Robotics leaders win "Oscars of Automation"

Maker of a snake robot that sifts rubble and an industry heavyweight advancing robotics adoption are among this year's honorees.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

A robotics professor and an automation industry director have won the 2019 Engelberger Robotics Awards, the world's most prestigious robotics honor. The awards were announced this week and will be presented in a special dinner at an industry trade show in April.

Also: Robotics in business: Everything humans need to know

Named for Joseph F. Engelberger, often called "the father of robotics," the award honors excellence in technology development, application, education, and industry leadership. An engineer and entrepreneur, Engelberger teamed up with inventor George Devol in the mid-1950s to found Unimation, the company behind Unimate, the first industrial robot.

The prize named in his honor has been awarded since 1977 and is presented by the Robotic Industries Association, a non-profit trade group. Because of its relative longevity in the brief history of industrial automation, the prize has become an important bellwether of technological progress in robotics. There have been 128 winners from 17 nations since '77.

This year's winners are Catherine Morris, a group leader at ATI Industrial Automation, which makes end-of-arm tooling for robots, and Dr. Howie Choset, robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University and co-founder of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute.

Dr. Choset's award comes in education. At CMU, he's led teams developing modular segmented robots, including a snake robot used in disaster relief

"In addition to being an inspiring professor in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon, Dr. Choset has lead key research efforts to help solve significant problems in diverse areas such as surgery, manufacturing, infrastructure inspection and search rescue," Jeff Burnstein, RIA President, said in award announcement. "Additionally, he has co-founded several companies, including Medrobotics for surgical system, Hebi Robotics for modular robots, and Bito Robotics for autonomous guided vehicles. His FDA-approved surgical snake robot has been in use in the U.S. and Europe since 2015. Add to that his role as a co-founder of the ARM Institute that is aimed at advancing technology development and education for robotics in manufacturing, and his role as a founding editor of the journal Science Robotics, and you see that Dr. Choset is well-deserving of our industry's highest honor."

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Catherine Morris won the leadership award. "I can think of very few people in the history of the robotics industry who have been as committed to the growth of our industry as Catherine," said Burnstein. "In addition to helping build ATI into a global leader in robotic accessories and robot arm tooling, she has been a tireless advocate of robotics and the important role that groups like RIA play within it."

Morris previously served as Chair of RIA and sits on several automation industry committees.

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