Civic News

Pittsburgh is one of 3 cities leading a new alliance for US robotics clusters

It's the latest effort from the Pittsburgh Robotics Network to ensure the city lives up to its self-proclaimed title of "robotics capital of the world."

National Robotics Engineering Center's high bay area.

(Photo courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University)

Pittsburgh is joining forces with Boston and Silicon Valley to build a national network of robotics economies.

The Pittsburgh Robotics Network announced this week that it would partner with MassRobotics and Silicon Valley Robotics to form the United States Alliance of Robotics Clusters (USARC). The new alliance will convene the industry leadership of Boston, Silicon Valley and Pittsburgh to better develop, commercialize and scale technology for public and private partners, the organizations said Wednesday.

The announcement comes shortly after the Pittsburgh Robotics Network launched the Pittsburgh Robotics Cluster Profile — a report illustrating the more than 100 companies and 40 ecosystem orgs making up the local robotics industry.

“The robotics industry is perfectly positioned, with the right governmental support, to help meet UN Sustainable Development Goals,” Pittsburgh Robotics Network Executive Director Joel Reed said in a statement, referring to 17 international goals put forth by the United Nations. “We’re facing issues like an aging population, lack of access to arable land and clean water, and climate change resulting from inefficient energy production and utilization. Robotic technologies are addressing these issues with great success and contributing to a healthier society — and we can do much more with a unified approach.”

Joel Reed. (Courtesy photo)

Meeting those UN goals is a primary mission of the new alliance, which will specifically focus on advancing sustainability through robotics applications in agricultural tech, energy efficiency, recycling and climate change. The alliance also plans to sustainably revitalize local economies with robotics and bring robotics and artificial intelligence business initiatives back to American soil.

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Driving this new cross-city collaboration are some attractive economic statistics for the robotics industry’s present and future success across the globe. Last year, robotics and automation attracted over $20 billion in investment in the United States, accounting for 60% of the global investment total. More than a quarter of those investment deals were for early-stage companies, according to the partnership’s announcement, indicating that money will likely continue to grow in robotics over the next few decades.

In Pittsburgh, the robotics sector has brought in $5.5 billion in investments since 2019, per a recent 10-year report from Innovation Works and Ernst and Young. That number is 72% of the three-year total of tech investments for Pittsburgh, from 2019 through 2021. Driving a big chunk of that $5.5 billion was autonomous vehicle company Aurora, which raised $2 billion last fall through its public offering via a SPAC deal.

In light of those numbers, Pittsburgh’s involvement in forming the USARC shouldn’t be surprising to anyone keeping an eye on the local tech industry. But it remains a significant milestone for the city to stand alongside larger and more comprehensive tech ecosystems like Silicon Valley and Boston as a leader for robotics. It’s a sign that almost a year after the Pittsburgh Robotics Network first declared the Steel City the “robotics capital of the world,” even outsiders are starting to accept that label.

But this new alliance has less to do with increasing private investments and more to do with ensuring workers, governments and employers everywhere have access to the benefits promised by that new influx of money. It will largely focus on driving mandates that increase collaboration and communication across the three founding robotics clusters and those that join the alliance in the future. It will also boost support to promote the success of robotics startups and other stakeholders across the country, and will focus on advocating for the robotics industry to public and private partners, including government entities and firms working outside of robotics.

Those early efforts will culminate in a robotics showcase from the USARC at the Industry and Entrepreneurship Forums at the ICRA 2022 taking place in Philadelphia this year on May 23 to 27.

“The role of robotics cluster organizations must grow to keep pace with rapid expansion of robotics in the US. Our organizations have always worked together informally but are now collaborating strategically to increase US. economic productivity and sustainability,” said Andra Keay, managing director of Silicon Valley Robotics. “The United States is the global thought leader in robotics, automation and AI, and we are applying these technologies for both the greater good and to meet global challenges.”


Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments. -30-
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