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Article citation: Clive Loughlin, (2008) "The pioneering spirit", Industrial Robot: An International Journal, Vol. 35 Iss: 6, pp. -
I was very saddened to hear of the untimely and unexpected death of the robotics pioneer Walt Weisel (see News) following a heart attack on 19 May of this year. Walt was one of the “originals”, having started his robotics career with Cincinnati Milacron and then moving on after ten years to work for his mentor Joe Engelberger, the “Father of Robotics” at Unimation.
What struck me most about Walt was his tireless and infectious enthusiasm for all things robotic. He was also a consummate business man and had the rare skill of being able to mix robotic innovation with financial success.
Walt’s death has prompted me to consider – What makes a pioneer? Will there ever be new pioneers in the field of robotics?
You are not a pioneer unless other people say you are. It is not something that you can claim about yourself. Along with this goes the prerequisite that you must be associated with a development that ultimately proved successful. For example, the Scottish engineer John Logie Baird (1888-1946) is forever to be labeled as a pioneer of television even though his mechanically scanning system was soon overtaken by systems based on cathode ray tubes. Logie Baird backed the wrong horse, but the race was a great success.
In the same way that history is written by the victorious, so success is the creator of pioneers. This strikes me as being a bit unfair. People who dedicate their lives to a particular endeavour, but whom never achieve public recognition are unlikely to be remembered at all, let alone with the moniker of “pioneer”. Perhaps this is not quite so unfortunate as the lot of many artists, such as Vincent van Gogh, who died penniless, unappreciated and in despair, despite pioneering post-impressionism and creating paintings that are now considered almost priceless.
There must be lots of people out there in the field of robotics who have made perfectly practical inventions and developments but who never quite manage to attract the commercial interest that is required to make their creations a success. I know of quite a few myself and many have made what I consider to be highly valuable contributions to this journal and to the field of robotics, but who have never (yet) seen their ideas adopted to any degree.
If you happen to consider yourself to be in the above category then I would encourage you to put pen to paper and I will be pleased to consider publishing any work that shows practical innovation in the fields of robotics covered by this journal.
Will we have new pioneers in the field of robotics? Of course we will. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld – “we don’t even know what we do not know” and both recent and distant history is littered with excellent examples of pioneering innovation, and I am certain that this will always be the case.
The term pioneer also conjures up images of “the pioneering sprit”, and this is another quality of the pioneer. They know they will have to overcome great difficulties and even hardship, but they have the strength of character and determination to succeed.