Start-up could bring 19 ‘quality high-tech’ jobs to heart of Oklahoma City

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 21-Oct-2010

On a particularly gorgeous day in Oklahoma City, officials with Contineo Robotics joined with Northrop Grumman Corporation’s subsidiary Remotec to announce investment in a cluster of “technological tactics” and specialized manufacturing. The project aims to bring 19 “quality high-tech” jobs to Oklahoma City’s Presbyterian Health Foundation research park over the next few years.

Potential for greater impact lies in the new effort to improve technology used by first responders and the U.S. armed forces. The project aims “to counter explosive devices in American cities and on the battlefield with ‘sci-fi’ technologies in development,” according to a press release unveiling the effort.

Representing Contineo was chief technology officer Stuart Harshbarger, while Remotec President Mike Knopp represented his firm.

Contineo is among a cluster of companies developing and manufacturing what are called “human-like manipulators for robots.” The devices will be produced at Contineo Robotics headquarters within the Presbyterian Research Park south of the state Capitol Building, and adjacent to the OU Health Sciences Center.

Looking to the future, Harshbarger and Knopp speculated robotics, including machines with human-like tactile ability, will become increasingly dynamic as functions become more interactive and capable of duplication.

Oklahoma Commerce Secretary Natalie Shirley told reporters her agency was working hard to bring “knowledge-based jobs to Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City area.”

Pointing to the robotic devices as she stood near them, Shirley highlighted collaborative efforts among members of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, regional, state and city government officials and others to bring the new accord to completion. She observed, “several cities will be effected positively by this announcement.”

Shirley said the emergence of more high-tech “quality jobs” are reinforcing the message of the state’s economic development specialists that Oklahoma is “a place where innovation drives growth.” 

In his remarks, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett thanked officials from the private and government sectors. Cornett commented, “four things strike me about this event. First, Oklahoma continues as a beacon of comparative low unemployment and economic vibrancy. Second, Oklahomans will be excited by this announcement because we so strongly support first responders, who will be kept safer by robotics. Third, the technology itself is exciting. Fourth, this stuff is really, really cool. Oklahoma City is a wonderful place to live and work, and this is further proof of that. We are diversifying our economy, and this is another sign.”

Also cheering the announcement was James Lankford, the Republican candidate in the Fifth Congressional District. To out-of-town visitors, he quipped the comfortable temperatures and clear skies at the unveiling were “a typical Oklahoma day, the kind of weather to which we are accustomed here in Oklahoma City.” Lankford hailed the strong collaboration between Tinker and other military facilities with the business community, including firms at the Presbyterian Health complex.

Remotec is probably best known for HD1, a device which appeared in “The Hurt Locker,” an Oscar-winning film.

In a prepared statement, Harshbarger said, “Contineo is developing advanced conformal grippers and end effectors that will attach to robots currently deployed by police departments, bomb squads and military operations worldwide.” Such work, he said, will reduce “the need for military and first responder personnel to continue placing themselves in harm’s way.” The announcement “furthers Oklahoma as a national center for robotics research, development and commercialization.” 

Knopp observed the complexity of improvised explosive devices in war theaters “continues to evolve, and our unmanned ground vehicles need the most advanced applications to help keep ‘danger at a distance’ for the men and women serving in our country’s armed forces and our nation’s police officers and other security professionals.” The new partnership, he said, aims “to get these critical new capabilities to the field and on the street faster.”

Gerald Kane, chairman of the department of electrical engineering at the University of Tulsa, and Gary Gallagher, director of contracts for Oklahoma State University’s University Multispectral Laboratory in Ponca City, also took part in the announcement at the Presbyterian Health facility.