Remembering Victor Scheinman: Pioneer, inventor and robotics team mentor

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An assembly line robot inventor, former Aragon Robotics Team (ART) mentor, and friend to many, Victor Scheinman died of a heart attack at 73 years old in Petrolia, California on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

According to the New York Times, Scheinman’s interest in engineering began as a child. His father found out about his fear of a computer-controlled industrial robot that he saw in the science-fiction movie, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Scheinman was persuaded by his father to build a wooden model of Gort, the 8-foot tall laser-equipped robot from the movie that appeared in his nightmares. At the age of 12, Scheinman developed a keen interest in space and rockets leading to his life-long career in the field of robotics.

At the age of 16, Scheinman enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he graduated with a degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics. After he worked on space and defense research, he traveled and earned a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University. In 1969, Scheinman’s involvement in Stanford University’s Mechanical Engineering Department led to his creation of the Stanford Arm, a six-jointed robot allowing more control for assembly and automation. In 1973, Scheinman began manufacturing his robot arms at Vicarm Inc., creating industrial assembly line robots for large companies, such as Unimation and General Motors. After several thousand copies, the Stanford Arm became a staple in industrial settings, and is even on display at the Smithsonian.

Following his education and creation of the Stanford Arm, Scheinman took part in founding the Aragon Robotics Team in 2002, and later became a mentor of the team in 2005.

Senior Miles Olson, captain of the Aragon Robotics Team recalls that most of the time robotics was not about physically putting things together but going through the process correctly. He says, “[Scheinman put] down the toolbox to go to the whiteboard and check the physics.”

Olson adds, “[he] was a super busy person and wasn’t able to come to every meeting.” Yet Olson believes Scheinman expertise in mechanical design and his passion to help and teach robotics is what Aragon Robotics will use to do him proud. Olson says, “[We will use] the knowledge he gave while he was a mentor on the team to see what we can do with it.”

Former Robotics advisor Arron Apperson considered it a real honor to work with Scheinman, adding, “he is going to be sorely missed by not only our team [Aragon Robotics], but by the entire robotics community.” Over the last three to four years of collaboration he observed Schienman’s humility. He says, “Scheinman didn’t like to tell people about all the things he had done in his life, but if you asked questions he would open up and talk to you about it.” Apperson notes that Scheinman’s perspective on what true robotics is a machine that can work without an input. Scheinman’s idea of a working machine without input was impactful. Apperson adds, “[It] was something he tried to impress upon the students in the robotics club.”

Robotics Advisor Jennifer Wei elaborates on how passionate Schieman was about robotics. She adds, “[He believed] especially [in] very particular ways of doing robotics. He really supported the idea that the students were supposed to be the ones who were building all of those skills.”

Sophomore Julian Riley, a member of Aragon Robotics, who was not very close to Scheinman recalls, “he was very strict in his teaching, but he did it with good intentions. He would always question what we were doing and why.” As Riley recollects the memories created with his past mentor, he adds, “It feels very lonely without him here because he was always there as a helping hand to the team.”

Scheinman’s passion for robotics has reflected amongst the Aragon Robotics Team and the robotics community. His willingness to spread his knowledge and strategies for problem solving will continue to move forward with the students that he taught and impacted, leading to their success and future accomplishments in the field that they decide to pursue.

“Mr. Sheinman was a brilliant engineer and dedicated mentor. While others helped us learn to machine parts or design components, what stuck with me the most was his passion for autonomy, and his vision for a future with robots that could complete tasks without any human guidance. While his guidance and inspiration will surely be missed, we can remember him through the self-driving cars on the street or the autonomous drones flying overhead and know that his legacy lives on in the students who will make the future our reality.” ~Ivan Wang, Class of 2012

Posted by Mikayla Kaliski

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