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Robotics meet in Pittsburgh brings together startups and heavy-hitters

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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Gary Fedder, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute and the interim CEO of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute speaks to reporters at the institute's kick-off meeting at the National Robotics Engineering Center in Lawrenceville on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Attendants of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute kick-off meeting wait for speakers to begin at the National Robotics Engineering Center in Lawrenceville on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Greg Hudas, a Department of Defense employee and the program manager for Manufacturing USA, speaks at the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute's kick-off meeting National Robotics Engineering Center in Lawrenceville on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.

Partnerships that government officials and roboticists said they hope will move the United States to the forefront of robotic manufacturing started to form Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

More than 200 representatives of U.S. companies and universities met at the National Robotics Engineering Center in Lawrenceville for the first major meetings of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, known as ARM.

Representatives from mammoth companies such as Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Amazon and Wal-Mart sat next to the founders and CEOs of Pittsburgh robotic startups such as IAM Robotics and RE2 Robotics and staff from top universities and community colleges.

“You’re all prospective members of ARM,” Gary Fedder, the institute’s interim CEO, said Wednesday at the start of two days of recruitment and planning activities.

The institute is the latest of 14 such centers across the United States meant to advance domestic manufacturing. It will run on $80 million in federal money for the next five years plus an expected $173 million in funding and in-kind contributions from companies and universities.

The Department of Defense announced in January that it would base its advanced robotics institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Fedder said the institute is hiring staff and will start bringing on members in the next two weeks.

“This is a wonderful opportunity that we have in front of us,” said Howie Choset, the institute’s chief technology officer and a professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute who worked on the university’s petition for the institute. “We’re all just happy and excited to get started.”

Greg Hudas, a Department of Defense employee who is the project manager of the 14 manufacturing institutes, said work at the robotics institute will help the United States catch up to China, Germany, Japan and other countries that have outpaced America in manufacturing. Catching up through robotics will bring manufacturing jobs back to America, Hudas said, and could create more jobs than are replaced by automation.

Hudas said the institute will focus on innovations in the automotive industry, textiles, electronics and the medical field. Programs from the institute could start at the end of the summer, Hudas said. Those early efforts will include education programs at the K-12 and college levels and training and retraining opportunities at community colleges, universities and tech schools. Hudas said to expect to see robots in small businesses.

“We feel the time is right for this technology to actually increase jobs,” Hudas said. “We’re No. 1 in the world when it comes to innovation and technology. We need to be No. 1 again in manufacturing.”

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach Aupperlee at [email protected] or 412-336-8448.

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