Group image of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network standing on an overlook that has Pittsburgh in the distance,
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Making Pittsburgh the Robotics Capital of the World

  • Community Impact
  • Innovation and Research
  • Global

The Pittsburgh Robotics Network (PRN), a group dedicated to the growth of the region’s robotics and artificial intelligence companies, announced this week that it has attracted more 100 members, making Pittsburgh home to one of the world’s most dynamic robotics ecosystems. At a June 29 celebration, the Richard King Mellon Foundation commemorated this milestone with a grant of $125,000 to support the continued growth of the PRN.

The alliance brings together leaders from top robotics companies, research institutions and universities in the Pittsburgh area, including the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and self-driving technology companies Aurora and Argo AI (co-founded by a Pitt alum), among many others. 

The PRN was formed in 2016 to build a connected community and leverage shared resources. In 2020, the PRN expanded its mission to enhance Pittsburgh’s standing in the worldwide robotics community and advance robotics and artificial intelligence technologies globally.

The University of Pittsburgh plays an important part in that ecosystem by producing top engineers and scientific research from the Swanson School of Engineering and School of Computing and Information. 

“The research and innovation community at the University of Pittsburgh is excited to collaborate and learn from other members of the network,” said Rob A. Rutenbar, senior vice chancellor for research. “With our world-class engineering, computer science and information science capabilities, and our region’s reputation as a global leader in the industry, this alliance will help us continue to drive innovation in robotics and build the economy of the future.”

Pittsburgh prospects

In the past five years, the technology talent pool in Pittsburgh has grown by 20 percent, with more than 45,000 workers in the industry; in the city’s robotics sector, employment has grown by 300 percent since 2011. Pittsburgh overall offers a robust talent pool with 12,000 technology degrees and certificates awarded annually, ranking as one of the top five cities in the United States for college students.

“We have created one of the world’s largest platforms where top robotics and AI companies work together. We’re a community of innovators, builders and makers determined to solve the world’s toughest problems,” said Joel Reed, executive director of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network, at the June celebration. “The PRN bridges this community to growing pools of worldwide talent, emerging industry networks, investors and users of autonomous solutions.”

Since 2012, $3.3 billion in venture capital and private equity has been invested in Pittsburgh’s robotics firms and nearly 600 patents have been awarded for robotics-based innovation.

Pittsburgh itself has been dubbed as the birthplace of self-driving car development and is home to Aurora, which acquired Uber’s Advanced Technology Group, and Argo AI.

“As a longstanding center of innovation, we are proud to call Pittsburgh home and to work alongside the region’s diverse talent and technology industry leaders to create real value for everyday applications, including mobility and transportation,” said Peter Rander, co-founder and president of Argo AI, which is working with Ford and Volkswagen to launch autonomous ride-hail and goods delivery services. 

Co-founder and CEO of Argo AI, Bryan Salesky (ENGR ’02), is himself a Pitt alumnus. The autonomous vehicle technology company has grown its team to more than 500 in Pittsburgh and 1,300 worldwide since it was founded in 2016.

Nearly 100 leaders from top robotics companies, government officials, research institutions and universities in the Pittsburgh area convened to officially launch the PRN at the event. Speakers included Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Reed, Rander and others. 

“The Pittsburgh Robotics Network will help position Pittsburgh as a national and worldwide robotics center—helping to attract new businesses, create new jobs and connect diverse talent pools to those new opportunities,” Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, said.