“As a geek, I take umbrage at the notion that chips are not sexy. But yes, robots, drones, satellites and self-driving cars are the kinds of things that excite me." — Steve Jurvetson, American businessman and venture capitalist
- The Robotics Institute
- Podcast: Rally around your data
- A new way to deliver pancreatic cancer drugs
- Developing food science expertise
- UK breaks ground on research campus
- Tech for high-pressure gas storage
- Flyover tech in the Perseverance Rover
- BETA: Minnesota's economic year
- Meet more Midwest startups
- Fueling the Future
- Name that Flyover City!
March 11, 2021
A look at CMU's The Robotics Institute
Image courtesy The Robotics Institute
The Robotics Institute (RI) is a division of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh that has been called a pacesetter in robotics research and education.
Flyover Future had the opportunity to speak with Srinivasa G. Narasimhan, the interim director of RI to talk about how the institute got started and the important work they’re doing.
Tell us about the Institute.
Narasimhan: The Robotics Institute was established in 1979. At the time, robotics was not really a large field. While most universities had one or two faculty doing research, the founders of the Robotics Institute understood that robotics was going to be a huge field.
A couple of years ago, in 2019, we celebrated our 40th year anniversary. This is the longest running department of robotics in the world.
We are a pretty big department, Robotics, dedicated to fulfilling the promise of robotics, with close to 900 to 1,000 people in the department, including faculty, students, and administrative staff. We created the first PhD program in Robotics, and we created several undergraduate and master's programs in Robotics. The PhD program has been going on for 30 years.
What kinds of robots are built there?
Narasimhan: The field of robotics is this general, catch-all phrase where you’re sending a robot out into a field. It could be agriculture. It could be mining. It could be aerial or underwater, anywhere. We call them robots because they have some kind of intelligence. They have a mechanical system that does some action that can go around.
We take ordinary things like vehicles or construction equipment and add intelligence. Even though today we have self-driving cars going around in many of our cities, this concept of self-driving has been there since the beginning of the Robotics Institute.
Over 40 years, we have developed lots of different kinds of large robots, whether it’s on the ground or aerial, in space, underwater, and so on. In fact there was even one robot that went into a volcano, and that one was called Dante.
How does the Institute’s work affect the Pittsburgh ecosystem and the world?
Narasimhan: At any point in time, we have 100 sponsored research projects, government-sponsored research projects, industry-sponsored projects, non-profit sponsored projects, etc.
There are about 70 to 80 startups in the city of Pittsburgh doing robotics-related work, and over 30 have come out of the department. (Flyover Future previously covered one of the startups, Astrobotic.)
"There are about 70 to 80 startups in the city of Pittsburgh doing robotics-related work, over 30 of which came out of the Institute."
— Srinivasa G. Narasimhan, The Robotics Institute
There are a lot of people who graduated from Robotics and joined NASA. The code and the systems that were built were part of many of the Rovers—for example, the one that just landed on Mars.
One of our students, Andrew Johnson, is the lead manager at NASA for the perception system for Perseverance, which allows the rover to see. So there is a significant synergy between RI and space programs. There are several missions planned in the next few years, so that’s again another big synergy that we are seeing.
Aurora, Google, all of these places are full of Robotics Institute people who either started the thing or are very close to the top of the hierarchies.
What are some of the things RI is working on now?
Narasimhan: We have the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute right next to campus whose goal is to bring manufacturing and robotics together.
There are also groups that do medical robotics. For example, there is a tiny snake that can go into your body and do heart surgery. This is something that is done at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) now, based on the technology that was developed here.
Given that we have an aging population, we want to try and figure out how to create assistive technologies. We work with UPMC and create lots of interesting prosthetics or assistive technologies, such as autonomous wheelchairs.
The final area is infrastructure. Because Pittsburgh is an aging city with lots of bridges, we have to think about infrastructure and the quality of bridges. Infrastructure monitoring is another thing we’re looking at.
If you think about the broad spectrum of things that we’re doing, that’s one of the reasons why this is such a great ecosystem generator. That’s what the Robotics Institute is bringing to Pittsburgh.
You can't just say, "Because I said so"
You won't be able to get your team behind data transformation by simply saying "because I said so." You need to say BECAUSE (and how) it will improve your company and customer satisfaction. That data may also point to money lying on the ground for you to pick up. John Clark and Jeremy Willes from Advanced Business Solutions join our host Ben Reno-Weber to explain and provide insight into leveraging data.
Top national & regional experts will highlight the possibilities of AI and data automation across a variety of sectors and functional areas on April 7 & 8 during the virtual FUTURE OF WORK SUMMIT: Accelerating AI and Data Automation. Details coming soon.
A new way to deliver cancer drugs
Researchers with the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center and North Dakota State University have designed a new way to deliver pancreatic cancer drugs that targets tumors more effectively while avoiding danger to other parts of the body.
Saint Louis University has announced a partnership with Deli Star Corporation that will provide students with opportunities to discover new and better ways of innovating food products that promote healing through human nutrition. The research will focus on the five fields of food-science expertise: Food Microbiology, Food Engineering & Processing, Food Chemistry & Biochemistry, Nutrition, and Sensory Analysis.
UK breaks ground on research campus
Representatives from the University of Kentucky, the Woodbury Corporation and state and local official broke ground on a $15 million development on the Coldstream Research Campus that will become a home for early stage, high-tech companies from across Kentucky.
Tech for high-pressure gas storage
Tulsa, OK, is home to startup Infinite Composites, a pioneering company that designs, develops and manufactures vessels for high-pressure gas storage that are increasingly in demand for aerospace, aviation, and med-tech applications. You can read about the company’s journey here.
Flyover tech in the Perseverance Rover
The Perseverance Rover carries a lot of tech developed in Flyover Country. Case Western Reserve University alumna Katie Colbaugh, a crystal growth manager at photonics tech company Gooch & Housego, was instrumental in growing crystals for the rover’s SuperCam.
The state of Minnesota's economy
Minnesota's BETA helps early stage technology founders learn and grow together. You can watch their annual event, which covers Minnesota's economic picture, by clicking here.
Meet Midwest startups ready to bust a move
Entrepreneurship is a critical piece of the economy for the Midwest. Phyllis Ellison, executive director of InvestMidwest, believes that we have to grow our own companies, rather than rely on existing corporations and small businesses to carry the burden of employment, taxes, and economic prosperity.
That’s why InvestMidwest is collaborating with the Midwest Growth Capital Symposium (MGCS) at the University of Michigan for the Midwest Venture Showcase scheduled for April 27-28, 2021. We spoke to Ellison for more details.
What are the goals of the Showcase?
Ellison: The goal of InvestMidwest is to highlight the top startups in the Midwest and to give them visibility to venture capitalists drawn from across the country. The virtual event boasts over 40 Tech Transfer spinouts from major research universities across the Midwest that are seeking pre-seed and seed funding.
What can we expect from the Showcase?
Ellison: The Showcase includes a larger selection of about 75 companies in five industry tracks: Life Science, Medical Devices, Tech, Food/Ag and University Technology Transfer. There will be a morning of panel discussions and speakers, followed by the company pitches in the afternoon. The company pitches and profiles will remain accessible to the investors for 30 days, allowing for additional review.
What do you hope comes out of the Showcase?
Ellison: We want to see companies and investors connecting in conversations during and after the Showcase. It takes time for relationships to develop; VCs want to get to know the team before they invest. The goal is to have the relationships that start at the Midwest Venture Showcase translate into more introductions and eventually investments in the companies.
For more information on applying, attending, or sponsoring the Showcase, please visit www.midwestgcs.com or email Emily Zaycosky (MGCS) or www.investmidwestforum.com or email Phyllis Ellison (InvestMidwest).
What is fueling Flyover Country innovation? In this weekly feature, we share a variety of announcements covering funding, acquisitions, exits, grants, and everything in between. Got something to celebrate? Click here to share your story.
- Built Technologies, a construction finance software and construction payment technology company, closed an $88 million Series C funding round. The Series C was led by Addition, Lee Fixel’s new fund. Fixel, who will also be joining Built’s board, has previously backed startups including Flipkart, Peloton and SurveyMonkey.
- Louisville-based Kare Mobile has landed a $250,000 investment from Render Capital. Kare Mobile, which has developed a proprietary software, uses vans as mobile dental offices.
- Nashville-based medical device startup VenoStent raised a $2.2 million round of funding, led by Creative Ventures. VenoStent has developed an absorbable wrap called SelfWrap, which is designed to reduce failures at the vein-artery or vein-graft junction of dialysis patients.
It's time for our favorite trivia game!
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting female innovators from the US heartland in this week’s trivia.
Here are this week's questions:
- This woman invented Kevlar. Who is she and what city did she hail from?
- This woman was the second known Black woman to receive a patent for inventing the precursor to the Murphy Bed. Who is she and where was she born?
- This woman secured 15 patents from the late 1870s to the late 1890s for inventions that ranged from foot warmers to one of the most important transportation innovations of all time: the life raft. Who is she and where did she live?
Click here for today's answers.
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