High schools students have programmed a robotic trio at Technion University to light Hanukkah candles as well as pour olive oil for the lighting and serve “sufganiyot,” the traditional fried doughnuts.
“The robots we built are programmed to respond to noise, and start operating upon the sound of three hand claps,” said Mor Pikman, an Ort Bialik 10th grader student participating in the program.
Another student, Kfir Lavie, added, “As part of the program, we developed a special program that makes the robot light Hanukkah candles according to the right order, and then place the candle used for lighting at the spot of the ‘Shamash,’ the ‘attendant’ candle. For humans this is a simple task, but for a robot it is quite complex, and required hours of programming work until we were able to accomplish it in the best possible way.”
“Technion’s Center for Robotics and Digital Technology is a meeting place between high-schoolers and university students who are developing and advancing methods for technology education,” said Associate Prof. Igor Verner, the Head of the Center, and the Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies and Technology Education at Technion’s Department of Education in Science and Technology. “The goal of the Center is to teach youngsters about technology through the introduction of a robot…. The movements of the robots they developed on their own, through studies they conducted on a robot’s movement operations.”
In the video below, a human being recites the blessings over the lighting of Hanukkah candles and then lights the candle in the hands of the robot, which – or who – proceeds to light all of the candles and returns the Shamash to its proper place.
There are mitzvahs that a person can perform through a messenger, even a robot, and there are others, such as listening to the shofar on Rosh HaShanah, which cannot be delegated to anyone else.
As for lighting candles, is there a difference between a robot and someone whose arm was amputated and uses prosthesis to light the candles?
But if the students teach the robot next year to recite the blessings, there is no question that it has not performed the mitzvah on behalf of someone else.
Perhaps the students can develop a robot that can digest sufganiyot.