Receiving the Engelberger Robotics Award, the automation industry’s most prestigious honor, is yet another recognition of the influence of Universal Robots CTO and co-founder, Esben Østergaard. But perhaps it’s not surprising. After all, he invented his first robot to solve a real-life industrial challenge at the ripe age of four.
Robot pioneer from a young age
Esben was living in the Philippines at the time, where his father, an engineer, was building the water supply for Cebu City. In order to pull cables through pipes, workers tried tying a string to a cat’s tail and chasing it into the pipe. Cats are not the most cooperative (or gentle) domestic animal, so the plan wasn’t ideal. Østergaard built a small robot to perform the task instead and the die was cast.
Esben (in green) at a birthday party in the Philippines around the time of his first robot invention.
Esben went on to receive degrees in computer science, physics, and multimedia at Aarhus University in Denmark, and a PhD in robotics from the University of Southern Denmark. He has also held research positions at the University of Southern California (USC) Robotics Labs and at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Tsukuba and Tokyo, Japan, experiences that fed his global view of automation.