Robotics pioneer Victor Scheinman of Woodside is dead at 73


Victor David Scheinman, a pioneer in industrial robotics and a longtime Woodside resident, died Tuesday, Sept. 20, of complications of heart disease. He was 73.

Mr. Scheinman, starting as a graduate student at Stanford University, developed a robotic arm that allowed the use of robotics in industry to leap forward. A version of the arm, called the Scheinman Arm, was used for research in dozens of research labs, inspiring a generation of robotics engineers.

Stanford professor Bernie Roth, who was at first Mr. Scheinman's adviser at Stanford and later his close friend, said that Mr. Scheinman's robotic arm was unique because it included sensors that gave the feedback to the computer controlling it.

Professor Roth said Mr. Scheinman was "tenacious and very active," always trying to figure out how things worked and fixing anything that was broken. "He was a very hands-on person," Mr. Roth said.

"He was one of those people who was larger than life in a way," he said, and was "encyclopedic in his knowledge."

Walt Conti, a student of Mr. Scheinman as well as his friend and Woodside neighbor, said he was inspired by Mr. Scheinman to found Edge Innovations, a company that creates robotic characters for Hollywood films, including the Orca star of "Free Willy."

Mr. Scheinman was "an incredibly curious people person and understood the need for a humanistic element to technology," he said. Mr. Scheinman sponsored Mr. Conti's master's project at Stanford, bringing to life one of Mr. Scheinman's dreams -- a robot that made castles from Lego blocks as sculptural art that had no “practical" purpose, Mr. Conti said.

"Vic was so unselfish in his support of so many people," Mr. Conti said, "not asking or taking any credit for doing it -- just the love of curiosity and tackling a challenge

JoeBen Bevirt, founder of Joby Aviation in Santa Cruz, which develops electric VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft, met Mr. Scheinman 22 years ago when studying mechanical engineering at Stanford University.

Mr. Bevirt says he considered Mr. Scheinman "a mentor and friend" who shared "good times, advice, encouragement, and love" with him. "He inspired me, encouraged me, and taught me," Mr. Bevirt said. Mr. Scheinman was "a font of knowledge and an engineer to the core. He made an indelible contribution to the world," he said.

Victor Scheinman was born in 1942, in Augusta, Georgia. His parents, Dr. Leonard Scheinman and Serah Mani Scheinman, later moved the family to Brooklyn and then to Riverdale in the Bronx. His father was a psychiatry professor at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and had a private practice in Manhattan, and his mother was a pianist and Hebrew teacher.

After developing a childhood interest in science and winning many science fair awards, Vic Scheinman went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age 16. He received a bachelor's degree in Course 16 aeronautics and astronautics from MIT, a master's and engineer degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and a certificate from the Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics in Brussels, Belgium.

In 1986 he won the Robotics Industries Association's Joseph F. Engelberger Award for technology, considered the world's most prestigious robotics honor.

In 1990 Mr. Scheinman was given the Leonardo da Vinci award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, its top award in product design and invention.

Mr. Scheinman married his first wife, Bonnie Sabrina Scheinman Pospisil, in 1978, and they had two children, Tenaya and David. They were divorced in 1988, but continued to live a few houses apart on the same street in Woodside and jointly raise their children.

Ms. Pospisil said Mr. Scheinman was "self-effacing. He didn't try to make himself big or important at all. He just enjoyed knowing how things work." He liked to fix things and was known for offering to repair almost anything for friends, neighbors and family, she and others said.

His children were important to him, and as they grew up "it was like we had one long hallway that was two doors down, with the kids and dog going back and forth," she said. "He was a really dedicated and invested father their whole life."

Daughter Tenaya is a public defender and son David, "very much in his father's footsteps," works for Carbon in Redwood City making 3D printers for industrial applications, she said.

Mr. Scheinman had a quintuple bypass heart surgery two decades ago, but remained very active and healthy, going on weekly bike rides with friends and pushing his doctor to allow him to do strenuous activities such as mountain climbing.

In July Mr. Scheinman and son David flew in David's Beechcraft Bonanza to the Oshkosh Fly-in Air Show, camping out in the field with the plane. "They were like two little boys telling me the tale," said Ms. Pospisil.

Mr. Scheinman visited daughter Tenaya in Seattle a month ago. "As usual, he fixed everything needing fixing in her house and car," Ms. Pospisil said.

Ron Roth, who was one of Mr. Scheinman's roommates at Stanford and remained his friend for more than three decades, said the two had great adventures traveling and in the outdoors. He remembered the time they climbed Mt. Shasta for David Scheinman's 16th birthday. Even though Vic Scheinman had already had his heart surgery, he nearly beat even the 16-year-old up the mountain, Mr. Roth said. "He was always out in front."

The same held true the last time he saw his friend, Mr. Roth said, when Mr. Scheinman invited him to go on a hike near his home. "He was up the hill just charging up," he said.

Mr. Scheinman is survived by his wife, Sandra Jean Auerback, whom he married in 2006; former wife Bonnie Sabrina Scheinman Pospisil of Woodside; children David Scheinman of Menlo Park and Tenaya Scheinman of Seattle; and brother, Dr. Richard Scheinman of Petrolia, California.

Details on a memorial service will be published later. Updated information on the memorial can be found and memories, photos, and thoughts can be shared on Facebook or by emailing

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