Kicking Roboburgh into High Gear in 2019
Home to tech allstars like Uber, Bosch and Disney Research as well as institutions like Carnegie Mellon and the ARM institute, Pittsburgh’s reputation as one of the top robotics research hubs in the U.S. is getting more and more deserved. To support this, the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade organization, has recently announced a strategic partnership with Pittsburgh Robotics Network (PRN), a grassroots organization that aims to elevate awareness of the burgeoning robotics industry in the Pittsburgh area.
“Pittsburgh has a rich history in robotics and automation,” said RIA president, Jeff Burnstein. “We’re excited to partner with the Pittsburgh Robotics Network to elevate its mission of growing and promoting the talent and products coming out of Pittsburgh's robotics companies and research institutions,”
RIA, which is part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), is dedicated to supporting and advancing the innovations and technologies from robotics organizations across the country. The partnership will provide PRN and its partners access to the A3 network of more than 1,200 d companies in the robotics, vision and motion control sectors across North America as well as leading system integrators, distributors, and users of these technologies.
“We are a grassroots organization looking to support the wide range of companies and individuals in robotics -- ultimately to attract and retain technological talent in the Pittsburgh area,” said Kevin Dowling, Chair of PRN and CEO of Kaarta. “RIA has been instrumental in touting the economic advantages of robotics, and we’re thrilled to join its partner network to support all the exciting robotic innovations coming out of Pittsburgh.”
To find out more about the partnership, engineering.com spoke with Robert Doyle, vice president of RIA and A3 Mexico at A3, the Association for Advancing Automation.
What is it about Pittsburgh that makes it a hub of the robotics industry?
RD: Well, for one thing, they have the most roboticists per capita than I think any city in the U.S. Of course, Boston and Silicon Valley may argue with them on that. Carnegie Mellon University offered the world’s first Robotics Engineering doctorate programs. They also have NREC, the National Robotics Engineering Center, which is part of Carnegie Mellon, and I know University of Pittsburgh also has some robotics activities. Because of CMU, and because of NREC, there's been a lot of spin-out companies that are based in that general area. I've traveled there quite a bit in the last few years, and they have what they are calling Robotics Row, where there's company after company after company that are lined up in the Strip District. It’s a mix of well established and startup companies.
The ARM [Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing] Institute is also is based there, and it’s a member of the Manufacturing USA network of institutes. I think ARM was the fourteenth one that was secured right at the end of the Obama administration. They've been up and running now for a while and getting some good traction as well. So, having that there also helps identify Pittsburgh as Roboburgh.
In Pittsburgh and across the entire industry we're seeing a lot of growth not only in industrial robots but also on the consumer-facing side of things. Do you think commercial sector and consumer robots will influence the way industrial robots are made and designed in the years to come?
RD: In some ways, yes. I think the biggest would be definitely in the human machine interface, and how the robots interact with humans. For example, these types of mobile robots that we're starting to see in a commercial space, such as a warehouse where you're still interacting with employees, but they’re also moving into the consumer space, like a retail or grocery store where a mobile robot may be roaming to do inventory or something like that. We’re also starting to see mobile robots in hospitals and hotels. There's definitely a human interaction component to it, and it's very interesting to see how the general public reacts to robots and interacts with them. I think that's something the more traditional robotics sector could learn from—make it easier to program robots and things like that—especially at a time when it’s harder and harder to find qualified workers.
As robotics enters more and more markets, do you think robotics training should be a mandatory part of more college courses, even those that aren't directly related to robotics, like construction, or the service industry, or different types of manufacturing, maybe even in high school?
RD: Yes. We talk about the skills gap, and they say that there's two million plus jobs in advanced manufacturing that just aren't gonna have the qualified people to fill them in the coming years. So, how do you prepare the next generation workforce? I think in many cases it does start at the high school level, or even earlier. There are great programs like FIRST LEGO League, in elementary school, and getting into high school there’s FIRST Robotics and as well as other programs, and then to lead those kids into STEM education programs and on to college. I think it’s very important.
The four-year engineering degree type schools are very important, schools like Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and Stanford, obviously. But I think even more important are technical education programs at the community college level. This is what’s necessary to train the future robotics technician or mechatronics technician-level personnel. Not everyone's cut out for a four-year engineering program, but a kid could come out of high school, go to a two-year community college program with perhaps an apprenticeship and learn about how to use robotics in advanced manufacturing and graduate at age twenty, twenty-one, with a pretty good salary. I know that's one thing that the ARM Institute is working on: supporting and developing these programs so that we can help create and train the next generation workforce.
Is there anything else about the partnership that you think is important to highlight?
RD: We're excited to help PRN, to start developing some programs and making it bigger, and making a difference to the robotics community there.
In April, A3 will be hosting Automate 2019, the broadest automation solutions event in North America. Engineering.com will be on the show floor, so stay tuned for videos and articles about the show coming soon.