Tribune-Review: Gov. Shapiro calls on tech, robotic companies to join Pittsburgh’s growing innovation industry

Pittsburgh has become a fast-growing hub for many technology and robotics companies, and leaders across the region and state are hoping that expands even more.

At the opening night of the Aviation & Robotics Summit in Pittsburgh’s Strip District on Tuesday, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro heralded the growth of the industry and said the region should build on that progress.

He cited the success of Astrobotic, a North Side company that is planning to send equipment to the moon as part of the first lunar mission the U.S. has carried out since the Apollo missions of the 1970s.

Shapiro said that more companies should join Astrobotic and the more than 100 other robotics companies that are operating in the Pittsburgh region.

“When I say we are going to plant a flag in the artificial intelligence, robotics, space, and innovation industries here in Pennsylvania, I mean it,” Shapiro said. “We are making sure that the future of robotics and innovation is Pennsylvania made.”

More than 100 hundred people attended the summit kickoff, with participants coming from companies located all over the world.

The summit is the world’s first to combine the two industries, and it coincided with the announcement of a partnership between the Pittsburgh International Airport and International Airlines Group (IAG), which is the airline giant that owns British Airways, Aer Lingus, and other carriers. IAG will be developing tech solutions for aviation groups and other industries at Pittsburgh International Airport.

This partnership will allow IAG to use artificial intelligence, robotics, and other technology innovations to assist passengers’ travel experience. For example, Pittsburgh International is already testing an autonomous vending robot and a floor disinfection robot through the airport’s xBridge program.

Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis said at the summit that more than 10,000 square feet has been made available at the airport from unused space from the former U.S. Airways. She said tech and robotics companies have already been testing on site, and she’s encouraging more to join.

Jorgen Pedersen of Utah-based Sarcos Robotics said having space to test technology at airports is crucial. He said the robotics company, which operates an office in Lawrenceville, has conducted testing at Pittsburgh International and in Singapore for robotic baggage handling. He said robots could allow airlines to collect bags during lighting storms, when safety precautions halt many logistical operations at airports.

“Robotics could enable a massive change within this industry,” Pedersen said.

Shapiro said he wants the state to be a partner with companies and airlines. He praised the work of local leaders like Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for fostering an environment to grow the tech and robotics industry, including the recent opening of a space industry hub in the North Side. He exuded enthusiasm and confidence to the crowd that Pittsburgh will grow its industry even further.

“I believe in you, I believe the future success of our commonwealth depends on what happens in rooms like this,” said Shapiro. “I believe in the future of this region.”

Astrobotic CEO John Thorton was equally as bullish. He said Astrobotic’s launch this summer will be an historic event, and that it might surprise people that it all started in Pittsburgh.

“If Pittsburgh can land on the moon,” he said, “Pittsburgh can do anything.”

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