Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh photo by Rob Larson.

It takes big money to make sense of big data.

On the morning of July 9, the National Science Foundation announced a $10 million dollar grant to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) to fund a new piece of cutting-edge hardware for the local research institution.

Known as Bridges-2, the machine, currently under construction by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, will specialize in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“Unlocking the power of data will accelerate discovery to advance science, improve our quality of life and enhance national competitiveness,” said Nick Nystrom, PSC’s chief scientist.

Founded in 1986, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is a collaboration between researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University that provides massive computational power to researchers across the nation.

The facility already runs several colorfully-named machines such as Anton, which specializes in biomolecular simulations, and the original Bridges, which is designed for interdisciplinary research applications.

The original Bridges machine. Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.

Like its forefathers, “Bridges-2 will be available at no cost for research and education, and at cost recovery rates for other purposes,” according to a press release.

In keeping with the way artificial intelligence has permeated every aspect of our modern lives, researchers say Bridges-2 will lend itself to research for everything from sustainable energy to smart cities to improving agricultural efficiency.

Huge computational power combined with a simple, user-friendly web interface will “let researchers meet challenges that otherwise would be out of reach,” said the release.

Alan D. George, interim director of the PSC, said the new machine will benefit both the wider scientific community and Pittsburgh’s particular research sector.

“PSC is unique in combining the strengths of two world-class universities,” said George. “Bridges-2 will amplify these strengths to fuel many new discoveries.”

The announcement further cements Pittsburgh’s status as a global leader in machine learning and AI.

In the last year, Google, Facebook and Bosch announced plans to open local artificial intelligence labs and underwrite related research at Carnegie Mellon. Meanwhile, the city’s roster of self-driving vehicle companies now includes Uber, Argo AI, Aptiv and Aurora Innovation.

Bridges-2 is scheduled to launch in the summer of 2020.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.