In the spring of 2013, a team of robots programmed by Bar-Ilan University professor, Gal Kaminka reached the RoboCup world soccer championship game. This is the robotic version of the World Cup final. Although team Israel has never advanced to the playoff stage of FIFA’s international human soccer tournament, their robotic counterparts are consistently ranked as a world power. Prof. Kaminka uses social psychology theories in designing robotic teamwork, along with the best microchips and circuitry Israel has to offer. It is just one of many extraordinary high-tech projects in which he oversees.
Prof. Gal Kaminka works his high-tech magic in the robotics and artificial intelligence lab at the Department of Computer Science at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. His technology is keeping Israel safe and on the cusp of new scientific breakthroughs. Some of his robotic programming is employed by the IDF in patrolling the dangerous borders and tunnels of the Gaza strip. It’s an invaluable, high-tech alternative that keeps Israeli soldiers from harm’s way.
Since July of 2017, the IDF has deployed fully automated self-driving military vehicles, developed in Kaminka’s lab, aimed to keeping terrorists from crossing over into Israel, or deploying explosives. Next in the IDF’s plans is to equip the vehicles with weapons such as machine guns and deploy them in stages to Israel’s frontiers with Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
“My research focuses on social intelligence, specifically the transition from a single mind to many,” says Kaminka. “Such understanding can lead to building robots and virtual humans that are able to collaborate, coordinate, manipulate, and reason.” His recent work has focused on techniques for plan recognition (allowing robots to understand others by observing their behavior), for general teamwork in robots, and for simulating human crowds.
Prof. Kaminka’s educational roots can be traced back to the US. He received his PhD from the University of Southern California and was a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University. He has won an IBM Faculty Award, the 2014 Landau Award for Arts & Sciences, and served as the chair or co-chair of several international conferences. He is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, the International Foundation for Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems, and of course, the RoboCup Federation.
In 2012, Prof. Kaminka participated in a fellowship program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. His mission: to create a battle plan for ridding the world of “autistic” robots. “Almost all robots are autistic: they generally do not behave correctly in social settings, whether with humans or with other robots,” Kaminka explains. “I believe that we must create socially capable robots by building general social intelligence into them. That means using knowledge from computer science, neuroscience, psychology, and cognitive science.”
Prof. Kaminka feels that the main goal of his research is to always improve and enhance his knowledge, rather than achieving a specific task. “When the Americans wanted to put a man on the moon, their main objective wasn’t necessarily the symbolic ability to stick their flag on the land of the moon. Reaching the moon was, in fact, a means to an end, which made them enhance and perfect existing knowledge and develop new technologies, to enable this trip as well as many other great uses.”
Currently, Bar-Ilan is in the process of building a brand new Computer Science Center which will house such top departments as Cyber-Security, Natural Language Processing, plus a remarkable, multi-story drone and robotics lab for Prof. Kaminka’s high-tech inventions. “Only he who sees the invisible can do the impossible,” says Kaminka. “It’s the only way to break boundaries and make new discoveries.”
Gal Kaminka lives in Kfar Saba with his wife and three kids. He admits that robots are his main interest, both at work and at home. “I’m the happiest man alive, for being able to work at a job that is both my profession and my hobby. Outside my family, robots are my life. I just can’t believe I’m being paid to do exactly what I love.”
For more information on how to help contribute to Prof. Gal Kaminka’s vital research, please contact American Friends Of Bar-Ilan University at 847 423-2270, or on the web at AFBIU.Org.