Israel Robotics Association to create national robotics institute - exclusive

“Robotics are a necessity and not a luxury,” says Chairman of the Israel Robotics Association Prof. Zvi Shiller.

 Illustrative image of robots. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Illustrative image of robots.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Although many people are frightened by the idea of robots replacing their jobs, in fact they will create more jobs and greatly improve life in Israel and around the world.

“Robotics are a necessity and not a luxury,” says Prof. Zvi Shiller, chairman of the Israel Robotics Association (IROB), the founder and head of the mechanical engineering and mechatronics department in the Faculty of Engineering department and the director of the laboratory for robotics and autonomous vehicles at Ariel University.

In an interview on Wednesday with The Jerusalem Post, Shiller said that the IROB will hold its seventh conference at the Air Force Center (built by Israel Air Force veterans) in Herzliya on March 28.

“With a tremendously growing need, this industry will survive any downturn,” he declared. 

What is the Israel Robotics Association?

Founded a decade ago, the IROB caters to robotics experts in academia and industry and has a distribution list of more than 1,000 people. Shiller expects between 300 to 400 professionals to attend, but it is not meant for the general public. The IROB is involved only in civilian robotics because the military works on robotics on its own. 

A robot with a biological sensor.  (credit: Courtesy of Tel Aviv University)A robot with a biological sensor. (credit: Courtesy of Tel Aviv University)

The main proposal to be raised during the keynote speeches and panel discussions will be the creation of a National Robotics Institute to accelerate the entry of Israeli industry into the field of robotics.

“I’ve been planning this for the last 10 years,” Shiller said. “Such an institute would serve as a platform for multidisciplinary knowledge sharing, research and development and the incubation of startups. The IROB believes that with quick action and the exploitation of Israeli industry's prominent advantages in entering new fields, this country can position itself among the leaders of the robotics 3.0 revolution that focuses on smart robots that combine hardware and artificial intelligence.”

Shiller is an expert in the robotics field

Shiller’s research activities have focused on robot motion planning and robot and dynamics and control, with notable contributions in time optimal motion planning, obstacle avoidance in dynamic environments (Velocity Obstacles), and trajectory planning of off-road and road vehicles. His work on motion planning in dynamic environments has been widely recognized as a leading approach to efficiently avoid collisions in crowded traffic scenarios

At Ariel University, he has promoted  innovative product design in the framework of the Capstone Design Project, having developed over 150 working prototypes since its conception in 2006. 

Born in Poland and brought by his parents to Israel at the age of seven, Shiller earned his degrees at Tel Aviv University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in mechanical engineering. After completing graduate studies at MIT and serving on the faculty of the mechanical and aerospace engineering department at the University of California in Los Angeles, he returned to Israel in 2001 to establish the department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics at Ariel University, which was then called College of Judea and Samaria.  

At Ariel University, he has promoted  innovative product design in the framework of the Capstone Design Project in which students are asked to find solutions to industry challenges or to create their own invention and have developed over 150 working prototypes since its conception in 2006. 

Robots have great potential

Shiller believes in the potential of robotics which involves the development of computerized mechanical systems and has applications in many areas of life including household, medical, agricultural, logistic, transportation, and education as an economic growth engine.

“However, the high entry level for developing robotic systems has slowed its growth in the last four decades. The industry faces typical market failures such as multidisciplinary knowledge requirements, long and expensive development processes, difficulty introducing products to the market and the availability of an alternative cheaper solution, which human labor.”

Despite the lack of support from the state, Israel has modestly grown its robotics industry with a worldwide reputation. The number of companies that produce robots as a final product is relatively small, but research activity in academia has focused on several fields such as medical robotics, autonomous vehicles, human-machine interface, robot teams, agriculture and nursing.

Optimistic forecasts for the field of robotics indicate a market size of over $200 billion in 2030 with a growth rate of 12% to 14% per year. Shiller believes that the market size will be double that since these forecasts are based on existing growth rates and do not take into account new areas of application that will increase the use of robotic systems.

Investment in the field of robotics, Shiller predicted, will “provide new avenues of growth for the Israeli high-tech industry, which until now has focused on software and electronics development. The combination of robotics and the Israeli hi-tech industry will utilize existing human capital and infrastructure developed over the past 30 years."

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war have elevated the importance of the field of robotics to levels unseen in the last 40 years, he added.

“The sudden need for independence and security has made robotic solutions a necessity. Smart physical systems-based robotic solutions are in demand in the fields of health, nursing, agriculture, industry, logistics and transportation. The combination of exploding needs, impressive technological progress in the field of robotics, and the increasing application of artificial intelligence brings the field of robotics to a point where it can reach new heights.”

The word “robot” is a century old, drawn from an old Slavonic word robota for “servitude,” “forced labor” or “drudgery.” The word was a product of the central European system of serfdom by which a tenant's rent was paid for in forced labor or service. In 1941, science fiction author Isaac Asimov first used the word “robotics” to describe the technology of robots and predicted the rise of a powerful robot industry.

“But robots will not create servitude but freedom for people who should not be heaving 50-kilo objects or doing boring work,” Shiller said. “There is a natural fear of machines. You see a machine running around the house; it can be scary. The old claim that robots will replace large numbers of people and put them out of jobs is wrong. Robots may replace some people doing brainless, dangerous tasks, but there is no reason for them to do it.

"Robots can do construction, laying tiles. There is already an Israeli robot that plasters and paints the walls efficiently. People will supervise. The public will have more time for leisure and have more free time; There will be more people doing the human side like teaching yoga or doing massages and promoting travel.”

There have been some deaths from autonomous vehicles, "but human drivers cause many accidents and deaths. I have done research in autonomous vehicles for 30 years,” Shiller said. “I thought about off-road vehicles that would be autonomous and developed algorithms. There will be a natural progression to autonomous drones and aircraft, and they could collide in the air, but the technology shouldn’t be stop. There must be rules before the technology is released.”  

Obviously, cyber attacks are a new door that has to be closed.

“There definitely is a danger; if someone can take control of robots, they can kill people.” As for medicine, it’s “irresponsible for robots to be used instead of surgeons. They can get into difficult places, but they always have to be supervised by doctors,” he continued. 

His students developed a robotic chair that can take you from the entrance of a wedding hall to your seat with an electronic sign that says “Mr/Ms X, please follow me". When not being used, it folds next to the wall. 

There are already numerous devices to keep the elderly and lonely company. It talks to them and connects them with their famil8y. His students have even taken the first step to develop a robot that will change diapers on adults. There will be robots that collect dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Finally, he students even developed a rather indestructible robot toy that will keep your dog busy when the owner is away.