High-tech investments keep coming for Pittsburgh area
February 12, 2017 12:00 AM
Alan Diaz/Associated Press
Courtesy of Ford
Pictured are: Peter Rander, Argo AI COO; Ken Washington, Ford vice president of Research and Advanced Engineering; Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO; Bryan Salesky, Argo AI CEO; Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president, Product Development, and chief technical officer; and Laura Merling, Ford Smart Mobility LLC vice president of autonomous vehicle solutions. Salesky and Rander are alumni of Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center and former leaders on the self-driving car teams of Google and Uber, respectively.
By Ed Blazina / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ford’s announcement Friday that it will invest $1 billion over the next five years in Pittsburgh-based Argo AI to develop technology for its own self-driving vehicle continues a string of high-tech investments in the regional economy.
Argo expects to hire 200 employees by the end of the year and will meet with Mayor Bill Peduto on Monday to discuss possible locations for its headquarters. The company also will have employees at Ford facilities in Detroit and San Francisco, but most of them are expected to be based here.
That announcement follows three other major developments last month:
• The U.S. Department of Defense announced it would join about 100 companies and foundations to open the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Innovation Hub at the former LTV steel company site in Hazelwood now known as Almono. That nonprofit will invest $253 million over five years to develop autonomous manufacturing processes in a facility that is expected to be self-sustaining in the future through patents and licensing agreements.
• Amazon opened a corporate office in SouthSide Works. It already has about 50 employees working to develop Amazon web services, machine translation and Alexa, the company's voice-controlled intelligent assistant.
• The U.S. Department of Transportation named Pittsburgh to work with Penn State University as one of 10 locations designated a National Proving Ground for Automated Vehicle Technologies. That doesn’t provide any direct money or jobs, but it enhances the region’s position as a technology hub.
In addition, Uber is in the midst of a $1 billion, 10-year investment in its self-driving vehicle that is being tested in live traffic on a limited course Downtown and in the Strip District. The company already has more than 700 local employees at its Advanced Technology Center in the Strip and could be at more than 1,000 by the end of the year.
Mr. Peduto said that is about a year ahead of Uber’s initial projection and he said he wouldn’t be surprised if Uber’s employment reaches 2,000 by the end of 2018.
Google, which is developing its own self-driving vehicle in California, has more than 400 employees at its regional headquarters in the East End’s Bakery Square and is expected to hire more at additional space in Bakery Square 2.0.
“When is the last time two companies invested a billion dollars in Pittsburgh?” Mr. Peduto said Friday. “You probably have to go back to Andrew Carnegie or someone like that.”
Mr. Peduto said he traces the technology boom back to the 1980s, when Carnegie Mellon University expanded its emphasis on the development of artificial intelligence. More than 30 years later, that is beginning to pay off in a big way, with almost all of the local executives of the high-tech firms having direct ties to CMU.
“The tech companies are here because CMU is such a magnet,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “And I think you’re going to see more of this.”
Mr. Peduto said the combination of the Ford announcement and the autonomous manufacturing development center put the region in a strong position for the future. The transportation industry is moving toward three concepts for vehicles — shared, autonomous and electric — and manufacturing is becoming more high-tech all the time.
“There are cities that are going to be centers for developing those processes,” Mr. Peduto said. “Pittsburgh has positioned itself to be in a position to be one of the world leaders. It’s galvanizing Pittsburgh as an autonomous manufacturing center, not just an autonomous vehicle center.”
Mr. Peduto and Mr. Fitzgerald said the goal is to not only develop the technology locally, but to keep the manufacturing of materials needed for those processes in the Pittsburgh region. Both leaders say there are on-going discussions with other high-tech companies that have an interest in the region, but they said they don’t know when to expect announcements of other ventures.
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