RE2 Robotics Shifts Resources to 3D Print PPE for Pittsburgh-area Frontline Workers [Share Your Story]

We miss working together, though, says CEO.

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RE2 Robotic’s Single-Arm, Dual-Arm and Underwater-Arm robots. (Image courtesy of RE2).

RE2 Robotic’s Single-Arm, Dual-Arm and Underwater-Arm robots. (Image courtesy of RE2).
Jorgen Pedersen President and CEO of RE2 Robotics. (Picture courtesy of Linkedin.)

Jorgen Pedersen President and CEO of RE2 Robotics. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread through the country in March, businesses of all shapes and sizes, across all industries, were forced to adapt to a “new normal.” As schools closed down and non-life-sustaining businesses were required to close, companies that typically operate in a traditional “brick-and-mortar” environment suddenly had to pivot their operations to a virtual one. RE2 Robotics was no different.

Our team of 60 employees is used to working closely together on projects—in person—at our offices in Pittsburgh. Collaboration between our mechanical, software, and electrical engineering teams is both commonplace and highly encouraged. On a routine basis, we enjoy a positive company culture consisting of office lunches, team meetings, and visits to coworkers’ offices for impromptu chats. That sense of camaraderie (which we had come to expect and, perhaps, underappreciate until now) was interrupted abruptly when we decided, for the safety of our employees and their families, to shift to a remote environment on March 16.

The strength of any company is its employees and I could not be prouder of our team’s resilience during these unprecedented times. Despite being physically separated, our team has banded together to pivot swiftly and steadfastly to remote work. At the onset, meetings were quickly transitioned from conference rooms to virtual “rooms.” Company news, employee promotions, and tips and tricks for working at home are routinely shared via email. New weekly newsletters and surveys have been created to make sure we stay connected while we are apart. Parts and products that needed to be tested or collaboratively built are delivered to doorsteps (after being disinfected, of course), round-robin style. And recruiting—including interviewing new candidates and onboarding—has become 100% virtual. We even recorded a video tour for prospective employees, so that they could feel at least a degree of familiarity with our offices for when we return.

As the pandemic progressed, we also learned of an opportunity to help health care workers in the Pittsburgh region through an organization called PPE Connect PGH. The goal of PPE Connect PGH is to help health care workers on the front line in the fight against COVID-19 to locate sources of existing idle Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). After discussing their needs with the organization’s founders, we were able to begin using our 3D-printing capabilities to fabricate part for face shields that are being collected and donated at no cost to smaller health care entities such as community clinics, nursing homes, and independent facilities in the Pittsburgh region. To date, the group has donated more than 11,000 pieces of PPE equipment to local health care facilities. We are beyond proud of the employees who spearheaded this effort by running the 3D printers 24/7 from their homes.

As a robotics company, we of course are inclined to evaluate how technology can be used in times of crisis. For the past 20 years, our focus has been on creating technology that keeps users out of harm’s way, and we remained committed to that mission. Robotic technology like ours, whether tele-operated or autonomous, allows businesses to augment human labor and therefore, can help to keep the nation’s infrastructure afloat while keeping workers safe. In a pandemic like the one we’re in the midst of right now, robotic technology could be used to lessen the burden on health care workers by autonomously performing routine tasks, freeing front-line workers to focus directly on the human, compassionate aspects of patient care.

As we navigate the world through the lens of this new normal, this crisis has shown us that humans are more resilient than we knew. It has also shown us how much the world at large could benefit from the assistance that robotic technology can provide. Once the dust settles and society returns to its familiar pace, this pandemic hopefully will bring to light a discussion about how robots can be used to serve the greater good.