De­vel­oper of first in­dus­trial ro­bot dies

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - ROBOTICS -

Joseph En­gel­berger, con­sid­ered the father of ro­bot­ics by the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Ro­bot­ics, has died.

He founded the com­pany, Un­i­ma­tion Inc., in 1961, where he de­vel­oped the first in­dus­trial ro­bot, Un­i­mate, launch­ing the global rev­o­lu­tion in in­dus­trial man­u­fac­tur­ing. In the next three year, one mil­lion in­dus­trial ro­bots were sold world­wide.

“We have lost more than a gi­ant in our in­dus­try,” said Joe Gemma, Pres­i­dent of IFR. “Joseph En­gel­berger was cen­tral in cre­at­ing an in­dus­try that had a pro­found ef­fect on our ev­ery­day lives and man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nolo­gies. His legacy will con­tinue to in­spire us all and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

The Robotic In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion (RIA), the Amer­i­can branch of the global as­so­ci­a­tion, in­au­gu­rated one of its high­est ro­bot­ics prizes in the name of its pi­o­neer: Since 1977, the Joseph F. En­gel­berger Award has been be­stowed an­nu­ally in recog­ni­tion of out­stand­ing achieve­ments in the ar­eas of tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, ap­pli­ca­tions, education and lead­er­ship in the field of ro­bot­ics. One of the win­ners of this prize, Ar­turo Baron­celli, IFR Pres­i­dent (retd.) and mem­ber of the IFR Ex­ec­u­tive Board, re­calls: “I had the chance to meet Joe in Tokyo some years ago. We spent many hours talk­ing about ev­ery­thing. He was a man of such wis­dom and wide cul­ture, open-minded, thought­ful and hu­mane. I will never for­get him.”

En­gel­berger was both en­gi­neer and en­tre­pre­neur. He worked closely with the in­ven­tor Ge­orge Devol, in de­vel­op­ing the first in­dus­trial ro­bots. Gen­eral Mo­tors be­gan de­ploy­ing the new tech­nol­ogy in au­to­mo­tive pro­duc­tion as long ago as 1961, us­ing it to achieve a pre­vi­ously un­fore­seen level of pre­ci­sion and ef­fi­ciency. In­dus­trial ro­bots swiftly spread through­out the world. The in­no­va­tions En­gel­berger in­tro­duced were a ma­jor fac­tor in the rise of the Ja­panese auto in­dus­try, where the use of ro­bot­ics was en­thu­si­as­ti­cally em­braced in the post-war era.

“Joe made some of the most im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions to tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment in the his­tory of the world,” said Jeff Burn­stein, Pres­i­dent of the Robotic In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion (RIA), the US ro­bot­ics trade as­so­ci­a­tion En­gel­berger was in­stru­men­tal in found­ing. “Be­cause of Joe, ro­bot­ics be­came a global in­dus­try. He was years ahead of his time, en­vi­sion­ing ro­bots based on in­sects and birds decades ago – de­vel­op­ments that we’re fi­nally see­ing to­day. His ques­tion, ‘Do you think a ro­bot could do that?’ in­spired re­searchers to an­swer ‘yes’ and de­velop the amaz­ing ro­bot­ics ap­pli­ca­tions found world­wide to­day.”

“Joe En­gel­berger gal­vanised the con­struc­tion of ro­bots around the world”, says Pa­trick Sch­warzkopf, mem­ber of the IFR Ex­ec­u­tive Board. “His global per­spec­tive and en­tre­pre­neur­ial cre­ative­ness are still the bench­mark for to­day. En­gel­berger was es­sen­tial to the break­neck progress we are cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, as we move into a new tech­no­log­i­cal era. His death is a huge loss to us all.”

Apart from the area of in­dus­trial ro­bots, En­gel­berger also played a crit­i­cal role in the de­vel­op­ment of ser­vice ro­bots. Fol­low­ing the sale of his com­pany, Un­i­ma­tion to West­ing­house in 1982, he con­cen­trated on new tech­nolo­gies de­signed for the health sec­tor. With his new com­pany, Help­Mate Ro­bot­ics, he ad­vanced the con­struc­tion of a mo­bile ro­bot for hospi­tals. En­gel­berger also pro­moted the ap­pli­ca­tion of robotic tech­nol­ogy in the area of nurs­ing care.

En­gel­berger was born in Brook­lyn, New York in 1925, the son of a Ger­man im­mi­grant. He stud­ied physics and elec­trotech­nol­ogy at Columbia Univer­sity. Through­out his life, he was an in­de­fati­ga­ble am­bas­sador of ro­bot­ics. Along­side his ground­work, he also pub­lished nu­mer­ous books and spe­cial­ist ar­ti­cles, even fur­ther ad­vanc­ing the de­vel­op­ment and use of robotic tech­nol­ogy in in­dus­try, space ex­plo­ration as well as the ev­ery­day lives of peo­ple. His pi­o­neer­ing work brought him nu­mer­ous hon­orary doc­tor­ates and awards. In 2009, he was in­ducted into the Amer­i­can Man­u­fac­tur­ing Hall of Fame.

In 1992, the Sun­day Times of Lon­don pro­filed En­gel­berger as one of the “1000 Mak­ers of the 20th Cen­tury”. En­gel­berger died on 1 De­cem­ber 2015 at his house in New­town, Con­necti­cut.

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