Autonomous Vehicle: Here and Now

Technology, creativity and safety displayed at the 2016 Nadav Shoham RoboTraffic Competition

Hundreds of students from Israel, the U.S., Argentina, Russia, Ukraine and Mexico participated at the Nadav Shoham RoboTraffic Competition held at the Technion on March 17, 2016. “It is so exciting to see the next generation of Israeli leaders who will bring Israel to the forefront of international robotics,” said Prof. Moshe Shoham, Head of the Leumi Robotics Center at Technion and father of the late Nadav.

This year marks the seventh RoboTraffic competition. It has been named after Nadav Shoham who was an engineer and Master’s student at Technion’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. He lost his life in a devastating snowstorm while on a trek in Nepal on October 15, 2014. “Nadav loved to watch the teams compete and regularly attended the competition each year,” remembers Prof. Shoham. “He especially enjoyed viewing the designs of the school-aged children and teenagers from Israel and around the globe, and appreciated their abilities to build complex systems and their creativity already from an early age. Naming the competition after him honors his engineering talent, curiosity for technology, and volunteering spirit working with youth over many years.”

The competition involves small autonomous vehicles modeled after motor cars on a track simulating road conditions (including typical road obstacles). Students are required to program the cars to drive safely along the track according to universal road rules. The overall goal is to provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary for safe driving, in order to minimize the involvement of young drivers in road accidents.

According to Dr. Evgeny Korchnoy, Director of the Leumi Robotics Center at the Technion, “Students prepare for the competition by learning about mechanics, electricity, programming, control and electronics, as well as road safety skills. In preparation for the competition, the Leumi Robotics Center developed a ‘safe roads’ track course consisting of sensors. These sensors produce contact between the robotic car and road conditions, enabling the car to automatically respond to road obstacles including traffic lights and road signs. During the competition, the cars move along the track autonomously, in a manner that upholds traffic rules and prevents road accidents.”

Alexander Satanowsky, manager of Technology Transfer at Daimler AG – the maker of Mercedes, visited the RoboTraffic competition for the first time. He was very impressed both by the scope and achievements of students he saw. “In Germany, which is much larger, similar competitions are held that barely a hundred students attend, while here we find hundreds of pairs of bright eyes. The context of the competition – an autonomous vehicle – is very important and relevant especially today since such advanced technology is already available in this industry although it has given rise to public concern as well. People are still afraid to entrust their wellbeing to a robotic driver. The kids here today are attempting to handle this issue not from the side of the consumer but from the part of the manufacturer, so when they grow up it will be obvious to them that a robotic driver is always preferable over a human driver in all related aspects.”

The RoboTraffic competition, which started out as a national contest with 5 Israeli schools, has become an international completion with hundreds of students competing from Israel, the U.S., Argentina, Russia, Ukraine and Mexico. It is organized by the Leumi Robotics Center at the Technion’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, World ORT Organization, and the World Zionist Organization in cooperation with the YTEK Foundation and Eytam Robotics Ltd.

“Today the number of robotic applications automating many different aspects of our daily life is growing, and consequently the field has been identified as a strategic investment in our future,” explained Prof. Hagit Attiya, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at the Technion. “Like many other industries that combine science and technology, the basis for its development rests on human capital – the people who are engaged in the field. Therefore, the Technion attaches great importance in attracting youth to the field of robotics and autonomous systems, and invests many resources to this end in promoting this field of study among the student population.”

“The RoboTraffic competition is one of our flagship international events and we are happy to bring to Israel students from schools all over the world to participate in such a high level robotics competition which also teaches them about road safety,” said Avi Ganon, CEO of the World ORT Kadima mada-Israel. “Technology education is a powerful tool through which we can strengthen the ties between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.”

In his opening speech, Prof. Zvi Shiller, Chair of the Israeli Robotics Association, emphasized to the student audience, “The robotics industry in Israel is developing rapidly, and in a few years you will head up its development. The experience you have gained at an early age will help you in this great future task.”

This year thousands of elementary school and high school students participated in the competition. High school students compete in six different categories: safe driving, speed, knowledge of road rules, road safety ideas, robotic design innovation, and design skill in structuring the robot using the Solidworks drawing software.

First place overall in the elementary school student competition was awarded to Shimrit Elementary School; this was the first year this school competed in RoboTraffic.

In the racing category, the winning team was from the “Future” program of Karnei Shomron near Kfar Saba. They completed the track at a record time of 12 seconds – the fastest result ever achieved at the RoboTraffic competition. The sixth grade students who programmed the robotic vehicle were Noam Hetzroni, Matan Yosef Madmoni, Shmaya Yaid and Boaz Wolgelanter. “This is the second year our school has competed in the competition and we very much enjoyed working on the programming of the vehicle, which took us about a month,” explained Noam Hetzroni. “The main challenge was programming the vehicle so that it didn’t go off course.” Hetzroni’s classmate Shmaya Yaid added, “We won the racing category with record time – 12 seconds – it’s the fastest result at the competition.” Matan Yosef Madmoni summed up the experience, “The main programming challenges we had included adjusting the engine power and the ability to turn the vehicle back on the track course.”  

First place in the racing category of the high school student competition with the fastest result was a team from Novosibirsk, Russia; in the safe driving category the winning team was from ORT Odessa, Ukraine; and in the advanced safety driving category the team from ORT Argentina placed first. The team from Misgav, in northern Israel, won first place in the road safety innovations category and for the programming design using the Solidworks drawing software.


Photo Credit: Nitzan Zohar, Technion Spokesperson’s Office

Sixth grade students from Shimrit Elementary School who placed first

Photo Credit: Nitzan Zohar, Technion Spokesperson’s Office

Prof. Moshe Shoham in his opening speech at the start of the 2016 Nadav Shoham RoboTraffic Competition; in the background, a photo of his late son, Nadav

Photo Credit: Nitzan Zohar, Technion Spokesperson’s Office

Students at the 2016 Nadav Shoham RoboTraffic Competition

Photo Credit: Nitzan Zohar, Technion Spokesperson’s Office

Students at the 2016 Nadav Shoham RoboTraffic Competition

Photo Credit: Nitzan Zohar, Technion Spokesperson’s Office

Photo Credit: Nitzan Zohar, Technion Spokesperson’s Office