Building a Robotics Ecosystem: Q&A with UC San Diego’s Al Pisano

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strong place to work from in terms of identifying the region’s robotics workforce and research needs. UC San Diego in general and the Jacobs School of Engineering in particular, will then be in a better position to address these needs through education and research programs.

In terms of curriculum specifics, we plan to add options for robotics themes to degrees at both the undergraduate and master’s level at the Jacobs School of Engineering; but we are still working on the details. And that brings us back to events like the October 10 forum. The right players need to be working together in order to develop and sustain a robotics ecosystem in San Diego.

X: Who are the individual tech leaders who are directing or guiding robotics innovation in San Diego?

AP: There is so much happening, I can’t possibly know about every effort. But speaking in general terms, I think the major players in industries like communications, defense and biotechnology are going to play a key role. Entrepreneurs, startups, research institutes, the military, and public sector agencies all serve as important players as well. Within this environment, I see UC San Diego as an accelerator, a catalyst.
X: What needs to happen for robotics to flourish here to the extent it has in the Bay Area, Boston, and Pittsburgh? Are there any key ingredients missing?

AP: The first thing San Diego is missing is a large academic institute focused on developing and sustaining the robotics ecosystem in the region. We are in the process of plugging that in. The Jacobs School of Engineering educates the engineering workforce of the future and develops technology leaders for the region. We pursue tough research challenges that are both relevant and fundamental. We are already teaching classes and running laboratories related to robotics for undergraduates and graduate students. We will be expanding and adding to those.

San Diego already has a lot of things going for it in terms of robotics, including major industry players and big employers that are focused on robotics in many different ways. The region also has the advantage of a dynamic advanced-manufacturing sector both here in San Diego county and right across the border in Tijuana. Add the profound military presence and region’s robotics startups and entrepreneurs and you have the makings of a very strong robotics cluster.
The fact that San Diego has all these players and resources already gives the region a possible advantage over the more established robotics clusters in the country. The potential for robotics in San Diego is huge.

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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