Richard King Mellon Foundation Approves $75M Grant to Build New Robotics Center at CMU

Partners to build a new Robotics Innovation Center in Pittsburgh's Hazelwood Green neighborhood and a new science building at CMU.

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Carnegie Mellon University will build a new Robotics Innovation Center in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh is one of the top regions for robotics R&D in the U.S., if not the world. CMU has received a grant providing $150M for a new Robotics Innovation Center and science building.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation today announced that it has approved a $150 million grant to Carnegie Mellon University, the largest single grant in the foundation's 74-year history. The longtime partners said the investment will support the university's science and technology leadership, contribute to Pittsburgh's ongoing economic renaissance, and provide a more vibrant future for the Hazelwood neighborhood.

The first $75 million of the grant is the lead gift for a new cutting-edge science building on the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) campus in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The second $75 million will seed a new robotics innovation center and an institute focused on advanced materials and manufacturing at Hazelwood Green, a former riverside steel mill site. It will attract the jobs and industries of the new economy, while enabling development of a true mixed-use destination that will be a positive and inclusive part of Hazelwood, said the partners.

“Pittsburgh’s future — and the future of U.S. innovation and global competitiveness — are inextricably linked to scientific and technological advances and how well organizations, communities, and industries can stay ahead of the rapid pace of change,” stated Farnam Jahanian, president of CMU president. “Carnegie Mellon is positioned at the forefront of science and innovation’s great promise, and this visionary grant will fuel the research and activities that will build this exciting future.”

“This historic investment will help Pittsburgh to control its economic destiny and to reassert its rightful place as the national leader in the most important industries of today and tomorrow, with access to everyone who wants to be part of the story,” said Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation. “The Hazelwood community has been waiting for more than 18 years, since the J&L mill closed, for the site to become a source of jobs once again. And this past year reinforced the importance of local manufacturing to a healthy region.”

“This historic investment is the first of many steps to achieve our vision of making Pittsburgh a global leader in advanced and additive manufacturing, robotics, and the creation of technology jobs that are accessible to the entire community,” Reiman said.

Downtown Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is one of the top centers for robotics research, development, and commercialization in the U.S. Source: Getty Images

Grant to accelerate robotics, advanced manufacturing, and the sciences

The organizations said the grant is latest chapter in their decades-long relationship. They said it is intended to be a “significant acceleration of activity in three fields that have been key to Pittsburgh’s 21st century renaissance and are central to CMU’s future — the sciences, advanced manufacturing, and robotics.”

The grant will be paid over multiple years. The three initiatives will fuel cross-disciplinary entrepreneurial ecosystems for research and innovation that will spark discoveries, transform industries, attract businesses to the region, and support the creation of high-tech jobs and startup companies, according to the university and foundation. They also said the initiatives will offer training and education opportunities for people in Hazelwood and other communities that too often have been left as bystanders to such opportunity.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation and Carnegie Mellon have partnered on projects since the 1960s. This support has included grants to establish CMU’s School of Urban and Public Affairs, now Heinz College; to create the university’s Department of Computer Science, now the School of Computer Science; to fund research in life sciences and energy; and to support the next generation of manufacturing research. With the current grant, the foundation’s support for CMU, including personal gifts from its founders, is nearly $300 million over the years.

“The Richard King Mellon Foundation is one of the pillars of Pittsburgh philanthropy, and Carnegie Mellon is proud to have worked with them on critical initiatives in our city for more than half a century,” said Jim Rohr, chair of the CMU Board of Trustees. “Their partnership has facilitated some of the most important inflection points in the university’s history, and this latest investment promises to transform science, industry, and the region for decades to come.”

The Next Manufacturing Center at CMU

The Next Manufacturing Center is working toward the widespread adoption of additive manufacturing technology. Source: CMU

“The foundation long has held CMU to be one of our most valued and productive partners,” said Richard A. Mellon, chairman of the foundation. “Decades ago, this foundation partnered with CMU to make CMU and Pittsburgh national leaders in what was then the new field of computer science.”

“Today, we are partnering again, to realize further CMU’s vision of national leadership in science, robotics, and advanced and additive manufacturing, and to enable the foundation to significantly advance, in one stroke, two of the key components of our Strategic Plan — economic development for Pittsburgh, and economic mobility for people who too often have been left behind.” Mellon said.

CMU at Hazelwood Green

The Richard King Mellon Foundation is partnering with The Heinz Endowments and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation — a partnership known as Almono, the name reflecting Pittsburgh’s three rivers — on the long-term redevelopment of Hazelwood Green, the site of a former steel mill that is being transformed into a center for innovation and economic development. The vision for the site is inclusive of the local community, with a focus on sustainability, equity and inclusive economic opportunity.

In 2019, propelled by $20 million in funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, Carnegie Mellon’s Manufacturing Futures Initiative, and the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute, a public-private partnership driving a new era of U.S. industry innovation, became the first tenants at the site’s iconic Mill 19, a high-tech building built within the shell of the defunct mill.

Hazelwood Green has been a vital component of Carnegie Mellon’s continued leadership in advanced and additive manufacturing. The university will build on this foundation to synergistically expand the ecosystem there through two significant projects focused on translational research: the expansion of CMU’s groundbreaking research in the digital transformation of manufacturing through the Manufacturing Futures Institute, and the construction of a new Robotics Innovation Center.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation’s lead support of both will allow the university to invest in rapidly developing areas. Over the next 10 years, robotics, AI, and advanced materials and manufacturing are forecast to grow at double-digit rates, and their total market size will likely exceed $2 trillion by 2030.

Leveraging Hazelwood Green as the new hub for these technologies will link economic development in Pittsburgh to the rapid growth of these areas, claimed CMU and the foundation. In addition to generating new momentum for the university’s industry partnerships, these initiatives will attract future research facilities and additional resources for community initiatives with significant benefit across the Pittsburgh region.

“Hazelwood Green and Mill 19 are proven environments to support the collaboration we know is needed to stimulate a wellspring of next-generation engineering technologies and entrepreneurship in manufacturing,” said William Sanders, the Dr. William D. and Nancy W. Strecker Dean of the College of Engineering. “This next chapter of our partnership at Hazelwood Green has the potential for exponential growth as we secure a leading role for Pittsburgh and the United States in the future of manufacturing and robotics.” 

“Success at Hazelwood Green will not be defined by its buildings, parks, and roads, but rather by the opportunities it creates for an entire generation of Pittsburgh residents to participate in the new economy,” Reiman said. “With CMU’s commitment in place, the Foundation and Almono fully expect that more exciting Hazelwood Green news will follow.”

Robotics Innovation Center

Carnegie Mellon has been the global pioneer in robotics research and education since it founded the first U.S. university department devoted to the field in 1979. Since then, CMU researchers have regularly developed robotics breakthroughs, from robots that perform critical tasks in the harshest conditions on earth to assistive technologies that enhance the daily lives of differently abled people to advanced visualization and perception systems that will be key for the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles.

Over the past 10 years alone, robotics research expenditures at CMU have nearly doubled, and are expected to double again over the next decade. The $45 million lead grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation will enable CMU to further expand its robotics research capacity with a new facility, the Robotics Innovation Center (RIC), at Hazelwood Green.

The RIC, which is estimated to cost more than $90 million and will add up to 150,000 square feet of space to CMU’s robotic research capabilities, will further create synergies by complementing and accelerating the work by the nearby Manufacturing Futures Institute (MFI) at Mill 19, where researchers will be able to deploy new ideas within its test beds. As a new translational research facility, the RIC will complement the work of CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC).

The new facility will provide CMU robotics researchers with spaces that will allow them to bridge the stages of foundational research, integration, iteration, and commercialization to ensure discoveries can be translated into real-world technologies. Envisioned for the building are reconfigurable high bays, multiple testing facilities including a unique large-footprint testing area, and flexible spaces that address robotics systems at different scales. The facility is expected to include pre-incubator space for the next generation of CMU-affiliated robotics companies.

“The technologies developed at the Robotics Innovation Center will ripple across every part of our society and economy, impacting fields including health care, transportation, national security, education, agriculture and retail,” said Martial Hebert, dean of the School of Computer Science. “Through the RIC, the Manufacturing Futures Institute, and the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, our Hazelwood Green hub will cement its reputation as a key location for technology innovation — attracting talent, partnerships, companies and investment that further build momentum for the region and industry.”

Manufacturing Futures Institute

The Richard King Mellon Foundation’s said its $30 million commitment in advanced and additive manufacturing at CMU builds on its previous philanthropic support and allows the university to expand its work through the MFI. The institute will be a permanent organization with the long-term vision and funding to address the complex challenges facing U.S. and global manufacturing and to enhance economic development. Half of the grant will create an endowment to sustain the MFI in perpetuity.

Among the MFI’s goals will be to develop state-of-the-art advanced materials and manufacturing equipment and processes, such as additive manufacturing; build collaborations between CMU researchers, industry and government organizations; fuel entrepreneurship through startups and spinoff companies; strengthen the ecosystem for technology transfer to industry partners; and expand high-tech workforce training for the Pittsburgh region’s residents.

MFI will intentionally partner not just with large manufacturing corporations, but also small and medium-sized regional businesses. CMU expects the institute will catalyze more than $200 million in research activities in the coming decade.

“We know that industrial cities and their workers in the U.S. have been greatly affected by the downturn of jobs in manufacturing since their peak in 1979. But we’ve seen how the ingenuity created by corporate, government, nonprofit and university partnerships in Pittsburgh has begun to make a profound positive impact,” said Gary Fedder, director of the MFI. “Through this investment by the Richard King Mellon Foundation to create a sustainable, permanent Manufacturing Futures Institute, CMU will feed a humming engine of innovation for advanced manufacturing, not just for Pittsburgh but for the nation.”

“This latest grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation will provide CMU with the resources to accelerate three of its key strategic initiatives — science, advanced manufacturing, and robotics innovation,” Jahanian said. “While advancing our education and research missions, these initiatives will also further CMU’s commitment to positive societal impact, both regionally and nationally.”

The grant is the latest commitment to be announced as part of “Make Possible: The Campaign for Carnegie Mellon University.” The multi-year effort aims to raise $2 billion in private philanthropy to support CMU’s strategic priorities across the university and its seven colleges and schools. To date, more than 52,000 supporters have contributed nearly $1.67 billion in support of the university.

Building a new home for science at CMU

The world is at the cusp of a revolution in science, according to the partners. Research increasingly requires scientists to work across disciplines, technologies are generating massive amounts of data, artificial intelligence is reshaping the scientific process, and a new kind of laboratory equipped with automated equipment and machine learning is allowing researchers to address modern challenges in new ways. All of these are rapidly changing the methods and pace of scientific discovery, allowing research teams to understand more deeply the fundamentals of our universe and solve increasingly complex global problems.

Carnegie Mellon has launched a decade-long comprehensive future of science initiative to embrace these new paradigms and accelerate the university’s leadership in scientific discovery, including investments in recruiting and retaining faculty, and developing state-of-the-art research and education infrastructure.

The cornerstone of this initiative will be a new, cutting-edge $210 million science building on its Pittsburgh campus, which is made possible by a $75 million lead grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The facility, due to rise on Forbes Avenue adjacent to the Carnegie Museums in the Oakland neighborhood, will facilitate collaborative research and education spanning multiple fields across the university.

The facility will be designed for open collaboration and to inspire unanticipated intersections of ideas, said the organizations. In addition to classrooms, teaching labs and other spaces, student and faculty researchers will have access to modern labs that are purposefully designed to be shared.

The building will complement the university’s simultaneous $40 million investment in the nation's first academic cloud laboratory that will feature highly automated, remote-controlled robotic instruments for experimentation and data collection. The cloud lab is intended to quickly advance discoveries, as well as democratize science by expanding researcher and student access to invaluable equipment.

“The science of the future lives at the interface of the foundational sciences — namely biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics — and artificial intelligence, robotics, engineering, and data analytics, areas where Carnegie Mellon has led for decades,” said Rebecca Doerge, the Glen de Vries Dean of the Mellon College of Science. “Through this initiative, we will leverage our strengths and the potential of human ingenuity to position the university as a world leader and change agent for science.”

“The remarkable generosity of the Richard King Mellon Foundation will accelerate our pursuit by providing us with world-class facilities that are critical to both our faculty and students as we prepare them for 21st century opportunities,” she added.

CMU said the future of science initiative advances its commitment to seeding and developing interdisciplinary areas of scientific inquiry, such as neuroscience, life science, materials science, computational biology, cosmology, and sustainability. In addition to these new state-of-the-art facilities, the initiative will continue to raise additional philanthropic support for endowed professorships, graduate fellowships, undergraduate scholarships, and research seed funds.

CMU Robotics Institute

Source: CMU Robotics Institute

About CMI and the Richard King Mellon Foundation

Carnegie Mellon University is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology, and business to public policy, the humanities, and the arts. It said more than 14,000 students in the university's seven schools and colleges benefit from its small student-to-faculty ratio and its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation.

Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and one of the 50 largest in the world. The foundation’s 2020 year-end endowment was $3.1 billion, and its trustees in 2020 disbursed $130 million in grants and program-related investments. The foundation focuses its funding on six primary program areas, delineated in its 2021-2030 Strategic Plan.

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Carnegie Mellon University will build a new Robotics Innovation Center in Pittsburgh.

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