Founder of first robotics company honored on 90th birthday

Joseph F. Engelberger, a World War II veteran, engineer and entrepreneur who pioneered the robotics field by creating the first robotics company, Unimation, turned 90 years old on July 26.


Joseph F. Engelberger, a World War II veteran, engineer and entrepreneur who pioneered the robotics field by creating the first robotics company, Unimation, turned 90 years old on July 26. Courtesy: Robotic Industries Association (RIA)Joseph F. Engelberger, an engineer and entrepreneur who pioneered the robotics field, turned 90 years old on July 26. Engelberger launched the world's first robotics company, Unimation, in 1956. The first industrial robot called Unimate was installed in a General Motors plant in 1961 and revolutionized modern manufacturing processes. Unimate even made an appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1966. Since then, approximately three million industrial robots have been installed in manufacturing facilities around the world. He was also instrumental in creating the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) in 1974.

Unimation grew into a company with more than a thousand employees before being acquired by Westinghouse in 1982. After the sale of Unimation, Engelberger formed HelpMate Robotics in 1984. Its goal was to give robots sensory capabilities to work with humans in service activities. HelpMate robots were designed to travel along hospital hallways and in and out of elevators carrying pharmaceuticals and supplies to nurses. HelpMate was acquired by Cardinal Health in 1997. Engelberger's vision for service and mobile robots has paved the way for today's emerging robotics technologies.

"We wish our friend Joe Engelberger all the best for his milestone 90th birthday," said Jeff Burnstein, President of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). "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." The award has been presented to 116 robotics leaders from 17 different nations since its inception in 1977.

Engelberger is a World War II Veteran, serving in the US Navy from 1942-1946. A member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, Engelberger has received many awards in his career, including the Japan Prize, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers-Leonardo da Vinci Award and the Automation Hall of Fame Prometheus Award. He has authored numerous articles and books, including Robotics in Practice and Robotics in Service. 

Robotic Industries Association (RIA) 

- Edited by CFE Media. See more Control Engineering robotics stories.

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