Robohub.org
 

Industrial robotics pioneer Joe Engelberger turns 90

by and
26 July 2015



share this:
Joseph F. Engelberger, Ars Electronica Symposium 1996. Image courtesy of Ars Electronica.

Joseph F. Engelberger, Ars Electronica Symposium 1996. Image courtesy of Ars Electronica.

“Happy Birthday!” to industrial robotics pioneer Joe Engelberger who turns 90 today, July 26. That also means that robotics as an industry is around 60 years old. Joe Engelberger and Georges Devol formed Unimation, the world’s first robotics company in 1956 and the first Unimate arm was installed in General Motors in 1961, transforming the automotive industry. Today the robotics industry is a multibillion dollar business. While the automotive industry is still the largest piece of the robotics pie, the range of commercial uses for robotics is expanding into many of the service areas Engelberger also pioneered decades ago.

DEVOL2-obit-popup

The Unimate mechanical arm (image courtesy of George C. Devol estate)

The first Unimate hydraulic arm was installed in General Motor’s Trenton New Jersey plant to do a ‘hot hazardous job’ moving heavy metal pieces to and from the die cast machine. Over the next few years, other automobile companies like Ford, Chrysler and Japanese manufacturers purchased robots from Unimation. Unimates designed for welding, painting and gluing were in production by 1966.

In 1977, Unimation purchased Victor Scheinman’s company, Vicarm, which lead to the development of the PUMA robot or Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly. The VAL software became the industry leader. But by 1981, automobile manufacturers like GM wanted to shift from hydraulics to electric motors, a move Engelberger resisted. GM announced a new partnership with Fanuc, and Unimation was acquired by Westinghouse in 1982 for $107 million. By 1988, the core Unimation team had all moved on to other endeavors and Unimation was sold to Staubli. The first Unimate arm ended up on display in the Smithsonian, after 100,000 hours of operation, as the world’s first industrial robot.

D&E 628x471

Engelberger and Devol are served drinks by one of their mechanical arms. (image courtesy of George C. Devol estate)

Starting the industrial robotics industry wasn’t enough for Engelberger though, who moved on to pioneer the service robotics industry. Engelberger formed HelpMate Robotics, initially known as Transitions Research Corp, with the vision of creating mobile robots capable of navigating hospital corridors, delivering meals, pharmaceuticals, patient records and other goods.

In an interview with Bloomberg Business Week in 1997, Engelberger said that he’d like to be remembered as the father of the home robot. “Common sense tells you it’s got to end up a bigger market than factory robots.”

20080213195424!Pyxis_Pharmacy_Robot_by_Nurse_Station

By 1997, when HelpMate was acquired by Cardinal Health, more than 100 service robots were roaming hospital corridors. HelpMate had raised $6 million through an IPO, and had a partnership with Otis Elevators for the distribution of HelpMate robots in Europe. Engelberger received the Japan Prize from the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan for ‘systems engineering for an artifactual environment’.

Engelberger’s next plans were to launch an elder-care robot. Most old folks who enter nursing homes are mentally alert and healthy, Engelberger noted in his 1997 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “They just aren’t nimble enough to care for themselves.” All the technology developed for patient care would be useful for elder-care robots. Engelberger believed that adding certain repetitive household jobs, such as loading the dishwasher or microwave oven, would be fairly easy. Others, including meal preparation, might involve special-purpose attachments. And for finding packaged foods, the robot could have a built-in bar-code reader. With the population aging, demand could surge, bringing costs down to something as affordable as a car.

engelberger-award

“We wish our friend Joe Engelberger all the best for his milestone 90th birthday,” said Jeff Burnstein, President of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). “Joe was instrumental in founding RIA over 40 years ago, bringing together early robotics leaders. We’re very thankful for his pioneering role and honor him every year by presenting the Joseph F. Engelberger award to individuals making outstanding contributions to the field of robotics.” Since the awards inception in 1977, they have been presented to 116 robotics leaders from 17 different nations.

Recent winners of the Engelberger award include Dean Kamen, founder of the FIRST Robotics competition, and Rodney Brooks, co-founder of iRobot and current Chairman and CTO of Rethink Robotics. “Joe Engelberger is such a name in robotics,” stated Rodney Brooks after receiving the Engelberger award for Leadership in 2014. “It’s a real honor to win an award in his name. He is a monumental figure in the field of robotics.”

“Joe Engelberger’s invention of the first industrial robot inspired many of us to pursue a career in this amazing field,” stated Arturo Baroncelli, President of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) and also a past winner of the Engelberger award. “Thanks to his effort and passion for technology, we have a strong robotics industry today.”

In his honor, RIA will soon be launching a special Engelberger tribute site, which will be found at www.robotics.org. Silicon Valley Robotics joins the RIA and IFR in wishing Joe Engelberger all the best.



tags:


Andra Keay is the Managing Director of Silicon Valley Robotics, founder of Women in Robotics and is a mentor, investor and advisor to startups, accelerators and think tanks, with a strong interest in commercializing socially positive robotics and AI.
Andra Keay is the Managing Director of Silicon Valley Robotics, founder of Women in Robotics and is a mentor, investor and advisor to startups, accelerators and think tanks, with a strong interest in commercializing socially positive robotics and AI.

Silicon Valley Robotics is an industry association supporting innovation and commercialization of robotics technologies.
Silicon Valley Robotics is an industry association supporting innovation and commercialization of robotics technologies.





Related posts :



Tesla’s Optimus robot isn’t very impressive – but it may be a sign of better things to come

Musk has now unveiled a prototype of the robot, called Optimus, which he hopes to mass-produce and sell for less than US$20,000 (A$31,000).
04 October 2022, by

Bipedal robot achieves Guinness World Record in 100 metres

Cassie the robot, developed at Oregon State University, records the fastest 100 metres by a bipedal robot.
03 October 2022, by and

Breaking through the mucus barrier

A capsule that tunnels through mucus in the GI tract could be used to orally administer large protein drugs such as insulin.
02 October 2022, by

Women in Tech leadership resources from IMTS 2022

There’ve been quite a few events recently focusing on Women in Robotics, Women in Manufacturing, Women in 3D Printing, in Engineering, and in Tech Leadership. One of the largest tradeshows in the US is IMTS 2022. Here I bring you some resources shared in the curated technical content and leadership sessions.
29 September 2022, by and

MIT engineers build a battery-free, wireless underwater camera

The device could help scientists explore unknown regions of the ocean, track pollution, or monitor the effects of climate change.
27 September 2022, by

How do we control robots on the moon?

In the future, we imagine that teams of robots will explore and develop the surface of nearby planets, moons and asteroids - taking samples, building structures, deploying instruments.
25 September 2022, by , and





©2021 - ROBOTS Association


 












©2021 - ROBOTS Association