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Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Awards: A Humanitarian Spirit Lives On

POSTED 06/17/2016

By Gay Engelberger 

The Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Awards were founded in 1977, but have never been more meaningful than this year: the first time these awards will be given in a world that no longer has my dad, Joe Engelberger, in it. The awards are known as the world’s most prestigious robotics honor, and have been given to 122 robotics leaders from 17 nations. The awards will be presented to Dr. Chia Day from Foxconn and Dean Elkins from Yaskawa Motoman at a special ceremony on Tuesday, June 21st in Munich, Germany. The ceremony is held in conjunction with the joint 47th International Symposium on Robotics (ISR 2016) and AUTOMATICA, the International Trade Fair for Automation and Mechatronics.

Dr. Day will receive the award in the application category and Mr. Elkins in the leadership category. Each winner receives a $5,000 honorarium and a commemorative medallion with the inscription, “Contributing to the advancement of the science of robotics in the service of mankind,” which sums up Dad’s philosophy well. 

These awards remind us of Joe Engelberger’s humanitarian spirit, which is exemplified in his passion to use robots to help people live better lives, to help manufacturers keep workers safe, and to maintain the independence of the elderly and people with disabilities. Dad was all about using robotics to help others. In fact, when people ask me what most characterizes Joe Engelberger, I point to his generous spirit. He always had time for me.

He was always the first to drop everything for someone else, no matter what else was on his plate. He helped me with math problems and I always had the best science projects, like the 3D amoeba we crafted using Plexiglas. And he brought me along to the factory—I can still hear the sound of those hydraulic pumps and smell the oil. 

Despite having a home office, Dad worked at the kitchen table, and this became his de facto desk. There, he had an open-door policy—literally!—and he would regale me and all of my friends. Sometimes ten of us would gather around him and he would hold court, telling us his dreams of what robots could become. He inspired our imaginations and helped us envision the future. He nurtured our curiosity, and encouraged us to pursue our dreams. 

With all of this background, it was a foregone conclusion that I too would go into robotics. As it turned out, those kitchen table discussions paid off as my MBA in marketing led me to work with Dad at both of his companies. In fact, now that I no longer need to take care of Dad, I am keen to get back at it and have been looking for ways to make it back into the robotics space. 

When I was the director of marketing at HelpMate Robotics, we did hours of research, asking doctors, nurses, the elderly, and people with disabilities all sorts of questions about what services were needed and how they’d respond to a non-human assistant. Dad encouraged me to notice every nuance of how robotics could help the elderly. He was as interested in how robotics could help others as he was in the technology itself. 

It’s comforting to know that his passion and humanitarian spirit will live on in these awards. May future generations of robotics leaders continue to dazzle us with their innovations just as Dad dazzled my friends with tales of the future of robotics. 

When asked the secret to his success, Dad would reply, “I just got lucky.” But his luck was backed by the gritty determination he had when he knocked on 46 doors to find a company that would acquire the first Unimate. Yep, that’s my dad—doggedly determined, generous to a fault, and always humble. 

May we all be so lucky! 

Gay Engelberger, daughter of Joseph Engelberger, served as Director of Marketing at HelpMate Robotics, a company her father founded that created the product HelpMate, a robot hospital courier currently used in hospitals worldwide. In that role, Gay served as company spokesperson, directed public relations, and implemented the company sales and marketing program. Prior to working at HelpMate, Gay worked with European sales and marketing for Unimation. 

For more information on the annual Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Awards, click here.