CMU-led nonprofit lands major robotics grant

January 13, 2017

The U.S. Department of Defense is announcing today that American Robotics, an independent non-profit spawned by Carnegie Mellon University will receive more than $250 million to launch the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Innovation Hub, based in Pittsburgh.

By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
January 13, 2017 9:24 AM ET

Robots are playing bigger roles in manufacturing, and a new public-private partnership, based in Pittsburgh, will work to make sure those robots are made in America, helping American manufacturers.

The U.S. Department of Defense is announcing today that American Robotics, an independent non-profit spawned by Carnegie Mellon University will receive more than $250 million to launch the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Innovation Hub, based in Pittsburgh.

According to a CMU news release, the Department of Defense designation and funding puts the city and CMU, “at the center of a new wave of manufacturing,” and will leverage and coordinate a variety of emerging technologies to make industrial robotics more affordable, adaptable and useful for businesses large and small.

CMU President Subra Suresh, in an email sent to the campus community, praised the teamwork that resulted in the partnership that is expected to provide benefits for the region.

“The institute will promote the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomy, and 3-D printing to transform manufacturing, making industrial robotics affordable for small business and adaptable for many purposes, while dramatically improving productivity. That, in turn, has the potential to create new jobs and spur economic growth,” Mr. Subresh said.

Howie Choset, chief technology officer of American Robotics and a professor at CMU’s Robotics Institute, said the ARM Institute goals include using new and innovative robotics technology to create jobs and make American workers more competitive with workers from lower wage countries.

According to the Department of Defense release, the significant matching funding it is providing “reflects the importance the U.S. robotics community places on this institute and its value to U.S.businesses, academia, and state and local governments.” Robotics are already widely used in manufacturing, but are typically expensive, narrowly purposed, challenging to reprogram, and require isolation from humans for safety.

“We want to make the U.S. a leader in industrial robotics, and in doing so lower barriers and improve the ability of small companies to adopt robotics technologies and continue to employ their workers,” Mr. Choset said.

He said Germany and Japan are leading the world in robotics development and manufacturing.

“There is currently no large manufacturing of industrial robots in the U.S.,” Mr. Choset said. “Those are all in Europe and Asia.”

Mr. Choset said getting the money — $80 million from the Department of Defense and $173 million from a consortium of 220 government, industry and academic partners — will enable the institute to create a critical mass of projects advancing robotics technology.

It will also be beneficial to the Pittsburgh region, he said.

“This is something that was uniquely meant for Pittsburgh,” Mr. Choset said. “It utilizes the wonderful infrastructure already in place at CMU, and CMU was, I believe, critical to creating this opportunity.”

Martin Mbugua, a CMU spokesman said that because of the large number of institute partners, “a lot of the impact and effects will be felt in Pittsburgh.”

The ARM initiative is a defense and industry driven program to develop critical technology and workforce training, and will focus on key industrial sectors — aerospace, automotive, electronics and textiles — as defined by its partners, the CMU release said. Some of the technologies that the institute may work on include collaborative robotics, robot learning, adaptation and repurposing, dexterous manipulation, autonomous navigation and mobility, perception and sensing.

Mr. Choset said the ARM Institute’s work will begin immediately. The federal funding will be available Tuesday, and project planning and prioritizing, led by Gary Fedder, CMU’s vice provost for research and president of American Robotics, will take place over the next three months, with the first “results” expected in six to 12 months. The funding for the institute is expected to last for five to six years, but the institute will continue operating after that without federal funding support.

“We are designed to exist in perpetuity,” he said. “By the end of the first five or six years we expect to be generating revenue from licensing agreements, projects, new technologies and a variety of services to the manufacturing sector. “

The ARM Innovation Hub is the 14th institute to become a part of the Manufacturing USA Institute network, a public-private program established to bring industry, academia and government together to co-invest in cutting edge manufacturing technologies and capabilities critical to future economic competitiveness.

More than $1 billion in federal funding has been appropriated for the Manufacturing USA Institute Network, along with more than $2 billion in private funding.

Don Hopey:, 412-263-1983, or on Twitter @donhopey