After observing the help for his aging parents, Engelberger saw the robotics automations could be used in the medical field. In 1984, Engelberger founded Transitions Research Corporation. He introduced the HelpMate, a mobile robot hospital courier, as the flagship product of his new company. He hoped to kick-start a new industry for in-home robots,
The medical robot was successful enough that the hospital ended up purchasing another.
HelpMate was acquired by Cardinal Health in the late 1990s, a move Engelberger came to regret, complaining that the new owners moved away from his preferred model of renting out robots toward selling off used, depreciated models.
Even after his departure from HelpMate and well into his 80s, he remained active in the promotion and development of robots for use in elder care.
He notably discouraged the notion of legged robots, arguing that robots should use wheels for locomotion, although he supported the use of robotic arms to allow the machines to interact with their surroundings. He worked on developing a two-armed robot to act as a “servant-companion” to seniors with limited mobility.
Engelberger died on December 1, 2015, in Newtown, Connecticut, a little more than four months after celebrating his 90th birthday.
*26 July 1925, Brooklyn, New York City, US
†1 December 2015, Newtown, Connecticut, US
Joseph Frederick Engelberger was an American physicist, engineer and entrepreneur. Licensing the original patent awarded to inventor George Devol, Engelberger developed the first industrial robot in the United States, the Unimate, in the 1950s.
Later, he worked as entrepreneur and vocal advocate of robotic technology beyond the manufacturing plant in a variety of fields, including service industries, health care, and space exploration. He has been called “the father of robotics” for his contributions to the field.
He grew up in Connecticut during the Great Depression, but later returned to New York City for his college education.
Engelberger received his B.S. in physics in 1946, and M.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1949 from Columbia University. He worked as an engineer with Manning, Maxwell and Moore, where he met inventor George Devol at a Westport cocktail party in 1956, two years after Devol had designed and patented a rudimentary industrial robotic arm. However, Manning, Maxwell and Moore was sold and Engelberger’s division was closed that year.
Finding himself jobless but with a business partner and an idea, Engelberger co-founded Unimation with Devol, creating the world’s first robotics company.
In 1957, he also founded Consolidated Controls Corporation. As president of Unimation, Engelberger collaborated with Devol to engineer and produce an industrial robot under the brand name Unimate. The first Unimate robotic arm was installed at a General Motors Plant in Ewing Township, New Jersey, in 1961.
After selling the first Unimate at a $35,000 loss, as demand increased, the company was able to begin building the robotic arms for significantly less and thus began to turn a substantial profit. Engelberger was widely hailed as a key player in the postwar ascendancy of Japanese manufacturing quality and efficiency.
An early proponent of increased investment in robotic systems, Engelberger published articles and gave congressional testimony on the value of using automation in space long before the successes of NASA’s Mars landers, Galileo, and other unmanned space science missions. He also consulted for NASA on the use of robotics in space exploration.
He also founded several other AI models. His book A framework for representing knowledge created a new paradigm in programming. While his Perceptrons is now more a historical than practical book, the theory of frames is in wide use. Minsky also wrote of the possibility that extraterrestrial life may think like humans, permitting communication.
In the early 1970s, at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab, Minsky and Papert started developing what came to be known as the Society of Mind theory. The theory attempts to explain how what we call intelligence could be a product of the interaction of non-intelligent parts.
Minsky says that the biggest source of ideas about the theory came from his work in trying to create a machine that uses a robotic arm, a video camera, and a computer to build with children’s blocks. In 1986, Minsky published The Society of Mind, a comprehensive book on the theory which, unlike most of his previously published work, was written for the general public.
In January 2016 Minsky died of a cerebral hemorrhage, at the age of 88.
*9 August 1927, New York City, New York, U.S.
†24 January 2016, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Marvin Lee Minsky was an American cognitive and computer scientist concerned largely with research of artificial intelligence (AI), co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AI laboratory, and author of several texts concerning AI and philosophy.
Minsky received many accolades and honors, including the 1969 Turing Award.
He attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School and the Bronx High School of Science. He later attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He then served in the US Navy from 1944 to 1945. He received a B.A. in mathematics from Harvard University in 1950 and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton University in 1954.
His doctoral dissertation was titled “Theory of neural-analog reinforcement systems and its application to the brain-model problem.” He was a Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows from 1954 to 1957.
He was on the MIT faculty from 1958 to his death. He joined the staff at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in 1958, and a year later he and John McCarthy initiated what is, as of 2019, named the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He was the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, and professor of electrical engineering and computer science.
Minsky’s inventions include the first head-mounted graphical display (1963) and the confocal microscope (1957, a predecessor to today’s widely used confocal laser scanning microscope). He developed, with Seymour Papert, the first Logo “turtle”. Minsky also built, in 1951, the first randomly wired neural network learning machine, SNARC. In 1962, Minsky worked in small universal Turing machines and published his well-known 7-state, 4-symbol machine.
Minsky’s book Perceptrons (written with Seymour Papert) attacked the work of Frank Rosenblatt, and became the foundational work in the analysis of artificial neural networks. The book is the center of a controversy in the history of AI, as some claim it to have had great importance in discouraging research of neural networks in the 1970s, and contributing to the so-called “AI winter”.