Pittsburgh: Robot capital of America?

Robot 250, a festival celebrating the Steel City's "robotic ilk" in conjunction with its 250th anniversary, brings an old rivalry (with Boston) to the forefront.

Here's a map of where Robot 250 events will be held.
Robot 250

Pittsburgh touts on its official Web site that it's the only city to have won "America's Most Livable City" award twice. But perhaps the "Take me to you robot," or "Go ahead, make my robot," slogans used for its Robot 250 festival are more appropriate.

Pittsburgh is famously home to one of the leading academic research centers for robotics in the country, The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, which is also home to one of the country's leading roboticists, Matt Mason.

There has long been a rivalry between Boston and Pittsburgh as to which city is the tech leader in robotics. Both cities have academic and private research centers, as well as major companies, heavily involved in the robotics industry.

But in recent years, Pittsburgh has been playing up its ties to robotics through a series of public announcements, events, and community projects.

On the site for its 250th anniversary, Pittsburgh proudly states that the first robot was created in the Pittsburgh region, as well as the first polio vaccine and the first advanced organ transplantation.

The city played host to the RoboCup American Open in 2003, the preliminary U.S. play-off to the annual global soccer tournament played by robots.

In Spring 2009, due in large part to CMU, Pittsburgh is about to become the permanent home of the Robot Hall of Fame, which honors robots from both real life and science fiction.

And this year, as part of the city's 250th anniversary celebration, the University of Pittsburgh, CMU, and several area foundations, including the Heinz Foundation, are sponsoring Robot 250, a festival of the usual arts and culture with a robotic twist.

Pittsburgh's public art exhibition--instead of statues of cows, as many U.S. cities have done, or a Cavalcade of Cod, as Boston has done--is a series of robots called BigBots. The robotic art pieces have been installed at landmark locations throughout the city, including the Andy Warhol Museum, the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Other events include various types of robot-building workshops, a robot film festival hosted by the city parks system, and a robot-theme theater production called "Astro-rma."

It's not so surprising that a city whose football team is called the Steelers is embracing its next-generation industry. But as we saw last year with the robots made of food, Pittsburgh's robot enthusiast community is not restricting itself to the old paradigm of a robot made of steel.