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08 Mar 2013 14:44 Age: 5 yrs
Category: News Update, FSU

Robotics putting girls in the driving seat

There were encouraging signs this week that the traditional male dominance of technological studies at schools is waning with all-girl teams performing well at the Robotraffic competition in Israel.


ORT students celebrate their successes at this year’s Robotraffic competition.

Well over half the 100-plus Israeli and international students competing in the competition at the Leumi Robotics Centre at the Technion Faculty of Mechanical Engineering were boys but it was the all-girl ORT team from Dnepropetrovsk which won the careful driving category. It is the second year in a row that the Ohr Avner Jewish School, which has an ORT technology centre, has won that title.

Another all-girl team, representing the Kiev ORT Technology Lyceum, placed a creditable third in the presentations section of the contest.

“Robotics is becoming more popular among girls many of whom are attracted by the design element, which they tend to find more interesting than straight programming,” said Mikhail Libkin, who coordinated the teams from the former Soviet Union.

Programming is no obstacle for team member Veronika Pugach, however. The 10th grade student is considering taking a degree in the field.

“It’s easy for me; it’s interesting and I like it,” said Veronika, who was enjoying her first visit to Israel.

The biggest challenge of the competition was in the preparation, she said. “We’ve been working on our robot for about two months and the hardest thing was having to do it while keeping up with schoolwork. We had to do it after school so we were very tired.”

More than 30 teachers and students from nine ORT schools in Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Lithuania were joined for the first time by a team from ORT Argentina in Israel, where they pitted their programming and design skills against each other and against teams from World ORT-affiliated and other schools in the Jewish State.

They each built a robotic car programmed to negotiate the streets of a model city complete with traffic lights and obstacles, designed to test not only their technological prowess but also their awareness and understanding of the “rules of the road”.

ORT Argentina enjoyed a highly successful debut winning first place in the racing category and placing second in the careful driving section.

“This competition has become a highlight of World ORT’s activities and our partnership with the Technion is a milestone in our activities in Israel,” said the CEO of World ORT’s Kadima Mada programme in Israel, Avi Ganon. “It is a gathering of students from around the world with one common language, the language of technology.”

It was important not only for the scientific and technological skills which they were developing, Mr Ganon said, but also because it was bringing the teenagers to Israel – many of them for the first time.

“This competition bridges the distance between diaspora communities and Israel by creating bonds between students from ORT schools internationally and those Israeli schools which are affiliated to World ORT,” he said. “I want to see teams from France and Italy and more from eastern Europe and Latin America – ultimately I look forward to the day when every ORT country sends a group of students to this competition.”

They will likely face a more challenging contest if co-organiser Dr Evgeny Korchnoy has anything to do with it.

“Next year we plan to have two new categories – one with a jeep with a robotic arm and another focusing on the use of SolidWorks computer-aided design software,” Dr Korchnoy said.

This year’s competitors enjoyed a warm, collegiate atmosphere during the final days of preparation and testing at the World ORT-affiliated Kfar Hassidim Youth Village.

“The ORT students were like one big family, eating together, living together, preparing together, and helping each other. It was fantastic,” said Mr Libkin.

The ability to work in a team is just one of the skills exercised by the multifaceted Robotraffic competition.

Professor Moshe Shoham, director of the Leumi Robotics Center, said that the contest helped students prepare for a future in robot technology — and could inspire them to contribute to the development of technologically advanced smart driving systems.

Mr Libkin noted that the presentation category was a very tough element of the competition.

“The ability to ‘sell’ one’s ideas is a very important skill but one which is often lacking among people working in technology,” he said.

Fortunately one thing which has not been lacking has been support. Mr Libkin noted with thanks that the Ukrainian and Russian teams were sponsored by software development company Luxoft; the Kishinev team was sponsored by their school’s alumni; and the team from Vilnius had their costs covered by parents as well as World ORT.

World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer said Robotraffic was going from strength to strength.

“The combination of World ORT’s international network and the Technion’s world-leading quality puts us all squarely on the road to success,” Mr Singer said. “It is particularly heartening on International Women’s Day to see how girls are not only increasingly drawn to science and technology but proving that their abilities in this field will no longer be limited by cultural expectations and stereotypes.”