Lehigh and Carnegie Mellon Universities: Partnering Students and Industry through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Technology Alliance

When Lehigh University Alumnus Dr. Matt Bilsky applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Pennsylvania Infrastructure Technology Alliance program in 2016, he was writing his dissertation and nearing the end of his research. Bilsky, founder and CEO of FLX Solutions, Inc., was working on a novel snake-like robot that can drive, drill and see inside walls to run wires without the mess. The idea came to Bilsky in 2013 when he was supervising and participating in plaster and lath house renovations as a contractor and superintendent of properties for an off-campus landlord in South Bethlehem.

The FLX BOT is exactly the type of cutting-edge technology that the PITA program seeks to foster. A collaboration between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering Research Accelerator and Lehigh University’s Institute for Cyber Physical Infrastructure and Energy, the PITA program awards grants that bring together Pennsylvania companies, faculty and students in support of creating and implementing new technologies that will ultimately provide economic benefit to Pennsylvania through knowledge transfer, the discovery of new technologies, and the retention of highly educated students.

As he is now fully on the industry side of the technology development landscape, Bilsky further sees the value in gaining access to graduate student researchers at two of the Commonwealth’s leading research universities. “The PITA program has given us the opportunity to collaborate with talented students at a world-class research institution in our backyard,” he says. “Their work has been critical in solving challenging technical problems alongside our internal engineering team. This strategic partnership allows these students to experience technical entrepreneurship by pairing traditional in-class learning and academic research with opportunities to practice this knowledge in the real world. It also serves as an example of how the traditional research and technical entrepreneurship communities can work together to have a positive economic impact on our region.”

The PITA program is fostering the next generation of technological talent within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, helping to create a real-world experience for engineering graduate students and also helping to pave a way for them to choose to stay and work in Pennsylvania. For over 20 years, PITA has connected Pennsylvania’s companies with the Commonwealth’s world-class university researchers and their students while promoting economic development in Pennsylvania. PITA, which is funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development, helps Pennsylvania increase the state’s market competitiveness through the development of new technologies and process improvements.

“We are proud of the program’s strong history of working with Pennsylvania companies and students to foster economic growth in the state. The program has supported over 1,200 technology and process improvement projects in partnership with more than 490 Pennsylvania companies, obtaining more than $2 of funding from industry, federal, and university resources for every $1 of state funding obtained,” notes Lehigh University’s PITA Director Dr. Richard Sause.

Added Carnegie Mellon’s Director Dr. Burak Ozdoganlar, “PITA has also mobilized more than 470 faculty members and over 2,000 students to work on Pennsylvania-specific technology, process improvement and educational outreach projects, and has also enabled 15 startup companies created from PITA-sponsored technologies.”

The program is a win-win for both Pennsylvania companies and its research universities.  The program enables companies to identify opportunities for universities, through their faculty and students, to provide expertise and capabilities which that company may not otherwise be able to access. These companies gain access to faculty expertise, university equipment and students. University faculty and students, on the other hand, are afforded the opportunity to work on real-world, market-driven challenges confronting Pennsylvania companies in key technology focus areas, including transportation, telecommunications and information technology, facilities, water systems, energy and environment, public health and medicine, and hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Faculty and students assist companies in creating technology of the future and enhancing the competitiveness of Pennsylvania companies with the goal of the creation of jobs in Pennsylvania and the retention of highly trained/educated students in Pennsylvania.

“PITA provides a conduit that connects the students at Pennsylvania universities with Pennsylvania companies, jumpstarting opportunities for continued employment within the Commonwealth following graduation” explains Sause.  “These are connections and opportunities that may not have otherwise occurred.”

For partnership opportunities, please contact Chad Kusko, Ph.D., Director of Operations, Institute for Cyber Physical Infrastructure & Energy, Lehigh University; and Associate Director, PITA at chk205@lehigh.edu.