For the past three years since she started her PhD in computer science at Viterbi, Lauren Klein has celebrated Hanukkah in Los Angeles with her family friend, Iovine Young Academy first-year student Ryan Dubin along with his grandparents.

In this annual Jewish Festival of Lights, those who celebrate will gather together to light the menorah candles in a specific order.

But this year with COVID-19, the family didn’t want to take the risk of huddling together. Yelling across the yard however at 15 feet had its own challenges. Masks would obscure their words and invitation to light the menorah and the specific candle in sync simultaneously. But the robotics student didn’t want to forgo the tradition and instead decided to bring technology to bear on the occasion.

Klein, who works in Maja Matarić’s Interaction Lab, remembered the Human-Robot Interaction conference and its competition to spur innovation and encourage the community to generate technologies that could be applied during COVID. She invited Dubin to collaborate with her on the project. It made sense. After all it was his grandparents with whom she was trying to maintain the tradition.
The two Trojans have designed two menorahs with sensors attached to the eight LED lights on each menorah in lieu of candles. When one group across the yard lights their candles, the sensors connected via bluetooth to the other menorah cause the light on that menorah to flicker, reminding the user that it is the appropriate time to turn on that specific light.

The project, which combines innovation in technology, art and design has a special meaning to
to grandparents Fred Zimmerman, an engineer by trade, and Marlene Zimmerman, a Los Angeles artist whose menorah replica of the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights was selected by Hillary Clinton as part of the 1999 National Treasures Collection.

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