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      How Hi-Tech Robots Will Prevent the Next IDF Soldier Kidnapping

      A Rishon Lezion academic institution is at the cutting edge of robotics technology that will prevent future IDF soldier kidnappings.
      By TechIsrael Staff
      First Publish: 11/3/2011, 10:35 PM

      Smart Patrol Robot
      Smart Patrol Robot
      Courtesy COMAS

      While there is no guarantee that Gilad Shalit will be the last IDF soldier to be kidnapped and imprisoned in Gaza, the army has an advantage today that it didn't have five years ago, when Shalit was nabbed: A fully mechanized and computerized patrol system that can provide full 24/7 coverage of events at the border, allowing soldiers to quickly and efficiently - and safely - respond to problems. The technology for this sophisticated robotic system was developed at he Research and Development Institute for Intelligent Robotic Systems, of the Computer Science Department of the College of Management Academic Studies (COMAS) of Rishon Lezion (Hamichlala leMinhal), and last week some of the top robotics geniuses from the U.S. visited the College in order to get a first-hand look at the new technologies the Institute is creating.

      The Robotics Institute, among other things, develops artificial intelligence algorithms for robots to be used by Israel’s military and security forces, to help guard Israel’s borders and prevent kidnapping of soldiers by infiltrators. Already in production for several years, the Institute was the brains behind the development of the Genius Robotic Patrol system, which is in use on the Gaza border, and is produced jointly by Elbit and Israel Aircraft Industries. The system basically replaces infantry and jeep patrols along the border fence. An unmanned smart vehicle – controlled from a base station by a live soldier – follows the border fence road, avoiding obstacles automatically.

      If it detects a problem – a breach in the fence, or the presence of an individual or object that shouldn't be there – it immediately transmits pictures and data to the control center. At that point the soldiers in charge can decide how to handle the situation; for example, they can instruct one of the fighter pilots in the sky patrolling the fence area to zero in on the target, eliminating it. The robots actually travel in a fleet, says  Dr. Yehuda Elmaliach, founder and director of the Institute. “This way, the area is fully covered even when one of the robots is engaged in a specific mission. Another robot that is part of the patrol can take over its duties, thus preventing the use of diversions by terrorists to get over the border or launch an attack,” he says. This is the first land-based unmanned rover used for defense purposes (all other systems are either seagoing or airborne).

      The visitors, who included 13 university presidents and professors, included some of the leaders in robotics technology in the U.S. Among the delegation were Leo Morton of the University of Missouri, Dr. John L. Anderson of the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Dr. Gary D. Russi of Oakland University. All three schools have advanced robotics departments, and have worked on developing defensive systems for U.S. security services. The visitors were treated to the latest developments in robotics for security and defense purposes – all of which, says Dr. Elmaliach, can help save the lives of soldiers.

      The Institute, headed by Dr. Elmaliach, was founded in 2008 on the initiative of Dr.Shmuel Itzikowitz with the help of the parents of three IDF soldiers, Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Souad, who were kidnapped and killed by Hezbollah in 2000. A son of Prof. Itzikowitz was also in the same unit as the 3 soldiers, and at Benny Avraham's request, he had exchanged places with him and so was on leave when the attacks took place.

      The Institute has set itself the goal of creating robot-powered applications for the military and security forces. It works closely together with the IDF Engineering Corps on projects to find technological solutions to prevent the circumstances facilitating the kidnapping of soldiers, an issue which is still very much on the mind of Israelis, with the prolonged captivity and recent release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. An increasing amount of robotic technology is being incorporated into militaries and security bodies around the world.  According to the projection of the American FCS (Future Combat Systems), by the year 2015, one third of the US military will consist of unmanned forces (robots). 

      During the event, Prof. Itzikowitz introduced a video presentation about the events following the 2000 kidnappings, and discussed the role of Academia in the defense of Israel. He was joined by Dr. Elmaliach, an expert in artificial intelligence and robotics, who discussed the vision and activities of Robots in the Battle Field. In addition, IDF Colonel (Res.) Lior Lotan, former commander of an elite Special Forces unit, and one of the world’s foremost experts in hostage situations and hostage negotiations, discussed the Israeli Experience of Counter Terrorism – Understanding the Threats, Counter Strategy, Tactics and Future Trends. Lotan was awarded the IDF Chief of Staff Medal of Honor for his part in an operation for the attempted release of abducted IDF solder Nachshon Waksman and was in charge of the negotiations in which Israel received the bodies of the 3 soldiers kidnapped and killed in 2000.