White House to award $300M in new initiatives at Pittsburgh conference
Pittsburgh robotics, tech spotlighted in pre-Frontiers Conference event
October 13, 2016 5:57 AM
Sean D. Hamill/Post-Gazette
Rep. Mike Doyle, left, shakes hands Wednesday with a two-handed robot made by re2 Robotics, one of Pittsburgh's robotics-based companies that was doing demonstrations as part of the first-ever RoboPGH Day. The event was put on by the Pittsburgh Robotics Network as a prelude to Thursday's Frontiers Conference at Pitt and CMU.
By Sean D. Hamill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A White House official Wednesday said the administration will award $300 million for research initiatives, as well as announce a series of new partnerships, at the Frontiers Conference that kicks off today at University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.
John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told about 200 members of the Pittsburgh Technology Council at a meeting Wednesday that the new funding and partnerships will continue President Barack Obama’s ongoing effort of “pushing the boundaries of innovation.”
Later, in a telephone press conference, he said the $300 million would be awarded to areas that reflect the aims of the five “frontiers” that will be discussed today at the Frontiers Conference: $70 million in new brain research, $16 million for precision medicine initiatives, $165 million in public and private funds to support cities in using technology to solve issues and $50 million in federal funds for small satellite technology.
Mr. Holdren, who was born in Sewickley, was speaking with Megan Smith, the administration’s chief technology officer, at an afternoon gathering Wednesday at the Carnegie Science Center organized by the technology council, a regional trade association made up of more than 1,300 members.
It was part of a series of events taking place before and after today’s Frontiers Conference, a gathering of several hundred of the nation’s leading researchers, scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs and students. The speakers include Mr. Obama, who will speak during this afternoon’s plenary session with author and researcher Atul Gawande about health care research.
In an interview after talking with the council, Mr. Holdren said that while part of the reason for the Frontiers Conference was to reflect on Mr. Obama’s work with the science and research community over the last eight years, its larger goal is to “energize” the community.
“There will be a follow-up. The idea is to not have a conference and everyone goes away and forgets about it,” he said. “The idea is to energize folks to continue the kinds or progress that we’ve been able to make using science, technology and innovation, and using partnerships in these spaces.”
“So, we are hoping this is not an end, but that this is a milepost,” he added.
The technology council’s event was part of a larger effort by the broader robotics, technology and research community of Pittsburgh to open its doors today to the journalists, federal officials and speakers who started flowing into the city Wednesday.
Tonight after the conference, for example, the Allegheny Observatory has been designated as the host for the White House Frontiers Conference Astronomy Night. Some of the conference participants are expected to be in attendance, but the public is welcome to attend by registering at http://pi.tt/WhiteHouseAO.
Earlier Wednesday, the recently created Pittsburgh Robotics Network held its first RoboPGH Day, a demonstration day for 20 Pittsburgh-area robotics companies.
Hosted by Carnegie Robotics — a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff that designs robotics systems for clients — the site of the demonstration itself spoke to why the Frontiers Conference was being held in Pittsburgh and not Silicon Valley.
The company’s location in Lawrenceville is in a former steel supply company building that had fallen into disrepair. But after the Regional Industrial Development Corp. renovated the massive building, in 2015 Carnegie Robotics moved there and its quickly expanding workforce continues to take up more and more of the space.
“We have 65 employees now and had 40 when we moved here, and we expect to grow even more quickly,” said Steve DiAntonio, Carnegie Robotics CEO.
The robotics network, which formed earlier this year, says that there are now 40 robotics companies in Pittsburgh with about 2,200 employees. That is twice as many companies and three times as many employees as there were four years ago.
“Southwestern Pennsylvania, which I’m proud to represent, has been and continues to be a leader in the world of robotics,” U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, who co-chairs the House Robotics Caucus, told the gathering. “That’s one of the reasons the president chose Pittsburgh for the Frontiers Conference.”
Attendance at today’s Frontiers Conference is by invitation only and there are no public tickets available, but the conference will be streamed lived and archived for later viewing at Frontiersconference.org. Also demonstration projects related to the conference will be on exhibit and viewable by the public from 9 to 11 a.m. today at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall, 4227 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh.
Sean D. Hamill: email@example.com or 412-263-2579.
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