Pittsburgh robotics companies are trying to figure out who will keep the machines running

Pittsburgh-based Aurora Innovation plans to start selling its autonomous trucking system in two years, but before the trucks hit the market, the company needs more workers to maintain the fleet.

In 2020, it partnered with Pittsburgh Technical College near Robinson Township to create an associate degree in robotics and autonomous engineering technology. The 18-month program prepares technicians to perform routine maintenance, unexpected repairs and new upgrades.

But only five students enrolled when classes launched this fall. Four more are signed up for the winter, but the school aims to have 25 begin each term.

The shortfall reflects a broader struggle in the robotics industry to build a workforce beyond the engineers who design the machinery. While service technician jobs don’t require a four-year college degree, Pittsburgh Tech President and CEO Alicia Harvey-Smith cautioned it would take time to generate interest among prospective employees.