From Steel City to Brain City: Pittsburgh as a Robotics Hub

By August 6, 2019March 30th, 2021No Comments

This blog post was written by IAM Robotics Marketing Communications Manager, Kristin Fornal, and originally appeared on Kristin’s LinkedIn page.

There is more to Pittsburgh than the black and gold that pours through the community. It is a cultural town that brings together a mix of talent that is focused on making great things happen. This talent ranges from form to function, and is expressed in many different mediums, including culinary, artistic, craft brewing, and engineering. With a clear juxtaposition between the old architectural buildings and the new creative innovations that are emerging around the city, Pittsburgh is unique, friendly, and quietly becoming a hub of robotics.

Once playing an integral role in the building of America by producing nearly half of all steel in the nation, Pittsburgh is once again reclaiming its spot among the most influential cities in the country—this time in terms of innovation. Originally deemed Steel City, Pittsburgh has been building an ecosystem around robotics that is gaining national recognition. From invention to manufacturing, the ecosystem in Pittsburgh is designed to support startups in the robotics field.

Robotics is nothing new to Pittsburgh, as the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University has been driving innovation and advancements in the field since the 1970s, and has made the city synonymous with robotics before it was even academically mainstream. And while Pittsburgh may not be as well known as Boston or Silicon Valley, in many ways it is a leader in autonomy, with all autonomous vehicle advancements having roots to the city and with companies like UberArgo AIAurora, and Aethon all calling Pittsburgh home. 

Born from an industrial, blue collar background, Pittsburgh is home to businesses that are focused on solving big, real-world problems that will make a lasting impact on how society operates. Well-known as the City of Bridges, Pittsburgh boasts 446 bridges, which act as a reminder of the industrial roots and strength the city demonstrated in transforming and rebuilding itself.

A friendly city in which a simple folding chair is respected as a legitimate means to reserve a parking spot, Pittsburgh is also fierce. It is a city that chooses to face challenges head on; and rather than waiting for opportunity, it creates its own. We are loyal to a better tomorrow, committed to building new leaders by investing in the city’s youth, and determined to not only prepare for the future, but to build it.

The transformation of Pittsburgh from Steel City to a technology hub is due in large part to the presence of top educational institutions and public-private partnerships that fuel the innovation. As the birthplace of robotics, Carnegie Mellon University continues to push the industry in Pittsburgh and beyond to explore the still untapped potential of robotics and automation. In addition, the University of Pittsburgh offers strong programs in complementary disciplines like AI, computer science, and engineering.

The concentration of home-grown talent that we have in Pittsburgh, along with affordable housing, and frequent honors as one of the most livable cities in America, makes it an attractive region to start or expand a robotics business. And, in fact, people from all over the world are moving to Pittsburgh for the opportunities that exist here. 

Whether born here or new to our community, students at the local universities are working with local companies to engage in the industry through internships and co-ops, and also working to include diversity across STEM majors. IAM Robotics is particularly proud to support Girls of Steel, which is a kindergarten-through-grade-12 effort to promote the STEM curriculum through mentoring and robotics competitions for young women.

In addition to the robust research and development activity at the universities, Pittsburgh has a strong presence of strategic partnerships that further support innovation in the city, and that is then shared on the global stage. The Pittsburgh Robotics Network and the Pittsburgh Tech Council are examples of organizations that provide an outlet for like-minded individuals to come together in a safe environment and share their knowledge and experiences to help other robotic start-ups. As organizations like these and local robotic companies begin to boast their Pittsburgh roots, the buzz about Pittsburgh’s tech scene will bring more awareness on a larger scale.

Outside funding sources are paying attention to what’s happening here, and there are a number of companies on the cusp of the next great thing. But we still have a way to go in the maturation of the industry’s ecosystem—moving from startup to growth stage, shake out stage, and through maturity stage. When that happens, manufacturers and suppliers will be more prevalent, more people will move to the city, and robotics will become commonplace in our daily lives.

While this is an exciting time, there is work to be done. The majority of the Midwest and the country as a whole remains somewhat skeptical about robotics. Jackie Erickson with the Pittsburgh Robotics Network said it best, “There is a misunderstanding that robots take jobs away. Come here and see how robotics is creating new opportunities and life-changing solutions that will create an impact beyond our three rivers.”


Additional Reading

Pittsburgh Tech Council Tech 50 Awards
Personalities of Pittsburgh: Tom Galluzzo with IAM Robotics

IAM Robotics: Who We Are