Pittsburghers seem reluctant to boast about something that’s pretty significant — the city’s role as “the birthplace of autonomous vehicles,” says Joel Reed, executive director of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network. Or, maybe they just don’t know about it.

“When I was at IAM Robotics, more often than not, people associated with smart machines saw Pittsburgh as one of the top two regions for it in the world. In the U.S., there’s Boston, Pittsburgh and San Francisco (including Silicon Valley),” says Reed.

“But that is not as well known in Pittsburgh.”

The city’s dominance in the field will certainly be a topic at a special event titled The State of Our Autonomous Vehicle Industry, on April 21 at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side. The event will feature a keynote panel discussion, awards for contributions to the robotics industry and a VIP reception.

The gathering will also include the announcement of the “Pittsburgh Robotics Cluster Profile,” a document that focuses on the region’s unique growth and opportunities in the robotics industry. The profile expands upon a report commissioned last year by the Regional Industrial Development Corporation called “Forefront: Securing Pittsburgh’s Break-out Position in Autonomous Mobile Systems,” which shows Pittsburgh’s powerful role in the autonomous vehicle sphere.

Aurora self-driving vehicles. Photo courtesy of Aurora.

That study estimates the direct employment of about 6,300 jobs in the autonomy sector in Western Pennsylvania, which generates an estimated $651 million in income, $34.7 million in state and local tax revenues, and $126.7 million in federal tax revenues. The industry also helped to create 8,604 full- or part-time indirect jobs, for a total of 14,923.

That’s not anywhere close to, say, banking or medicine in Pittsburgh’s economy. But it’s pretty good for a sector that barely existed 20 years ago.

It’s growing, too. Last year, Waymo — the self-driving vehicle operation affiliated with Google — announced an expansion in Pittsburgh. Giants in the field such as Aurora and Argo AI have made Pittsburgh their headquarters, which anchors a lot of non-engineering jobs (that are crucial to growing the field) in the region.

“That report shows that it has the potential to be a $10 billion market locally,” says Reed.

William “Red” Whittaker of Carnegie Mellon University will receive the Pittsburgh Robotics Impact Award at the event.

“Dr. Whittaker’s commitment to robotics spans decades and his work pioneered autonomous vehicles, space robotics, sensing and perception, robotic manipulation and industrial robotics, and has even given rise to the entire discipline of field robotics,” says Jennifer Apicella, program director at the Pittsburgh Robotics Network.

The event, hosted by the Pittsburgh Robotics Network, kicks off a bimonthly Industry Insights Speaker Series with local robotics industry experts. Tickets for the April 21 event are $20 and are available to the public.

Keynote panel speakers include:

  • Peter Rander, co-founder and president of Argo AI
  • Chris Urmson, co-founder and CEO of Aurora
  • Çetin Meriçli, co-founder and CEO of Locomation
  • Balajee Kannan, vice president of technical programs at Motional
  • Kevin Peterson, head of perception at Waymo