President Barack Obama, in a visit to Carnegie Mellon University's robotics center, today unveiled a $500 million project to spur high-technology manufacturing.
Mr. Obama called for a joint effort by industry, universities and the federal government to help reposition the United States as a leader in cutting-edge manufacturing, including biotechnology, robotics and nanotechnology -- the development of new materials at the molecular level.
The initiative represents yet another effort by Mr. Obama to promote job creation in the midst of an economic slowdown that has reduced hiring and weakened his job approval standing with the public. The president has tried to elevate his profile on the economy with weekly job-related trips to states that are key to his re-election.
Before the speech, the president arrived at the Lawrenceville center around 10:30 a.m. for a tour of various projects in development.
He got to operate a sewer and water pipe inspection robot, a tracked cylindrical gizmo about 15 inches long whose name, it emerged, was Ned. After some descriptions from three executives of Red Zone, a private robotics firm with CMU roots, Mr. Obama took the controls, a laptop touch screen, and said, "Let's see how Ned does."
"He's sending back data as he's going through?" Mr. Obama said at one point.
"This is pretty fascinating," he said later as he watched the torpedo-shaped device crawl through the pipe. He turned to reporters, noted Red Zone's ties with CMU and government support of research.
In the speech, he launched his new high-tech plan with six universities in what the administration is calling the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. The plan also features 11 manufacturing companies, including Ford Motor Co., Caterpillar Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. Leading the effort will be Andrew Liveris, chairman, president and CEO of the Dow Chemical Co., and Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"The idea here is that we're bringing together all of the key players in a collaborative partnership to help identify these promising technologies, to invest in these promising technologies and to use them to drive a revitalization of American manufacturing," said Ron Bloom, assistant to the president for manufacturing policy.
The administration's plan includes $70 million for a robotics initiative. It also is aiming $300 million toward national security industries and $100 million for research and training to more quickly develop advanced materials at lower costs. Some of the $500 million would come from existing allocations to government agencies, but other money is only reflected in Mr. Obama's 2012 budget request and would require approval by Congress.
Mr. Obama's trip to Pittsburgh, his fourth as president, attracted some people who tried to get a glimpse of his motorcade and a handful of protesters.
Melina Brajovic, of Blawnox, was one of the protesters who held signs on 40th and Butler streets hoping to catch the president's attention.
Ms. Brajovic, who is a candidate for council in Blawnox, held a sign that said "Serbia 1999 = Libya 2011." She said she was opposed to the military intervention in Libya and compared it to the American-initiated bombings of her homeland of Serbia.
The sign also supported U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's presidential bid.
Nonetheless, Ms. Brajovic said she was thrilled to watch the president pass by.
"Obama, he waved at me!" she said, grinning broadly.
Ms. Brajovic said she had been joined by some protesting free trade agreements and another group that advocated for peace and education.
As his motorcade arrived today some people stopped Downtown to watch, including, given their outfits, some of the people attending the furry convention here.
People along Lawrenceville's narrow streets poked their heads out of second and third story windows as the motorcade passed.