President: 'Cutting edge ideas' will spur new jobs

By Jason Togyer

There's no plan for a robot uprising at Carnegie Mellon University. Not yet, anyway.

That pronouncement comes direct from the United States Commander-in-Chief--President Obama, who visited the Robotics Institute's National Robotics Engineering Center in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood on June 24.

Obama came to NREC to launch a major initiative designed to boost high-tech manufacturing in the United States, but joked that he was really in town to "keep an eye" on CMU's robots. "I'm pleased to report that the robots you manufacture here seem peaceful--at least for now," Obama told CMU faculty, staff and students and local and federal officials.

Kidding aside, robotics forms a key component of the new manufacturing initiative announced by the president during his visit to NREC.

The new Advanced Manufacturing Partnership is a national effort bringing together industry, universities, and government to invest in emerging technologies, create sustainable new businesses, and enhance U.S. competitiveness. "If we want a robust, growing economy, we need a robust, growing manufacturing sector," Obama said. "That's why we told the auto industry two years ago that if they were willing to adapt, we'd stand by them. Today, they're profitable, they're creating jobs, and they're repaying taxpayers ahead of schedule."

Carnegie Mellon and five other research universities are partners in the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership along with such manufacturers as Johnson & Johnson, Honeywell and Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Technologies. Under a proposed National Robotics Initiative, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will make $70 million available to support research in next-generation robots.

The federal grant money is necessary, Obama said, to fund research that brings "new, cutting-edge ideas" to market, keeps American manufacturers competitive, and grows the middle-class, ensuring America's future economic prosperity. "We have not run out of stuff to make," he said. "We've just got to reinvigorate our manufacturing sector so that it leads the world the way it always has--from paper and steel and cars to new products that we haven't even dreamed up yet. That's how we're going to strengthen existing industries--that's how we're going to spark new ones."

June's visit was Obama's third to CMU, and his second since taking office. In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama visited the campus to host a summit on the role of educators, entrepreneurs and community leaders in boosting America's global competitiveness. Two years later, the president made a national address from the campus' Weigand Gymnasium on his administration's efforts to shore up the sagging economic recovery.

"Carnegie Mellon is a great example of what it means to move forward," Obama said.  "At its founding, no one would have imagined that a trade school for the sons and daughters of steelworkers would one day become — one of the region's largest employers and a global research university. And yet, innovations led by your professors and your students have created more than 300 companies and 9,000 jobs over the past 15 years--companies like Carnegie Robotics."

Prior to addressing an invited audience of about 150 people, the president saw demonstrations of several technologies, including the sewer and water pipe inspection robot developed by Robotics Institute spin-off RedZone Robotics. Obama also taped his weekly video and radio address during his latest visit to NREC.

Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon said the Obama administration's proposal has the potential to spur development of the U.S. robotics industry and create good-paying jobs for Americans. "Robotics is at the heart of the race for 21st century global economic leadership, as current and emerging robotic innovations will become increasingly vital to keeping us healthy, safe and prosperous in the next decade and beyond," Cohon said. "Now, more than ever, it's important that industry, academia and government work together to ensure our economic security and global competitiveness."

Video of Obama's address is available via the Carnegie Mellon website. Visit the School of Computer Science homepage at for links and details.
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