Leaders point to Aurora’s new HQ as the latest example of Pittsburgh’s future as a heavyweight robotics

Aurora Innovation became the latest self-driving tech developer to officially open its headquarters in Pittsburgh Wednesday. Southwestern Pennsylvania leaders gathered in the Strip District to celebrate the city’s growing reputation as a hub for autonomous vehicle technology.

The company has a presence in Mountain View, Calif. and Pittsburgh, but had to choose one place for an official headquarters as part of going public last year. The company’s new HQ is across from the Terminal on Smallman Street.

“Pennsylvania’s been a great home for us,” said Chris Urmson, CEO and co-founder of Aurora. “We have access to amazing universities, the amazing talent that comes from that. It’s a great place for our people to live. It’s kind of home for this [technology]it feels right that it should be here. ”

Urmson was joined Wednesday at a grand opening event by Gov. Tom Wolf, US Rep. Mike Doyle, state Senators Jay Costa and Wayne Fontana, state Rep. Emily Kinkead, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and Pittsburgh Mayoral Chief of Staff Jake Wheatley.

“Pittsburgh is well known as the Steel City, but today the city has reinvented itself and become a global hub for advanced manufacturing and technology,” Gov. Tom Wolf said at a press conference. “Companies like Aurora bring good jobs to our communities, boost our economy, and secure Pennsylvania’s place as a leader in 21st century innovation.”

Aurora employs about 800 people in the Pittsburgh region and 1,600 company-wide.

Wolf said he hopes to “soon” sign legislation to allow companies like Aurora to run autonomous vehicles without a driver. A bill in the state Senate was approved unanimously in committee but has not yet been brought forward for a vote by the full Senate. A similar bill in the state House remains under consideration by the House Transportation Committee.

Under current Pennsylvania law, a human must be in the driver’s seat of an autonomous vehicle. The bills would allow companies to test driverless vehicles across the commonwealth without an operator.

“We want to make sure that people are safe and that these vehicles are safe,” Wolf said. But if the bill passed, Wolf noted Pennsylvania would join nearly two dozen other states that already allow autonomous vehicles without an operator.

Wolf and others took the opportunity as an opportunity to reflect on Pittsburgh’s growing robotics sector. Aurora is positioned along the said “Robotics Row” where more than 120 tech companies have set up shop in the last decade between the Strip District and Lawrenceville.

“Those of us that grew up here… we remember what this neighborhood was like and the transformation” that has occurred, County Executive Fitzgerald said. “We want to continue to see you grow [in Pittsburgh]. ”

He joked that the city’s next sports franchise could be called “the Pittsburgh Robots” for the same reasons the city’s football team was named after the steel industry.

Aurora is expected to roll out self-driving trucks in 2023 and ride-hailing vehicles in 2024.

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