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Amazing Robots from BGU

Amazing Robots from BGU

March 10, 2011

Robotics & High-Tech

JUF News — When most of us think about robots, our minds drift to a galaxy far, far away with images of R2-D2 and C-3PO. But Dr. Amir Shapiro, one of the world’s leading robotics experts and Director of the Robotics Lab at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, is creating very real, and very amazing, robots right here in this galaxy.

Dr. Amir Shapiro with his "robot snake" that can slither through pipes and narrow openings.

Dr. Amir Shapiro with his “robot snake” that can slither through pipes and narrow openings.

On Feb. 15, Dr. Shapiro gave an interactive demonstration of the future of robotics sponsored by the American Associates, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Great Lakes Region and the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce Chicago.

Attendees oohed and aahed over Dr. Shapiro and his robots, all of which were designed to benefit humankind in some way. “[People or organizations] come to us with a problem [and we create the solution] or we see a problem and suggest a robot,” he said.

For example, Dr. Shapiro and his researchers have received a $1.3 million grant as part of a project for the European Union to develop robots that can sense and pick high value crops, including greenhouse peppers, orchard fruits and premium wine grapes. Dr. Shapiro’s work with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) improves the safety and security of Israel and those who protect it. It would be much better, he quipped, to have “wars of robots against robots.”

He said that robots are generally created for three types of tasks: dull, dangerous and dirty. These robots can climb walls, fly, scale slippery surfaces, dive underwater and navigate through tunnels too small or inaccessible to people.

Many are inspired by animals, like the llama-like robot meant to walk and carry cargo through the desert, or the snake-like robot that can access hard-to-reach places for search and rescue missions, or the wall-climbing robot inspired by snails.

Inspiration for the robots also comes from science fiction films, he said, like the Spiderman robot. When it comes to his robots, Dr. Shapiro does not pick favorites. “They are all my sons,” he said. His vision is to establish a national, centralized robotics institute in Israel where he and his team would have the space necessary to advance their prototypes and designs…May the Force be with him.

Dr. Amir Shapiro was born in Haifa and received the B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. Currently, he is the director of the Robotics Laboratory and assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. From 2005-2006 he was a post-doctoral fellow at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He lives in Israel with his wife and five children.