TORONTO — If Daniel Weihs wanted to take over the world in a supervillain coup, he probably could.
Professor Daniel Weihs of Technion University spoke about autonomous robots at the Jewish Urban Meeting Place.
Weihs, an aerospace engineer and professor at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology autonomous systems program, is involved in building robots. Autonomous robots.
“An autonomous system is a system that… has to think, it has to decide on its own. It’s the generalization for the concept of a robot,” said Weihs, who spoke at the Jewish Urban Meeting Place at an event hosted by JUMP, Birthright Alumni Community and The House, on Aug. 26.
“[Autonomous systems] can take the place of humans in dull, dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs,” he said, explaining that these robots can be used in factory assembly lines or air traffic control centres.
“A human controller can’t control more than 20 [airplanes] at one time. Robots can do many more.”
Weihs’ lecture, titled “Batteries Not Included: Exploring Israel’s Technological and Military Advancements,” focused on Technion University, which was founded in 1924 and currently has 9,000 undergraduate and 4,000 graduate students. The school’s projects include building a satellite that was launched into space, creating unmanned airplanes, scooters, tanks and underwater vehicles and building the Snake, an autonomous, “self-thinking” robot with a camera attached to it that’s currently being used by the Israel Defence Forces.
“Its purpose is to go into cracks in collapsed buildings. There’s a camera in its face, if it sees a body, it can measure its temperature,” Weihs said, adding that, if the body is warm, crews can be sent in to rescue it.
During his speech, Weihs explained the components of an autonomous robot. These systems have sensors, which act as its eyes and ears; decision making and assessment tools, which act as their brains, communication tools, actuators or limbs, and the payload, or the transporting system.
These robots, according to Weihs, have different levels of independence. At the lowest level, the systems are fully programmable and supervised, at the highest they’re able to make decisions in groups without supervision or programming which can cause problems, Weihs said.
“If an unmanned vehicle shot at people it thought were Taliban, and they took off their uniforms and became innocent bystanders, they go to… court. Who do you charge? The operator? [The vehicle] made its own decision. There’s an issue here. You can lose control. You need to make sure the decisions that are made are humane,” he said.
During the event, Weihs also described Technion University’s medical projects, which include tiny robots that can be attached to the body of a patient during an operation and control the amount of movement from the scalpel.
“It measures the involuntary tremors of the surgeon and the motions of the patient. It analyzes the motions and deducts from the motion of the scalpel,” he said.
Technion is also working on creating robotic surgeons, as well as micro-robots that could swim through the body and deposit medicine in the appropriate area.
Weihs ended his talk with a newer project at Technion. Rather than create robots, experts are trying to control animals and insects, such as locusts, by attaching electrons to their brain.
“As of last week, our locusts can move right, left, forwards and backwards. The next step is to attach a camera to the locusts,” he said.
Shira Webber, the director of joint programs at JUMP, sees Weihs’ speech as an important reminder of Israel’s technological contributions.
“It’s easy to get bogged down by the negativity that surrounds Israel,” she said. “This is really just to show [Israel’s] advances in science and technology… [it] highlights Israel in a positive way.”