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Helmsley Charitable Trust Fund Donates $6 Million to Ben-Gurion University of Negev Robotics Center

Dec. 11, 2012

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust Fund has donated more than $6.2 million to BGU for multidisciplinary, application-oriented robotics research and systems development. The grant will be used to establish the ABC Robotics Center at the University. The acronym stands for agricultural, biological and cognitive robotics. Research and development will focus on medical, service, industrial, and agricultural robotics.

Fully autonomous robots, capable of performing new tasks in complex and unknown environments and interacting with people, do not yet exist. Robots require human-like cognitive capabilities to successfully enter real-world settings and cope with dynamic and unstructured human environments. This requires robots to be equipped with advanced perception and dexterity, as well as the ability to adapt to changing conditions and to efficiently learn new tasks.

The human interface is also critical to the successful integration of robots within society, says Prof. Dan Blumberg, BGU’s Deputy Vice President and Dean for Research and Development, Robots will need to be equipped with specific physical and behavioral characteristics to make interaction comfortable and natural to humans. This important component will be addressed by research seeking understanding of cognitive processes in humans and animals in order to create autonomous robots that can interact intuitively with humans and in human environments. Another aspect of the research will be to gain an improved understanding of the principles of intelligence based on insights from these robotic experiments. A portion of the grant also provides fellowships to postdoctoral and doctoral students, updated technological equipment and additional faculty positions.

“The Helmsley Charitable Trust is proud to partner with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in advancing the science, technology and human interactivity of robotics, which will be so critical to medicine, industry and agriculture in the future,” said Sandor Frankel, a Helmsley trustee.

BGU has achieved worldwide recognition in robotics with advanced laboratories where substantial, cutting-edge research is conducted in cooperation with leading international research groups. With more than 20 years of accumulated experience, BGU is a leader in the field, with scientists conducting applied research in robotics technologies relevant to agricultural, industrial, safety, and security tasks, as well as basic research in mechanical design, algorithms, cognition and neurosciences.

This grant provides an exciting opportunity for BGU to attract more world class robotics experts, fund important projects and enhance the training of students in medical, cognitive and agricultural robotics development, says Doron Krakow, executive vice president of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of Negev. We are both pleased and proud to be partnering with the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust in pursuit of research excellence in the field of robotics.

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting effective non-profits in a variety of selected areas. Since 2008, when the Trust began its active grant-making, it has committed over $700 million to a wide range of charitable organizations.


Above: BGU Researchers are developing agricultural robots in several projects funded by the Ministry of Science, Ministry of Agriculture and EU. The robot is a vineyard sprayer designed and developed by BGU which is currently being enhanced by autonomous navigation capabilities in cooperation with scientists from the Volcani Center. Additional projects include development of technology for spraying date trees, Development of a greenhouse sprayer and selective harvesters for high value crops.