Norm Caplan

Interview Location: United States

Interview Synopsis

In this interview, Caplan discusses his lengthy career in the field of robotics. He recounts his contributions to the industry, and his involvement with the NSF, IARP, and IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. He reflects on the evolution of US robotics research, and the challenges and successes roboticists face. Additionally, he provides advice to young people interested in the field, stressing the importance of passion, education, and collaboration.


Norm Caplan was born in New York City on July 26, 1925. Upon graduation from High School he entered the U.S. Navy where he became an electronic technician, studying radar technology. Following discharge he attended the New York University Engineering School, graduating with a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering degree in 1951 and a Master of Electrical Engineering degree in 1954. Joining the NYU Research Division and serving as Adjunct Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering, Caplan continued with his post-graduate education. Entering industry, Caplan worked for Burrows, RCA, and Tracor, researching electronic countmeasures and doing work on the Polaris Submarine communications system. At Tracor he researched electronic direction finding and HF communication systems, rising to the position of Chief Engineer of the Systems and Sciences Division. In 1973, he joined the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, acting as the Program Director for the Control and Automation program, and Acting Division Director during various years. Following retirement from the NSF in 2000, he went to work on surgical robotics at Johns Hopkins University's for two years. Caplan's other contributions to the field of robotics include creating the IEEE Robotics and Automation Council (now the Robotics and Automation Society) in 1984 and serving as Society president in 1991, running RAS conferences in 1996 and 2006, and serving as US representative and President of the International Advanced Robotics Programme. Additionally, for his service to the RAS as President and as Vice President for Conference Activities he received the 2005 IEEE RAS Distinguished Service Award. His research interests include robotics, automation, imaging, signal processing, bioengineering and prosthetics, and systems analysis.