The Standout U.S. Cities Showing Promise as Robotics HubsMarch 31, 2020 by Luke James
In the United States, industrial robots are being deployed in places where you would expect them to be—in areas where there is a strong automotive industry.
Although robots are not yet taking over the world, they are becoming increasingly prevalent in virtually every industry, from healthcare and logistics to manufacturing and automotive. And it is the latter of these four industries—automotive—where the majority of the United States’ robots are being deployed, primarily concentrated in the Midwest and upper South in the so-called “Robot Belt”.
As robotics companies and their engineers across the United States make more and more breakthroughs that produce some truly innovative products, there are a few robotics “hubs” that are beginning to stand out—the places that will house the inevitable robotics revolution.
America’s Industrial Robot Population
According to a 2017 report published by the Brookings Institute, over half of America’s industrial robots can be found in 10 states in the Midwest and South. The report, which maps the distribution of robots in the United States, used data from a National Bureau of Economic Research study to do this.
At the time, the report showed that most of the country’s industrial robots can be found in Michigan (28,000, nearly 12% of the country’s total), closely followed by Ohio (20,400), and Indiana (19,400).
A statistical map on the areas that industrial robots are concentrated in the U.S. Image credited to Brookings.
What Defines a Robotics ‘Hub’?
Despite these numbers, it is not necessarily a case of there being several robotics firms and indeed robots within a geographical location that makes it a hub. Rather, it is more to do with the role that certain parts of the U.S. have played throughout the history of modern robotics, and the role they continue to play as the market continues to grow and mature beyond expectations and predictions.
In the United States, there are three states in particular that are commonly said to be leading the way (in addition to, of course, Silicon Valley): Boston, Detroit, and Austin—arguably the country’s foremost robotics hubs—where several notable milestones have been reached in recent years.
When we think of Boston in the context of robotics, one company comes to mind—Boston Dynamics, a company famed for rewriting the book on what a robot can and cannot do.
In 2018, Boston Dynamics engineers outdid themselves when they made their humanoid robot, Atlas, carry out parkour, leaping over logs and jumping between obstacles. Combined with the company’s dog-like robot named Spot, Boston Dynamics’ robotics engineers are certainly pushing the boundaries and helping to put the Massachusetts capital firmly on the map.
A table ranking number of industrial robots in 100 highest-concentrated metropolitan areas. Image credited to Brookings.
Detroit, Michigan is known worldwide for being a major automotive hub, an industry that has been hugely transformed by innovations in robotics and has a long and rich history with it. When accounting for suppliers, there are over 1,600 automotive-related manufacturers in Michigan and in 2017 alone, more than 2 million cars and trucks rolled off the lines of the state’s assembly lines. As a result, the city is becoming an increasingly attractive and relevant hub for robotics, too.
Late last year, FANUC America—a provider of industrial robotics for almost any application—opened a huge new facility near Detroit in a bid to keep up with the worldwide “manufacturing revolution”. The 461,000-square-foot FANUC America North Campus Robotics and Automation Facility, which will continue to create jobs for engineers for years to come, includes engineering, product development, manufacturing, and warehousing for the company which supplies robotics and IIoT solutions.
In Austin, Texas, one of the more recent robotics innovations has come from Diligent Robotics, the company behind the Moxi healthcare robot, an autonomous robot assistant for hospitals. The company has recently raised $10 million to assist nurses and other healthcare staff who are struggling to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Engineers have equipped Moxi with a flexible arm and gripper hand with full mobility so it can transport lightweight medical resources around hospitals.
With a new 100,000-square-foot robotics arena planned for construction in Cedar Park, which aims to make robotics more accessible, Austin may soon become a leading figure in the industry.