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Pittsburgh is robot country

Growing out of its industry roots, Pittsburgh is now the Silicon Valley of droid design.

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The new steelers: A droid sheep munches on a lawn.

Tom A. Peter

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Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens here has done away with its lawn mower and hired a robotic sheep to trim the lawn. Just down the street, visitors at the Carnegie Library can flip through a book while sitting in the belly of a colorful, robotic tent that gently swirls around them. Meanwhile, in a nearby park, Jennifer Gooch works with a friend on the latest addition to the city’s series of robotic installations, putting the final touches on a tiny island of flags that raise and lower as viewers walk around the piece.

Built by artists with little to no engineering experience, these projects are part of Robot 250, a celebration that coincides with Pittsburgh’s 250th birthday and aims to democratize robotics by bringing them to the general public.

More important, it’s a month-long demonstration of how the city is becoming a Silicon Valley for robotics.

The combination of Carnegie Mellon University’s pioneering robotics program and leftovers from the city’s industrial past have created something of a perfect storm that is fostering the development of the next generation of robotics.

“Pittsburgh offers a special chance to look at robotics,” says Carl DiSalvo, associate professor at Georgia Tech’s digital media program and one of the cocreators of Robot 250. “Because of [CMU’s] robotics institute being here … and there’s also an interesting history of the relationship between robotics and labor and the city that makes Pittsburgh a unique place to look at robotics.”

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