Pennsylvania robotics companies hold first Discovery Day in Pittsburgh

About half of the companies that make up southwestern Pennsylvania’s robotics industry will gather for a free event Wednesday, and they’re inviting the public to join them.

The Pittsburgh Robotics Network will host its first Discovery Day at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh. The trade group says more than 105 robotics companies have locations in the region. Nearly 50 plan to participate in Discovery Day.

Pittsburgh Robotics Network Executive Director Joel Reed said it would consist of an open showcase where the businesses will display all kinds of technology, including self-driving vehicles, walking robots, and drones. The general public is welcome to attend.

“The whole idea here is to inspire and then to show the pathways for people in the region to become involved in an industry that we think is going to be around for several generations,” Reed said.

Some 75 community organizations will also send representatives. Some of them will advise attendees on how to find jobs in robotics or obtain relevant training.

Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Stefani Pashman said Wednesday’s event reinforces a broader effort to build out the robotics sector in southwestern Pennsylvania. In September, she and a coalition of elected officials, economic development leaders, and other community stakeholders won $63 million in federal funding to help local businesses to adopt the technology.

“This unprecedented federal funding is going to connect more people, communities, and businesses – notably our small- and mid-sized businesses, including manufacturers – to the benefits and prosperity that all southwestern Pennsylvania will experience as an even bigger and more impactful robotics cluster takes shape here,” Pashman said in a statement.

Reed noted that as his industry grows, it requires more types of workers, some of whom don’t have four-year college degrees.

“It’s not altogether different than what you might see in the automobile industry,” he said. “We’re going to have to deploy these solutions. … They will need to be installed, maintained and serviced.”

He said the sector would also need to fill support roles like sales, marketing, and project management. Such opportunities, he said, would help to change the face of robotics.

“Technology, in general, has struggled with having diverse workforces, be it gender, racial or economic,” he said. “And that’s because it’s typically been dominated by highly-educated engineers. And robotics is no different.”

Reed hopes Wednesday’s program will convince people of all ages to pursue careers in his field.

He said about 1,200 middle and high school students are expected to attend. Many of them belong to robotics teams that will showcase their work during the event, Reed said.

“This is the very early stage of learning and development, and these kids that are deeply involved today will be the future of our industry,” he said.

The robotics Discovery Day lasts from 10 am to 5 pm Wednesday. A $25 happy hour will follow between 5:30 and 8 pm