Richard Wiesman, professor of the practice in mechanical engineering, dies at age 69
Richard M. Wiesman ’76, SM ’76, PhD ’83, a professor of the practice in the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE), died on Sunday, Jan. 7. He was 69.
“Dr. Wiesman’s great enthusiasm for teaching, in parallel with his distinguished industry career, was a wonderful inspiration for our students,” says John Hart, department head and professor of mechanical engineering. “We will miss him very much.”
A technology innovator and leader who saw many complex engineering systems reach the marketplace, Wiesman’s work spanned from laboratory development to field deployment. His broad skills in all aspects of automation and robotics — including design, control, communications, locomotion, actuation, sensing, and power — brought a unique perspective to the education of MIT students and made him a tremendous educator, mentor, and colleague.
Wiesman was a lecturer in MechE in the early 1980s and from 2005-2007, and was named Professor of the Practice in 2007. He taught and supervised research in the areas of design, product development, robotics, controls, and manufacturing, and served as co-director of MIT’s Field and Space Robotics Laboratory. He was among the longest serving 2.009 team instructors, holding that role since 2008, including this past fall. He joined the 2.00b team in the early 2010s. In recent years, he also served on the teaching teams of 2.007, 2.008, and 2.810. Rich, as he was known to friends and colleagues, was loved by staff and students alike for his dedication, thoughtful feedback, capabilities, and kindness. He was a terrific colleague and friend. He has worked with and inspired many generations of students.
His doctoral thesis was on high-speed linear induction machines for transportation applications, which led him to work on the U.S. Navy’s Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System and the Advanced Arresting Gear system. Wiesman’s work on mobile robots started with the development of a new class of explosive ordnance disposal robots, which grew into a successful business in mobile robots for hazardous ground-based activities — including special robots for internal pipe inspection, robots for warehouse and packing activities, and analysis of robot team characteristics for planetary exploration.
Wiesman worked at Foster Miller/QinetiQ for over 40 years, starting as an engineer and ending his tenure as the executive vice president and chief technology officer. Most recently, he served as a senior fellow for General Atomics and as a member of Arsenal Capital’s Industrial Growth Advisory Board. In 2021, he shared reflections on his career in mechanical engineering with MechE students, telling them in his summation, “I believe you’ve selected an absolutely wonderful career.”
Wiesman was born on Oct. 7, 1954, to Harold and Elaine Wiesman. He had two brothers, John and Ron, and grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, before coming to study at MIT. MIT is also where he met his wife of 44 years, Suzanne. Together, they took great pleasure in traveling, hiking, snowshoeing, being with friends, and most of all, raising their three children.
Wiesman is survived by his wife; his son Josh and wife Kristina; his son David and wife Haley; his son Ben and wife Emily; and his grandchildren, Elena, John, William, and Julian, in whom he delighted as “Papa.”
In lieu of flowers, the family asks to please consider a donation to the American Heart Association.