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Robot Industry Mourns the Loss of Industry Visionary

POSTED 05/21/2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 (Robotics Online ) — Paro Robots U.S. announced that its Chief Executive Officer and President, Walter K. Weisel, passed away on May 19, 2008. Mr. Weisel was committed to helping improve the quality of life for the elderly and infirm and believed the Paro Robot would provide an invaluable service to mankind.”

Memories of Walt Weisel
by Jeff Burnstein, Executive Vice President
Robotic Industries Association

Walter K. WeiselMr. Weisel was a true pioneer in the field of robotics, with a distinguished career that spanned over 30 years of driving vast improvements in the technology and mindshare of the dynamic industry. Mr. Weisel served in a variety of executive, financial, managerial, engineering,  service, sales and marketing roles throughout his career that were instrumental to the growth of the robotics field and the advancement of the many industries that robotic applications benefit including healthcare, space exploration, military, and manufacturing.

Driven by a passion for technology that was born out of his service in the U.S. Navy working with guided missile control, Mr. Weisel spent the first 10 years of his career with Cincinnati Milacron, Inc., working in engineering, sales, and management roles with machine controls and computers.

He then went to work for his mentor, Joseph F. Engelberger – known in the industry as the “Father of Robotics” – at Unimation, Inc., the first major industrial robotics manufacturer in the U.S. Mr. Weisel managed key sales accounts with blue-chip customers like Ford and Chrysler, and he was instrumental in the design and build-out of the company’s groundbreaking Puma robot.

Mr. Weisel moved to Prab Robots, Inc. where he served as Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Chief Operating Officer, and ultimately was elevated to the position of President and Chief Executive Officer, leading Prab’s international growth and expansion. He transformed Prab from an obscure materials conveying company into an international organization and leader in the fields of industrial robots and automation. Prab acquired Unimation, Inc. from Westinghouse, along with several other operating companies in the U.S. and Europe. The acquisition of Unimation from Westinghouse provided the basis for a very successful robot re-manufacturing (retrofit) business. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler immediately began contracting for retrofit services, a business sector which quickly grew. By 1990, Prab was responsible for the largest installed base of robots in North America (over 10,000 robots). While under his direction, Prab grew 700 percent and completed a successful IPO.

While at Prab, Mr. Weisel also formed and headed a subsidiary, Prab Command, Inc., which introduced the world’s first 100 percent voice-activated robotic and computer workstation for the severely disabled, including quadriplegics. The company won many awards, including the Product of the Year Award for the State of Michigan and the prestigious National Product of the Year Award for the United States.

Mr. Weisel was the recipient of the prestigious Joseph F. Engelberger Award, which recognizes the most significant contribution to the advancement of robotics and automation in the service of humankind. Nominations are received from 26 nations worldwide. This award has been presented since 1977.

Mr. Weisel served as Chairman and CEO of International Business Link (IBL) a professional management firm serving businesses worldwide through a consultancy practice that included technology assessment, licensing of leading edge technologies and new products, joint ventures, mergers, marketing studies and the planning and execution of international Total Quality Management (TQM) benchmarking tours between US and European companies. 

While amassing an impressive list of accolades that profile the rise of this industry visionary, Mr. Weisel maintained a strict commitment to the disciplines of science and technology throughout his career, allowing him to drive significant changes in the way people develop, use and think about robotic applications. 

As the potential of PC computing became more evident in the early 1990’s with increased computing capability, the introduction of application software, and the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web, Mr. Weisel became intrigued with the idea of applying this technology to robotic and machine control. He founded Robotic Workspace Technologies, Inc. (RWT™) and introduced the world’s first 100 percent open architecture PC controller capable of controlling multiple axes of motion and peripheral devices using commercially available, off-the-shelf hardware and software components, and operating in the Microsoft® Windows® environment. The company was awarded three Pioneer Patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for its Universal Robot Controller™ (URC™) and RobotScript® universal programming language.

In 2004, Mr. Weisel took RWT public through a reverse merger and today the company is known as Coroware, Inc.

Beyond his executive roles, Mr. Weisel was an original founding member of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the U.S. robot manufacturers’ trade association. He served three (3) terms as President, on the RIA Board of Directors and Executive Committee and, as a spokesperson for the industry, has served as an advisor to members of the U.S. Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce. He frequently represented the U.S. for key meetings and events in Europe and the Far East.

Additionally, Mr. Weisel was a founding member of Robotics International (RI), a member society dedicated to the advancement of robotics technology. During his term as President the membership grew to over 16,000 members. As a member of the RI Executive Committee and Board of Directors, he was responsible for organizing the international RI member chapters and the national robot trade show.

A Life Member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), Mr. Weisel served as Vice Chairman for six SME technical councils on welding, finishing processes, computers, robotics, and advanced manufacturing concepts.

His other professional affiliations have included the Society of Automotive Engineers, the Society of Die Casting Engineers, Investment Casting Society, Society of Plastic Engineers, Numerical Control Society, and the American Management Association.

Mr. Weisel was the author of many technical papers on automation, robotics, and advanced manufacturing techniques, plus the use of personal robots in healthcare for vocational rehabilitation. He was considered an expert in the fields of management, business strategy, market planning, and automation and frequently spoke to professional societies and at technical conferences worldwide. Mr. Weisel received the Marketer of the Year Award by the American Marketing Association and is listed in Who’s Who in American Business.

He held a commercial pilot’s license and enjoyed boating, fishing and diving. He was very active in his church, First Assembly Ministries of Fort Myers, FL, where he thoroughly enjoyed attending “The Cave,” an inner city men’s ministry, and in his community. He and his wife Connie enjoyed nearly 36 years of marriage together. He was a dedicated father and grandfather.

Public services will be held Saturday, June 14, 2008 at 11 o’clock a.m. at First Assembly Ministries, 4701 Summerlin Road, Fort Myers, FL 33919. For directions and more information, please visit the First Assembly Ministries website at The family has requested that friends and colleagues honor the memory of Walter K. Weisel through the William E. Weisel Scholarship at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation, One SME Drive, Box 930, Dearborn, MI 48121-0930. For more information, please contact Steve Quinlan at (313) 425-3300.


Sandra L. Brooks