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Pittsburgh, Pa., Wants to Become a Robotics Industry Leader

The Pittsburgh Robotics Network is made up of about 140 organizations, which includes more than 90 commercial robotics businesses, securing the region as a central hub for robotics research and development.

TyBOT1 (Credit Advanced Construction Robotics © 2022).jpg
The TyBOT is an autonomous rebar tying robot, which was used for reinforced concrete construction on roads and bridges.
Submitted Photo: Advanced Construction Robotics
Robotics, machine learning and autonomous technologies are spurring new industries, use cases and regional economic opportunity in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The robotics industry in the city has coalesced into a distinct network of businesses and research groups furthering emerging technology and changing the way we live, work and move, said Joel Reed, executive director of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network.

The network is made up of nearly 140 organizations, which includes more than 90 commercial robotics businesses, and was established — somewhat loosely — by company leaders back in 2016, but has since been more recently formally organized. This regional robotics ecosystem also benefits from the presence of Carnegie Mellon University, which has a long history in robotics research.

Jeremy Searock, co-founder, president and chief technology officer for Advanced Construction Robotics — a member of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network — was working at Carnegie Mellon several years ago when he helped to form ACR with the goal of developing a robotics system to tie rebar, used in reinforced concrete on bridge decking.

“I was really looking for an opportunity to bring robotics technology to a real product,” said Searock. ACR’s first product was the TyBOT, an autonomous rebar-tying robot, which was used for bridge work.

“Now we’re moving on to do the same type of work in other markets using reinforced concrete, like roadways,” he added.

The company has since launched another product, known as IronBOT, which does a lot of the heavy lifting on road projects by carrying and placing the rebar into location.

"I see a future of robots being used as a product in the same way that machines like excavators and human-driven cars and other heavy machinery is used today. That’s going to be the new standard that exists,” said Searock.

The buzz around robots and their growing number of applications in the various realms of the mobility sector seem all the more timely, given the renewed focus on infrastructure development following the passage of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, set to invest some $1.2 trillion into infrastructure projects, largely in the transportation sector.

In fact, on the same day earlier this year President Joe Biden made a planned visit to Pittsburgh to talk up infrastructure, a bridge failed, underscoring the need for infrastructure upgrades. No deaths were reported, but 10 people suffered minor injuries.

“Almost immediately, at least one company had launched a demonstration project to scan and document nearly all of the bridges within our region,” said Reed, calling attention to Mach9, an integrated hardware and mapping technology company which seeks to understand surface and underground structures.

“We have robots above us when we’re driving, robots that built the roads, robots that are underneath the roads doing inspections, and robots on the sidewalk that are delivering things. It’s pretty remarkable that it goes on with not a lot of fanfare these days,” said Reed.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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