Pittsburgh Leads Autonomous Technology in Space
Several regions around the country have historically been connected with space exploration, manufacturing products, aircraft and systems, and providing services to NASA, the Defense Department and others as space travel evolves and conquers new frontiers.
In recent years, Pittsburgh has become a force in this field, as entrepreneurial companies with their roots in the development of robotics, artificial intelligence and autonomous technologies lead it into the aerospace and defense industries. Carnegie Mellon University is building a new space mission command center on its campus — the Gates Center for Computer Science — for all its future space missions, starting with the upcoming Iris and MoonRanger. Not only will ground teams build robots to service satellites as they’re in orbit and develop capabilities for satellite swarms, they’ll actively direct rover movements, monitor data, and handle communications during space missions.
Pittsburgh’s space robotics cluster has strong ties to university talent and has received NASA funding for projects that heavily focus on autonomous systems.
These Pittsburgh companies are developing trailblazing autonomous technology, not only growing the region’s commercial space sector, but making their mark in space.
Astrobotic, North Side, Pittsburgh
Astrobotic is a lunar logistics company that aims to make space missions more feasible and affordable for science, exploration and commerce. They provide end-to-end delivery services for payloads to the moon. Their facility in Pittsburgh is the largest private facility in the world dedicated to lunar logistics, and they use the facility to build and operate landers, rovers, autonomous spacecraft navigation systems and other space technologies.
Payloads will be controlled directly inside their headquarters from the Astrobotic Mission Control Center located in Pittsburgh’s North Side.
Since their founding in 2007, Astrobotic has grown to more than 130 employees, and recently won two NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II contracts worth $1.5 million to further advance novel Laser Imaging, Detection, and Ranging (LiDAR) software solutions. These software packages, once space qualified, will support in-space satellite servicing and safe landing.
Near Earth Autonomy, Homewood, Pittsburgh
Near Earth Autonomy, makers of autonomous aviation systems, strives to create a future where autonomous flight is commonplace and safe, and their work enables a wide range of unmanned aircraft to operate across multiple applications.
Based in Homewood, Near Earth Autonomy and Carnegie Mellon University’s AIR Lab is working on a project supported by NASA to advance industrial aerial inspection with close-proximity imaging and contact sensing. Near Earth’s Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) is being developed to enable safer and quicker inspection of large, complex structures, producing fused data sets for analysis in aerospace, transportation infrastructure, energy, heavy industry and mining industries.
Near Earth Autonomy recently received $10 million in equity investment from Kaman Corp. (NYSE: KAMN), a Connecticut-based aerospace and defense company, and plans to use the funds to establish an industry standard for aerospace industry autonomous solutions.
Aerotech, O’Hara Township, Pittsburgh
For nearly 50 years, Aerotech has been serving the aerospace and defense industry, advancing precision motion control and automation systems and supporting customers in more than 15 countries from design to delivery to daily production.
Aerotech prides themselves on being a one-stop-shop for all precision automation needs. They developed the industry’s broadest toolbox of standard precision motion products — all designed to integrate seamlessly — and they support leading aerospace component manufacturers by designing and building custom precision motion solutions.
ProtoInnovations, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh
Founded in 2005, ProtoInnovations is a spin-off from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute that focuses on design and engineering of advanced robotic prototypes and automation technologies for space, defense and commercial applications.
Bloomfield Robotics, Pittsburgh
Bloomfield Robotics, a company that combines custom hardware with computer vision and deep learning to deliver crop assessments and improve crop yields, won a $1 million NASA grant to monitor the health of the International Space Station’s greenhouse crops. The project is in the proof-of-concept stage, but the goal is to provide astronauts traveling the moon and Mars with fresh produce, improving physical and psychological health.
Check out RIDC Mill 19, a revitalized Pittsburgh steel mill that’s become home to several leading autonomy and robotics institutions. The autonomy sector is rapidly growing in southwestern Pennsylvania, poising the region to take the lead as a global industry player. Are you here?
The mission of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern PA is to catalyze and support economic growth and high-quality job creation through real estate development and finance of projects that advance the public interest. A not-for-profit entity, RIDC has developed over 2,800 acres in 14 industrial and innovation parks and manages over 7 million square feet.