and willingness to go where angels fear to tread. We’ve come this far, and we’re not going to stop now.
The writer is vice president of the Jerusalem College of Technology.