Robot Magazine Article on
Rick Newman & His Robots

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The following appeared January 2013 in

Robot Magazine
Magazine

Robotioist, Inventor, Philanthropist & Educator

By Leslie Ballard
Staff Writer, Robot Magazine
Posted December 2012

“The Man with the Most Robots in the World”

   With the largest private collection of robots in the world, plus museum quality collections on international space artifacts, all-electric cars, remote controlled helicopters and vast arrays of geodes, minerals and insect, all on display in museums and in custom built science centers across the country, HighTechScience would seem to be an impressive organization. But it's not. It's all the work of one visionary man - Richard M. Newman.


Rick Newman

Can You Spell Com-pu-ter?

    When he was in the second grade, Richard Newman built a binary computer that won first place in the New York Public School Science Fair. (That’s right. He built a computer by himself in the second grade, at the point where most kids are struggling to spell multisyllabic words, like com-pu-ter.) That was in 1963. Growing up in the Flushing, Queens section of New York, the son of a furniture salesman and a psychologist, he earned science awards and honors throughout his school years, and in every year since, as well as recognition for his generous donations and nearly herculean civic projects.

Some of Rick's Robots
Rick with his Famous Robots

Preserving Iconic Robots

   Rick Newman is a steward, preserving that part of our culture that is the bridge between childhood fascination with “sci-fi” and sophisticated scientific exploration. For him, amassing the largest private collection of robots in the world, over a thousand and growing, is not a matter of obsessive compulsion. It’s a means of sharing his passion for science, and inspiring children and students. And these aren’t just any robots, they’re the most iconic robots from film and television, including: Robby the Robot  (Forbidden Planet); B9 (Lost in Space); R2-D2 and C-3PO (Star Wars); Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still); and a full-size Cylon (Battlestar Galactica). Rick loans all of them, free of charge, to organizations, museums, and schools, and displays them in his own High-Tech Productions Science & Technology Centers. He just wants others to experience the same thrilling adrenaline charge that he gets.

Mor of Rick's Robots
A few more of Rick's Robots

Wunderkind

   Even before graduating from high school, Rick knew the path that was right for him, and was ready to start out on it. In his senior year, he became the manager of a Lafayette Radio Electronics store in New York City. Being immersed in a world of electronic components and tools was a perfect fit. Prior to this, he had won all school science fairs in all grades, and in his sophomore year he also won both the New York City and New York Statewide Science Fairs. That same year, he was a junior co-host on a television science show called Earth Lab. He received the Presidential Achievement Award for Science; a Scientific Achievement Plaque from NASA; a science grant from the American Institute of the City of New York; became a den chief for a Cub Scout pack, and then an Assistant Scoutmaster; and in the midst of it all, he managed to graduate from ski school in Switzerland (To see more of Rick’s accomplishments, visit his website at www.hightechscience.org/rick_newman.htm).

Rick at the New York World's Fair
Rick at the New York World's Fair

Best of the Borscht Belt

   Rick circumvented college, and, after graduating high school in 1973, opened the Spring Glen Penny Arcade, which evolved into his own vending and amusements company. This lead him to the Pines Resort Hotel in the Catskills, where for the next 16 years he was the stage manager for some of the greatest acts of the time, over 5,000 shows, including Milton Berle, Red Buttons, Jerry Lewis, Alan King, Frankie Avalon, and the Fifth Dimension. Rick loved the old, sprawling resort retreats—Grossinger’s, Brickman’s, the Concord— and the summer people who stayed there, families escaping the pace of the city to vacation in the fresh air of the Borscht Belt.  He’s nostalgic about the loss of that era, so accurately depicted in the 1987 film, Dirty Dancing. And he’s saddened by the news that beloved friend and tummler Lou Goldstein, a.k.a. “Mr. Simon Sez,” passed away earlier this year. His favorite star that he worked with was Florence Henderson, with whom he developed a close friendship. “I grew up watching her on The Brady Bunch. She’s really a sweetheart.”

Rick with Florence Henderson Rick with Alan King
Rick w/ Florence Henderson Rick w/ Alan King

   Three important components of Rick’s success came from those years in the Catskills. While he was becoming a crack audio/video engineer and acquiring a flair for show biz, he was also developing his natural inclination to educate and inspire, as a Special Education instructor. He still loves to teach and educate, and shares his considerable knowledge in many ways. He also met and married his wife of 18 years, Jeanne, who supports his creativity and often helps him on projects.

High-Tech Productions

   Drawn to the sunshine and lifestyle, Rick and Jeanne moved to Florida in 1992, where he traded in a winter wardrobe for his signature Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts. His company of over 30 years, High-Tech Productions, includes a duplication and transfer service which now proudly proclaims at its website is “America’s Number One Video/ Data/ Disc company.” High-Tech has an enviable client list of Fortune 500 companies, including CNN, Sony, IBM, McDonald’s, U.S. Military, U.S. Postal Service, Pepsi, and NASA.

   As a technical stage advisor and coordinator, Rick oversaw huge festivals and concerts, including Woodstock ’89. He also designed and installed million dollar sound, lighting, and video systems in all kinds of venues, plus security and surveillance systems. When he added videography, he soon became the official videographer for such prominent clients as the 83rd Infantry, U.S. Army.

   Once his company was comfortably profitable, Rick started collecting. He collected robots. He collected international space artifacts. He collected geodes and minerals. He collected butterflies and insects. He collected all-electric vehicles. He collected remote-controlled helicopters and cars. In most of these categories, he has amassed a collection that any museum would envy. And he’s still collecting.

Calling All Robots

   So, what does the man with more robots than anyone else in the world want? “More robots!” says Rick. “I’ll take anything, in any condition. I can fix everything in my shop. The more I have, the more I can put out there for people to see.”  And he means it; his garage has been converted into an impressive workshop, loaded with specialty tools to address any technical or cosmetic problem. There is one special robot that has eluded him, and he’s still looking for it. “I wish I could find the robot from Bicentennial Man, the movie with Robin Williams.” He’s referring to the android named Andrew Martin in the 1999 movie based on Isaac Asimov’s short story. If anyone has a lead on that robot or costume, please contact Rick!

A few more of Rick's Robots

   And, while he welcomes in-kind donations for any of his collections, Rick will not accept any financial donations. “I just never wanted to cross that line. I never want to accept money. If anyone wants to help, they can donate to the collection,” he says.

Science & Technology Centers

   In 2000, Rick established High-Tech Science.org. Its goal is “to plant the seed of learning by opening the eyes and minds of children worldwide …There is never an admission fee or cover charge, nor does HighTechScience.org sell any products or services.” And so, he began loaning everything in his collections to museums, libraries, exhibits, and schools. His next brainchild was High-Tech Productions Science & Technology Centers, customized installations for schools and learning centers. Each of these installations is different, featuring an array of Rick’s acquisitions from around the world. An installation might include cases displaying butterflies, beetles, and insects; geodes and minerals; international space memorabilia; hands-on interactive exhibits; and of course, robots. Rick designs and builds each Center himself. It’s part of the fun.

Grand Opening of Rick's 1st Science Center
Rick's 1st Science Center Grand Opening

   Of the 22 Science & Technology Centers he has built and donated so far, one that gives Rick a special sense of satisfaction was installed in 2003 at the Fort Peck Reservation in Poplar, Montana, home to the Assiniboine and Sioux Nations. A representative for the school system contacted Rick to request a Science Center, to help inspire and educate students. The much-anticipated grand opening featured a traditional native dance by the Red Buffalo Society Dancers— students ranging from kindergarten through high school—and then was blessed by a tribal Elder. The ceremony was a sincere expression of gratitude.

The Opening of Rick's 20th Science Center
Opening of Rick's 20th Center at an Indian Reservation School

Message from Space

   That same year, the Flown Space Artifact Collection received a prized addition. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, Commander of the International Space Station (ISS), sent a digital personal greeting to Rick from the station as it orbited Earth. It was transmitted from the ISS, bounced off of an orbiting communications satellite, beamed down to a ground station in Moscow, and then forwarded on to Rick. This collection is so extensive that it’s displayed at several museums. There is also a touring space exhibit, featuring such rare items as Russian and American flight suits and helmets, flown items autographed by cosmonauts and astronauts, and a MIR Space Station window.

Rick Gets An Out Of This World Letter
Rick gets an Out of This World Greeting from a Russian Cosmonaut

World’s First All-Electric Car
   For a full-grown science whiz kid, the biggest science fair of all is the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Conference. For the 2004 conference, Rick decided to show just how much could be done using alternative energy sources, without a gasoline engine. (He also “wanted to attract the attention of kids of all ages and use the car as a learning tool.”) He found a few rare CitiCars—tiny, wedge-fronted, electric two-seaters that were built from 1974 to 1976 by Florida’s Sebring-Vanguard Company. He installed a high-resolution color video system, computerized alarm system, several high-powered strobes, electronically controlled underbody neon and LED lighting, dual red laser light units and a high-powered computer-controlled green laser, remotely operated self-contained smoke and fogging system, computerized multicolor LED graphic electronic sign, interior color-changing neon system, and a high-powered digital self-contained music and wireless PA system with AM/FM/CD/ MP3 playback. It was exhibited as “The World’s First All-Electric Car.” Several of these amazing little customized CitiCars are now on display, along with a rare one-seater Corbin Sparrow (For more information, please visit www.hightechscience.org/electric_car.htm

One of Rick's Electric Vehicles

B-9, Robby, and R2-D2 Join the Family

   2006 was a game-changing year. Among other things, Rick acquired three of the most famous robots in the world: B9, Robby the Robot, and R2-D2. He made several large donations: a Science & Technology Center for the Bahamas school system; a fully equipped 24-foot powerboat for the Wayne Barton Study Center for marine studies; he donated and installed underwater video systems for the tanks at the South Florida Science Museum. He was elected to the Board of Directors of the South Florida Science Museum, and promptly set up a robotics exhibit. For the opening, he invited Bob May, the actor inside the B9 robot costume on Lost in Space, the popular ’60s TV series. “Growing up, I wanted to be Will Robinson on Lost in Space,” Rick says. He and May bonded immediately and remain close friends. The next year, he invited June Lockhart, co-star of Lost in Space, to appear with May at the museum at his first RoboFest.

Actor Bob May & Rick with his Robots
Lost in Space Actor Bob May & Rick with his Robots

 Then, in the midst of all the productivity and projects, he suddenly suffered a stroke. Incredibly, Rick says the stroke felt like “it blew through a blockage.”  His mental acuity improved. His actual thought process changed, for the better.  It’s hard to imagine that such a fine-tuned, efficient mechanism as Richard Newman’s brain could be improved, but maybe there’s proof in all that has followed.

RC Helicopter Therapy
   Shortly after his stroke, Rick took up remote-controlled helicopters as an exercise to improve his eye–hand coordination. And, of course, now he has a collection of them. His website encourages young pilots, “Because the operation of helicopters involves numerous scientific principals, RC helicopters are a terrific educational tool. They are fun to build, fly, and learn from. Most cities have a local RC club where you can get tips from experienced pilots, build on your own skills, and make tons of new friends.” Recently, he has added RC cars to his hobbies.

One of Rick's RC Helicopters

The Submarine and the Solar-Powered Railroad
   South Florida Science Museum has benefited greatly from Rick’s philanthropy and imagination. He donated an underwater video system for their aquarium and a museum wide high-speed Wi-Fi system. He was elected to the Upgrade Committees for both the planetarium and science theater. His designs gave the museum “the world’s most advanced all-digital full-dome planetarium.” Then, noting that the museum’s Perry Cubmarine had deteriorated in its outdoor display, he undertook the project of restoring it to its original condition. The 2008 christening ceremony, complete with a presentation by the Naval Sea Cadets and their commanders, was a great publicity event for the museum.

Rick Refurbishing the SFSM's Mini Sub
Rick Refurbishes the South Florida Science Museum's Mini Sub

   Rick has no special fascination with trains, but since, as he says, “Florida was really founded by the railroad,” he felt the museum should tell the story, and so proposed a perfect blend of history and technology: a historically accurate, outdoor, solar-powered model train system. When local university scholars told him it couldn’t be done, he took up the challenge, even more determined. The resulting exhibit has not one, but two different G-scale train systems: a 1950s passenger train and a cattle/freight train. The many period buildings, electric signs, crossing lights and moving train signals were all handmade by Rick. There's even a working carousel. It’s ingeniously designed so that even during long periods of little or no sun, there is still enough reserve power stored in the batteries to operate the train system for several weeks.

Rick's "Solar Express" at the South Florida Science Museum
Rick's "Solar Express" at the South Florida Science Museum

WALL-E Grants a Wish
   A phone call in the summer of 2009 from the Make-A-Wish Foundation changed Rick’s life forever, and began his connection with the organization. A little boy in New Jersey named George, a kid in need, wanted to meet his favorite robot, WALL-E, and Rick had a fully functional replica that could make George’s wish come true. Not only did Jeanne and Rick open their home to George and his brother and parents, they also arranged for a giant Bouncy House to make sure there would be plenty of laughter and smiles. The family spent the day making memories they would never forget, and Rick’s heart was touched. The caption under George and WALL-E’s photo at his website reads, “This is why we do what we do.”

Rick's "Make A Wish" Event

“P.T. Barnum Would Be Proud”
While he dislikes public speaking, Rick still has the gift of showmanship, honed during those years in the Catskills. Every night in October, his front yard and garage are transformed into a continuously running 50-minute computerized “Halloween Sound, Light, and Laser Show.” The Famous Fountain of Blood is the centerpiece to a cast of ghouls, goblins, lasers, and all things spooky. A virtual thunderstorm creates a sinister atmosphere, while the show’s music and sound effects are broadcast on a local radio station, so visitors can watch the show from their cars. Cars and news vans line the street, and crowds gather in front of the house for a tour of the dungeon, guarded by life-size animatronics: witches, undertakers, mad scientists, and a host to guide the tour, such as Count Mortimer the vampire. The tour includes some of the most famous robots in the collection. Rick makes sure that it stays kid-friendly, never too gory for the youngest guests. As always, it’s free of charge, but there is a prominently displayed collection box for his favorite charity, the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He was thrilled to present a check for $2,000 last year, all from visitors to the show.

The Kids That Did "Thriller" at Rick's Annual Halloween Show
Rick's free "Thriller" re-enactment Show on Halloween

   For the 2011 show, a Boca Raton dance studio performed Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Already gaining momentum, this attracted record numbers of visitors. Enough so that one disgruntled neighbor called the police to complain. With the police cars came news vans, reporters, and cameras. There were court proceedings, threats, and lots of media coverage, including newspapers and nationally syndicated TV news features on CBS and Fox-TV. With all this coverage, Rick expects even higher attendance than the 2,000 visitors who came last year. He tells the story with relish, “P.T. Barnum would be proud of me! I turned that complaint into great publicity!” The aim was to entertain as many people as possible, raise money for the "Make A Wish" Foundation and he still plans to do just that. Check his website for information about this year’s show at www.hightechscience.org/halloween.htm

Rick's Annual Halloween Show
Rick's annual, month long computerized Halloween show

White Christmas in Boca Raton
   As he strikes the set, dismantling the elaborate show, he’s already putting up the next—the Holiday Sound Light & Laser Show, which runs from the last week of November through the beginning of January. According to the poster, this is “where every bulb is perfectly choreographed to the music, and there is a snowstorm every few minutes.” And that choreography is no small feat, considering there are over 25,000 computer-controlled lights and special effects. Rick’s snow machines deliver swirling, fluffy white amazement every fifteen minutes.  For a child who has never seen snow, to first experience it on a balmy Florida night must be magical. Rick always manages to persuade Santa Claus to make an appearance on Christmas Eve. And starting this year, he is adding a one-night Hanukkah Show: “Free gelt and Dreidels for everyone!”

Rick's Annual Holiday Show
Rick's annual, month long computerized Christmas/Holiday show

Rick's Annual Holiday Show
This is in the tropics...      Rick makes the snow for the shows

High-Voltage Fun
   When he wants to relax and let his imagination roam, Rick doesn’t open a good book, he retreats to his shop and experiments with high-voltage electric phenomena—Tesla coils and Jacob’s Ladders, which light up the sky with frenetic zigzags of electric currents during his Halloween shows. Anyone visiting the “High Voltage Experiments” page of his website can’t miss his emphatic warnings: “Traveling-arc devices are dangerous. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!” These six-foot-tall behemoths have no commercial value and serve no purpose other than to delight their creators and anyone lucky enough to catch them in action. Students from MIT, who admiringly consider him to be the “head geek” of their geek group, often join him for these projects.


One of Rick's playthings

   The Learning Channel (TLC), ABC & an Canadian production company are all planning to do segments about Rick and his robot collection, to be filmed at his home and at Sugar Sand Park’s Science Explorium. He’s excited about the publicity it will bring to the South Florida Science Museum and the City of Boca Raton. Check your local listings, or his website for airdates.

Love of Humanity

   Philanthropy is a Greek word meaning “love of humanity,” and Rick Newman is a true philanthropist, making regular donations to charities, especially those that provide comfort and care for children in need. Considering his proliferating output, any interview with Rick would have to end with one question: “Do you ever sleep?” He laughs. “Sleep? Never! I don’t have time—too much to do!”  He’s too busy coming up with new ways to share his sense of wonder and inspire budding scientists.

Rick giving "Make A Wish" a check for the holidays
Rick giving the "Make A Wish" Foundation a check for the holidays


Update - On September 30th 2012 Richard suffered an aortic aneurysm. He spent several weeks in the intensive care unit (ICU) of Boca Raton Hospital and has been recovering at home since. 


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