CTTEC

Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Geckos Inspire Stronger Adhesives

This small lizard has the remarkable ability to grip to any surface, repeatedly, and under all conditions, including dirt, moisture or excessive dryness. Its sticking power comes from millions of microscopic dry hairs on its footpads, each with a mushroom-shaped tip that makes contact with the surface, and adheres to it.

Metin Sitti, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, has developed a polymer fiber material based on the gecko’s natural fibers that can duplicate its unusual repetitive adhesive properties, an advance that likely will have broad commercial applications in sports, medicine, robotics, and the military.

“Gecko-like adhesives have already shown promise as new gripping materials for sports and safety applications,” Sitti said. “I think the gecko’s special ability could also hold the key to creating reliable climbing robots for reconnaissance missions and space exploration, as well as for the military.”

The National Science Foundation has funded his research with $150,000 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

In 2009, Sitti established a new company, called nanoGriptech, a spinoff of the university, to develop and mass produce his microscopic polymer fiber adhesives for use in a number of products, starting with sports clothing. A major sports company has expressed an interest in developing new gloves, shoes and clothing using the material, and has signed on as an industrial partner, Sitti said.

The first products could be on the market within two years. “We want to make them in a large volume at a low cost,” Sitti said. “Right now, we have all the programs in place to do this; we have a good performance, at a relatively low cost.”

So far, the material works best on smooth surfaces, which is one of the reasons the company initially plans to use it only in sports clothing and equipment. But the researchers are fine-tuning the material to make it more adaptable to surfaces that may be rougher.

“On smooth surfaces, we have sticking as good as the animal,” Sitti said. “On rough surfaces, we have some good performance, but not yet as good as the animal. Their hairs branch into smaller hairs, like a brush, and what we’ve made, at first, are simple hairs. We are in the process of developing the fibers for more complicated surfaces.”

Sports equipment is a logical first application because “the market places a high value on performance enhancement, and we have a marketing partner with sales distribution channels,” Sitti said. “Success there will provide significant market visibility that can be leveraged for entry into other product applications.”

Sitti expects the first products to be closures for clothing that could improve upon currently used Velcro and zippers. Velcro can be rigid and requires a second side in order to stick. Zippers can break, or otherwise fail. The new material does not require a ‘mating site’, and is very durable over repeated uses. “Our product is designed to be used many times,” Sitti said. “After tens of thousands of cycles, it still works with a similar performance.”

Later, it likely will be used to make gloves for football receivers, possibly or soccer goalies, and shoes that need a gripping non-slip surface, such as those worn by climbers.

“Our material gives a better performance than any current receiver gloves on the market,” Sitti said. “When you put it on the tips of the fingers, it helps you grip the ball. It’s good for receivers—although maybe not so good for quarterbacks.”

Ultimately, Sitti hopes that its most advanced uses will include medical applications, such as bandages for the skin, or for attaching medical devices inside or outside tissues of the body non-invasively, or in developing more secure face masks for industry and the military. “We have some promising results in those areas, but they are still ongoing projects for us,” he said.

“In the future, we hope to develop face masks that won’t move around, as they do now,” he added. “The sealing of the face mask is a big issue. You can have leakage. The military uses straps on the back of the head to keep the mask in place, which is a big discomfort. Our goal is to have them stick to the skin with a strong attachment to the face. You still need some harnessing, as a safety backup, but we would like to see much less than they use now. That is a very important field for us.”

The company has five employees, and continues to grow. “We really believe that once the first fiber adhesive product appears in the market it will have a big impact on many applications,” he said.

Article Courtesy of US News and World Report


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Carnegie Mellon Researchers Discover Mechanism for Cell Receptor Recycling

An international team of researchers led by Carnegie Mellon University's Manojkumar Puthenveedu has discovered the mechanism by which signaling receptors recycle, a critical piece in understanding signaling receptor function. Writing in the journal Cell, the team for the first time describes how a signaling receptor travels back to the cell membrane after it has been activated and internalized.

Signaling receptors live on the cell membrane waiting to be matched with their associated protein ligand. When they meet, the two join together like a lock and key, turning on and off critical functions within the cell. Many of these functions play a role in human health, and each new discovery about how these complex receptors work provides a potential therapeutic target for conditions including heart, lung and inflammatory disease.

After the receptor and ligand unite, they enter the cell packaged in a container called a vesicle, which delivers them to an even larger container inside the cell called an endosome. From the endosome, receptors can take one of three routes: they can travel to the lysosome and be degraded; travel to the Golgi apparatus and be processed; or the receptor can separate from its ligand and recycle back to the cell membrane via a finger-like offshoot called a tubule.

Some receptors, like nutrient receptors, are recycled back to the cell membrane very quickly through a continuous and unregulated process called bulk recycling. In the case of signaling receptors, researchers noticed that they seemed to recycle at a slower rate and in a more regulated manner. The signaling receptors took minutes to return to the cell surface, indicating that they might not be following the same bulk pathway as other classes of receptors.

"Nutrient receptors can be recycled very quickly without causing any harm, but uncontrolled recycling of a signaling receptor can have serious consequences. For instance, unrestrained signaling through the receptors for adrenaline has been linked to heart failure," Puthenveedu said. "If we can control how fast these receptors travel back to the surface and sequester them inside the cell, we would potentially have a new class of therapeutic targets."

To begin to determine how signaling receptors recycle, Puthenveedu and colleagues looked at the beta-2 adrenergic receptor (b2AR), the receptor for adrenaline and noradrenaline. The receptor is a member of the G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) family, a group of receptors that interact with molecules responsible for cellular communication such as neurotransmitters and hormones. GPCRs are well studied because they play a pivotal role in cells' chemical communication circuits that are responsible for regulating functions critical to health, including circuits involved in heart and lung function, mood, cognition and memory, digestion, and the inflammatory response.

Puthenveedu and colleagues used live cell confocal fluorescence microscopy to label and image b2AR and the tubules by which it recycles, allowing them to visualize what was happening after the signaling receptor was internalized. They found that while the receptors were still being recycled via tubules, much like nutrient receptors, the tubules were not the same. These b2AR tubules emanated from specialized regions, or domains, on the endosome that were marked by a protein network containing actin. These unique domains, which the Carnegie Mellon researchers named Actin-Stabilized Sequence-dependent Recycling Tubule (ASSERT) domains, provided a cellular scaffold. The scaffolding trapped the receptors and slowed the release of the tubule from the endosome, therefore controlling receptor recycling. The researchers believe that they could use these domains, which are essential for signaling receptors to be sorted into the appropriate, slower recycling pathway rather than the faster bulk recycling pathway, as pharmaceutical targets for diseases that result from abnormal cell signaling.

Puthenveedu plans to continue studying receptor recycling in other types of receptors, including opioid receptors. Opiod receptors are the targets of several drugs that are often clinically abused. This research could open up a new area of study in addiction research.

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Other authors of this study include Rachel Vistein of Carnegie Mellon; Benjamin Lauffer, Paul Temkin, Peter Carlton, Kurt Thorn, Jack Taunton, Orion D. Weiner, and Robert Parton of the University of California, San Diego; and Mark von Zastrow of The University of Queensland.

Article Courtesy of Health Canal


Monday, December 20, 2010

Southwestern PA: Technology Transfer from University to Commercialization

The Pittsburgh area is home to renowned universities and colleges full of innovative new ideas and solutions. Technology transfer offices within these institutions work with faculty researchers and students to advance these ideas into early-stage companies. However, many of these potential businesses lack the funds and business leadership to help them spin out successfully and achieve critical business development milestones.

Though nearly $1 billion of federal research money flows into the region’s top universities for scientific discovery, there is almost no funding available for researchers to develop the business case for their technology. Innovation Works, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of southwestern PA (BFTP/IW), is acutely aware of this issue. BFTP/IW provides funding and business assistance to help spin these ideas out of the university into a working company and toward commercialization.

University Innovation Grant

Innovation Work’s University Innovation Grant (UIG) program bridges the gap between funding for research and the development of a commercial entity to bring a university technology to market. These grants, up to $25,000 each, help with prototype development, market research, technology validation, intellectual property evaluation and more. The grants bridge the gap between research dollars and seed investment by funding activities that validate commercialization potential. BFTP/IW has provided more than a million dollars in UIGs since the program’s inception.

Cohera Medical is one company that started out by receiving the University Innovation Grant for market research and is now developing solutions for surgical wound closure. Cohera Medical’s flagship product, TissuGlu, is an easy-to-use surgical glue that assists in the deep would closure process. Based on a unique chemical design, TissuGlu is a synthetic, biodegradable product and requires no preparation, unlike available alternatives. It can be formulated for use in a variety of surgical applications including plastic surgery, general and orthopedic surgery.

“By providing discretionary funds for business plan development, market reports and expertise, BFTP/IW’s UIG program fills a critical need for inventors trying to commercialize their technology,” said Dottie Clower, PhD, VP of Business Development and Operations for Cohera Medical, Inc. “This is exactly the kind of seed funding that is necessary to get promising technologies out of the laboratory and on their way to commercialization.”

Following Cohera’s award of the UIG grant, the company’s progress and potential were so promising that BFTP/IW made a followup investment of $100,000 in the company. Today Cohera is developing other adaptations of its unique chemical formula including an adhesive for securing soft tissues and implantable devices such as hernia mesh, and a small bone adhesive.

Executive in Residence

With more than 20 years experience in leading and managing medical device companies, Executive in Residence Larry Miller is able to provide truly personalized assistance to the entrepreneurial life sciences community. Miller works with the management teams of early-stage life science and medical device startups in the BFTP/IW portfolio. Miller advises on critical business issues such as intellectual property creation and protection, product development, marketing, sales, fundraising, management recruitment and growth planning. Essentially, he brings rigor and structure to the company by helping identify and reach milestones for commercialization and business development.

“We work to help promising technology move out of the university and into the next stage of development,” said Miller. “The University Innovation Grant program works particularly well for life sciences companies, because they often need assistance figuring out the most appropriate first market for their product. Frequently, the result of a UIG is a company ready for further BFTP/IW investment. Life sciences companies make up about one-third of our portfolio.”

Spinning Out of Universities

Another life sciences portfolio company launched from a UIG is Carmell Therapeutics, which began in Carnegie Mellon University and Allegheny General Hospital. Founded in 2007, Carmell is manufacturing biologically active plastics from blood plasma for treating injuries to bone and connective tissue. With a focus on sports medicine, Carmell is developing solutions to repair tendon and cartilage injuries.

Carmell’s innovative plastics use the body’s own growth and regenerative factors to naturally promote tissue healing. Carmell’s UIG was used to study which orthopedic application would be the best target for commercial development. Subsequently, BFTP/IW invested $200,000 in Carmell Therapeutics.

The investment has helped Carmell develop its first product, the Plasmix™ Surgical Patch for rotator cuff and tendon injuries. The Company is also developing a second product for bone and cartilage called the Plasmix Cartilage Repair Plug, a biodegradable rod with mechanical properties similar to osteochondral tissue.

“There is an entrepreneurial spirit here in Pittsburgh, and we are starting to get noticed outside the region,” said Alan West, president & CEO of Carmell Therapeutics. West estimates clinical trials with humans could start in a year, a critical step along the path to commercialization and use in patients—a long way from the technology’s beginnings in a university lab.

Article Courtesy of Ben Franklin Technology Partners


Monday, December 20, 2010

Astrobotic Technology receives first half million of $10 million NASA Moon mission contract

NASA has awarded the initial half-million-dollar task order from a $10 million NASA contract to Astrobotic Technology for a robotic expedition to the Moon.

"The amazingly short turnaround between proposal and award are a testament to NASA's support for lunar commerce companies like ours," said Dr. William "Red" Whittaker, chairman of Astrobotic Technology.

The company will design, build, and test the primary structure of its lunar lander under the assignment. After the addition of engines, electronics and departure ramps, the lander will carry Astrobotic's Moon rover to the surface in an expedition set for 2013.

Astrobotic is a spin out from Carnegie Mellon University, where much of the technical progress is conducted.

Allies in the mission include International Rectifier, Aerojet, Alcoa, ANSYS, Caterpillar Inc., Harmonic Drive, Lockheed Martin, Scaled Composites, SpaceWorks Commercial and others.

The 2013 mission has 220 pounds of payload capacity available for customers. Astrobotic is discussing payload terms with space agencies, corporations and universities. The robot's high-definition cameras will show the Moon in 3D as it is directed by amateur drivers over the Web and at science centers. The expedition also will pursue up to $24 million under the Google Lunar X-Prize and $2 million from the state of Florida.

Carnegie Mellon University backs the project with the experience of its Robotics Institute, where several prototype lunar robots have been developed and field tested. The University's expertise includes winning the DARPA Urban Challenge with a Chevy Tahoe that autonomously drove through city traffic, planning its own path, avoiding obstacles and obeying the California traffic code. This sensing and software technology is being applied to a precision landing on the Moon.

The Astrobotic spacecraft will be sent to a lunar trajectory by a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, which earlier this month conducted a successful orbital flight test of its Dragon space capsule for carrying cargo and eventually crew to the International Space Station.

The NASA contract will pay Astrobotic for data about how to land at a precise location, which hasn't been done by previous Mars and Moon robots, as well as how to avoid last-minute obstacles like boulders and small craters unseen from orbit. The NASA contract also pays for information about how the Astrobotic robot survives the lunar night - two weeks of deep freeze as cold as liquid nitrogen.
Another $600,000 task order will be available in 2012, but the remainder of the funds are paid after the spacecraft lands. The contract was awarded under the agency's Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data program.

Article Courtesy of SpaceRef Interactive


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Running late to a show? ParkPGH is the city's first smart parking app

Finding a last-minute parking spot on the night of a show just got easier with the region's first "smart" parking solution launched this week by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

ParkPGH
(that's Park P-G-H) is a tech-based strategy that gives users up-to-the-minute information on parking space availability in the Cultural District in one of five ways: iPhone app, mobile website, website, text messaging and a call-in phone service. Eight parking lots are participating and the remaining Cultural District garage, located at 9th and Penn Avenue, will be added in January 2011.

"I'm a regular attendee and it occurred to me that one of the big psychological impediments (to coming into the city for a show) is uncertainty about the parking," says Bill Benter, president of The Benter Foundation, who helped fund the project. "We're looking to make this a less stressful experience for all."

By January, ParkPGH.org will give patrons access to information on the more than 5,300 spaces in the Cultural District, which makes up 25% of all the parking in the city. The easy-to-use site color-codes the garages in three ways: near capacity, approaching capacity or availability. If all goes well, the program will be expanded for citywide use.

The program was built by Deeplocal with assistance from the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, Alco Parking, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Hillman Foundation and Numeritics. ParkPGH is designed to integrate with a larger project, Traffic21, a Carnegie Mellon initiative that is developing and deploying an intelligent transportation system that hopes to brand the region internationally as a place for "smart transportation."

"We want to make it available to the broadest possible audience," says Marc Fleming, vice president of marketing for The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Friday, December 10, 2010

Accelerator: CommunityVibe at test stage

This is the fifth installment of a monthly series about Carnegie Mellon University’s Accelerator program, which is spinning out five student-led companies. CMU’s Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship launched the program in June as a way to link graduate students at the Tepper School of Business to the broader marketplace.

CommunityVibe Inc. was conceived in 2008 when a group of friends thought of ways to help tenants manage their rental information, said co-founder Kariithi Kilemi, now in his second and final year at Tepper. The concept evolved into a platform for property managers and retailers to acquire and retain tenants in addition to providing new and existing residents with a tool to help them discover and explore local retail establishments such as restaurants and shops. Kilemi talked to the Business Times about his company’s development:

What was your background prior to enrolling at Tepper? What did your co-founders do?

My background was in technology consulting and client development with Accenture. My two co-founders, Tajinder Singh and Sashenie Hayman, have strong backgrounds in system architecture and operations, having worked for EnerNoch and Oracle.

Why did you name the company CommunityVibe?

The company’s name was developed after hours of brainstorming for a name that captures our vision for how we will create value for our clients while nurturing the coexistence of property managers, retailers and residents on a single platform.

What sort of progress did your company make over the summer and fall?

Provided that our platform effectively engages the key parties within a community — namely residents, property managers and retailers — our market research has involved extensive testing and market validation with the aforementioned groups. Over the summer, our team was involved in interviewing property managers from Oakland, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill to learn about the challenges they face with tenant management. The team spoke to over 13 with a select few getting chosen to evaluate our Alpha product. We wrapped up the testing in October with strong validation of the direction our product should take. For this, we are undoubtedly grateful to property managers from Walnut Capital, Reinhold Residential, Regional Industrial Development Corp. and Amore Management Co. for providing us with the insight necessary to understand how we can make their jobs easier. Our team is also grateful for working with Sola Talabi of Oxbridge Development Corp. and Kenneth Fullwood for providing us with a varied perspective of how small landlords would interact with our application.

What’s the next step?

Evaluate the feasibility of engaging retailers and residents on the same platform. In order to do this, our team is in preparation to launch a closed beta, which we will be testing with select Shadyside and Oakland restaurants and bars.

How does CommunityVibe’s financing shape up?

We recently received funding from Idea Foundry to support the development of our products for launch in the next few months. We are excited to work with their team that has experience launching companies in our space.

What other organizations or entities does your company work with?

Through the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship, Art Boni and his team has ensured that the Tepper curriculum is tailored to help us develop our business while pursuing our graduate school degrees. Through Project Olympus, Kit Needham has continuously challenged us to reevaluate our business model while helping us build relationships with property managers and retailers in Pittsburgh.

What’s the biggest challenge ahead for CommunityVibe?

The biggest challenge for us has been balancing our limited resources to determine which business tasks we should pursue in order to launch our product in the shortest time possible. Nevertheless, this challenge has been a good one to have given that it has ensured that we are always critical of how we spend our time and money.

What sort of support is not currently available to you and other young entrepreneurs in this region that you believe would benefit you and your company most?

Our startup has been very fortunate to receive the community support needed to understand our market and develop our business in Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, it would be great if more events — such as the PGH Tech Meetup — are hosted in the area to provide entrepreneurs, investors and other technologists a chance to meet and connect on their experiences.


Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Friday, December 10, 2010

CMU's Green Design Institute Shares Green Tips for Harried Holiday Shoppers

If you eat less meat, buy local and consolidate your shopping trips, you may make it to the top of Santa's green gift list this season. But your ascent may not have that much of an impact on your environmental footprint.

Based on their work over the past 10 years, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Green Design Institute have compiled their own holiday checklist to see if consumers are "naughty or nice" when it comes to reducing the environmental impact of holiday shopping.

"Around this time of year, we routinely get asked questions about how best to protect the environment during the holiday rush, so we put together this suggested shopping advice," said Chris Hendrickson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon.

"For the average consumer, generally the two biggest sources of your environmental footprint come from your residence, and the kind of car your drive," said H. Scott Matthews, a CMU professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy. "For example, our previous work shows that about two-thirds of your carbon footprint comes from these two categories. So, if we are really trying to reduce your impact, those are the places that matter the most. And these are just two pieces amidst thousands of decisions that a household makes in a year."

The researchers found that there are relatively few holiday gifts that one could buy (or not buy) that have a significant effect on your "footprint" despite all the marketing messages saying otherwise.

The green holiday season and shopping tips include:

  • Buy and eat less red meat and dairy, since environmental impacts of both are larger than other foods.
  • Bike, walk or take a bus to the store. That activity lessens the carbon footprint of purchases by about 50 percent.
  • Shop in advance, buy multiple items at the same store or choose the slowest online delivery service since overnight transport increases transportation and fuel carbon footprints by 20 percent.
  • Recycle gift-wrap.
  • Buy replacement appliances, lights and cars that are energy efficient.

"If you have an artificial Christmas tree, use it as long a possible — the higher impacts of manufacturing it 'pay off' in environmental terms compared to a natural tree in about 10 years. Similarly, look for efficient lighting. Households use about 20 percent of their electricity on lighting. Energy efficient bulbs, including Christmas tree lights, are a great thing to buy," Matthews said.

Article Courtesy of PRNewswire


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Forget the JumboTron - Startup YinzCam Gives Fans Control Over Replays

Name: YinzCAM

Quick Pitch: Use YinzCAM apps to select camera angles and replays when you watch professional sporting events in-arena.

Genius Idea: When founder Priya Narasimhan moved to Pittsburgh in 2001, she quickly became an avid football and hockey fan. There was just one problem:

“There would always be a tall guy who would stand up in front of me who would cut off my view of the goal or the touchdown, and then the JumboTron guy decided how I should see the replay,” she says. “And I thought both things were unfair.”

Being associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, however, she was qualified to fix the problem. YinzCam, the academic project that Narasimhan launched as a business last year, allows fans at sporting events to control personal video feeds through their mobile devices. After they download the app, fans can select which camera view they would like to see (Narasimhan’s 4-year-old son, for instance, wants to keep track of the mascot at all times). They can also watch a replay of every play from any of the angles.

YinzCam debuted at the first home game of the Pittsburgh Penguins 2009 season. At the first game, about 10 fans tuned in. But by the last game, more than 55% of the pilot audience was using the app. The success has persuaded five other NFL and NHL teams to join in — including the Pittsburgh Steelers, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Washington Capitals.

It’s a manner of minimal investment for sports teams to install the system. There’s a flat fee for licensing the YinzCam software, but most stadiums already have multiple cameras and Wi-Fi that can be used to create the experience. Unlike some other in-stadium video experiences, fans carry in their own viewing devices — there’s no need for the stadium to purchase them.

In addition to the flat licensing fee, YinzCam also plans to collect a share of any of the advertising teams decide to sell on the app. Since the app is able to collect valuable information about the user, like which plays they tend to watch and even their favorite players, it’s likely that this will also develop into a formidable revenue source. Verizon, for instance, has decided to sponsor the Pittsburgh Penguins app this season.

The company hasn’t sought funding yet, but Narasimhan says that it might consider doing so when it’s ready to grow. Possibilities for expansion include improving the out-of-stadium viewing experience or applying technology to other aspects of the game.

Article Courtesy of Mashable / Startups


Monday, December 6, 2010

CMU to lead new center for climate and energy decision making

Uncertainty is a part of life. But a new center at Carnegie Mellon University will help consumers and industry better handle those doubts when it comes to issues involving global climate change and energy.

The Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making, funded by a five-year, $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will develop and implement strategies for protecting everything from fragile marine ecosystems to curbing dangerous carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation.

"We plan to develop new, innovative insights and methods to assist key stakeholders as they address important decisions involving climate change and the ongoing transformation of the world's critical energy systems," said Ines Lima Azevedo, the center's executive director and an assistant research professor in the university's Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP). "At the same time, we'll also be developing new theories and methods for supporting decision making under uncertainty."

The new center also will tap the expertise of principal investigator M. Granger Morgan, head of CMU's EPP Department, and several other Carnegie Mellon faculty as well as researchers from the following institutions: Duke University, Oxford, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, Woods Hole Institute, Penn State, the Vermont Law School, George Mason University and the Rand Corp in both Pittsburgh and Santa Monica, Calif.

"This new center will help educate graduate students interested in developing careers spanning the issues and areas of climate change, the environment and energy," said Morgan, who has spent more than a decade developing methods to describe scientific uncertainty and incorporate it into public policy decision-making.

Other plans for outreach include the development of a Teacher Professional Development Program for high school teachers, dubbed "Climate Science, Impacts and Decision Making."

Article Courtesy of Science News


Friday, December 3, 2010

Peering At The Future: Jesse Schell Speaks

Early this year, Jesse Schell burst onto the consciousness of the gaming public in a keynote speech about the gamification of reality at the DICE Summit. The developer and Carnegie Mellon University professor has long spoken about the transformative powers of game technology, but suddenly he became both celebrated and derided for his predictions.

Working as both an educator in CMU's Entertainment Technology Center and as the founder of his own studio, Schell Games, he sees the merging of the theoretical with the actual, as he prepares students for tomorrow while working on products today. Schell got his start in games working for Disney; his company, Schell Games, self-publishes titles as well as working with clients such as Bigpoint.

I want to rewind a little bit before we start talking about your keynote today...

JS: Okay.

...and talk about the reaction that generated from your DICE talk.

JS: Oh, yeah, sure, sure. That was unexpected.

Really?

JS: Yeah. I mean, well, so first of all, I didn't know they were going to... I mean, I talk all the time. It was the first time they ended up putting up one of my talks on the internet, and I didn't know they were going to do that. I was just thinking, "Oh, I'm going to talk to these two to three hundred people in the room," right?

You know, DICE is like high-end industry people. You don't want to screw up and do a bad talk there. So, I was incredibly honored I was asked to talk there. So, I'm like, "Oh, I better say something they're going to care about," right? So, I did focus on trying to make something that might inspire people's imagination, but I didn't expect a million views on the internet. That was not expected.

And a lot of discussion.

JS: Yes. I didn't think anyone would care so much. You know, I'm a college professor. I'm not used to people listening to what I say. And it was a topic that people just... it really sparked people's imaginations. Lots of opinions, etcetera, etcetera.

I think it polarized people to an extent, as well.

JS: Yeah. And it was probably designed to do that. I mean, I always find that when I give lectures, the most valuable thing I can do is to get people to think. And I tried to structure it in a way that would cause people to have internal contradictions that they would have to come down one way or another, and it did serve very well that way.

How do you see gamification? Since your talk, there's been a Gamification Summit that's happening soon, and GDC 2011 is covering it in more detail. It's still incipient, but...

JS: There are a lot of people looking at it in a foolish way. Anyone who thinks you can just treat people like little B.F. Skinner characters will be disappointed when they try and make it work, because mostly it doesn't work. What this all points to is how poorly we understand the nature to intrinsic motivation. It's like FarmVille succeeded and no one expected it because we're not good at understanding what intrinsically motivates people, you know what I mean?

Right.

JS: And so we're seeing all these people try stuff right now. A lot of people are acting like "Oh, it's easy. I've just got to put points and badges on things!" -- like it's gonna work. That's totally not the case, right? I mean, there are plenty of games out there that people hate.

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is people are assuming this whole broad area, it's like "Oh, this is all win over here," and really there's a couple narrow paths of win in some areas, and a lot of people are not finding them.

When you say the narrow paths, do you mean there's a narrow potential or that's just been what's uncovered so far?

JS: Okay, so again, there's two ways of looking at it. In terms of actually making every activity as a game, I think what will actually work, what people will put up with in the long run, is very narrow.

However, I think where the real win is when people start to analyze what is it about games that people like, and then to take those elements and weed those into what the experiences they're making in a natural way.

It may be that you've taken some thread that works out of games and woven it into your thing. Your thing has not become a game, maybe, but maybe you've given it an enhanced sense of progress, or an enhanced sense of feedback, or an enhanced sense of camaraderie, things that games do really well, and you're going to, you know, take one thread. I think that's where the real success is going to come from in this space.

And when you say "success," do you mean creative success or potentially even commercial success?

JS: Oh, yeah, creative and commercial success.

They go hand in hand, you think?

JS: They hang out a lot.

I think kind of what happened is that Xbox achievements hit and no one was really anticipating them.

JS: Including Microsoft.

And people didn't think that much further beyond that. This is a new thing and it works amazingly well, and...

JS: Right. They didn't think through the psychology of why they work, right? I mean, people who do Xbox Live are obviously competitive people, and where are they when they're on Xbox Live?

They're in a pool of all the other people who are into Xbox games. And so you have a situation where status, a social standing among competitive males in this pool, is going to matter a hell of a lot, and so suddenly that number becomes very meaningful. Does that mean it's going to work everywhere and for everything? No. No, it really doesn't.

Particularly, these guys are going in with an "I'm here to compete," and here's a competition thing. That doesn't mean it's going to work everywhere, but there are certainly some contexts where that kind of thing works.

Article Courtesy of Gamasutra


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NC State and CMU develop velocity-sensing shoe radar, aim to improve indoor GPS routing

The world at large owes a good bit to Maxwell Smart, you know. Granted, it's hard to directly link the faux shoe phone to the GPS-equipped kicks that are around today, but the lineage is certainly apparent. The only issue with GPS in your feet is how they react when you waltz indoors, which is to say, not at all. In the past, most routing apparatuses have used inertial measurement units (IMUs) to track motion, movement and distance once GPS reception is lost indoors, but those have proven poor at spotting the difference between a slow gait and an outright halt. Enter NC State and Carnegie Mellon University, who have worked in tandem in order to develop a prototype shoe radar that's specifically designed to sense velocity. Within the shoe, a radar is attached to a diminutive navigational computer that "tracks the distance between your heel and the ground; if that distance doesn't change within a given period of time, the navigation computer knows that your foot is stationary." Hard to say when Nike will start testing these out in the cleats worn by football players, but after last week's abomination of a spot (and subsequent botching of a review by one Ron Cherry) during the NC State - Maryland matchup, we're hoping it's sooner rather than later.

Article Courtesy of Engadget


Monday, November 29, 2010

The Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center Awards $250K to PA-Based Nanotechnology Companies

The Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center has awarded $250,000 in Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) funding to two Pennsylvania-based nanotechnology companies. The Center also released its latest Industry Impact Data detailing job, technology and patent creation, as well as funding levels.

The Center awarded $100,000 in AFRL funding to SolarPA Inc., to commercialize a nanocrystalline coating, “Nanocoat.” The nanocrystalline coating does the following: The nanocrystals in the coating bend the incoming sunlight minimizing reflection off the surface of the solar panels. It traps light inside the semiconductor materials and redirects incoming light so that rather than passing through the thin semiconductor material, it travels along its surface, increasing the chances it will be absorbed. The technology is inexpensive and is expected to lower the cost per watt of solar power.

“The grant from the Center will enable SolarPA to optimize the parameters for deposition of our nanomaterial solar coating at Lehigh University in order to enhance the performance of solar cells,” said Dr. Robert Castellano. “More importantly it gives SolarPA a unique opportunity of working with a solar cell manufacturer, Solar Power Industries, to evaluate and then incorporate our coating directly into the manufacturing process.”

The Center is also supporting Metalon – a Carnegie Mellon University start-up company – with $150,000 in AFRL funding.

Metalon’s mission is to provide chemical solutions to the nascent printed electronics market. Specifically, the company seeks to supply molecular inks comprised of novel metal complexes that can be printed as either solutions or neat liquids. These materials can then metalize, thermally or photo chemically, to form highly conductive traces and structures on a variety of substrates. This disruptive technology will further the field of printed electronics by providing low cost, printable and disposable devices across a wide spectrum of technologies.

“With this initial award from the Center, we have secured seed funding toward product development and commercialization, as well as access to the expertise and resources of the center,” said Dr. John Belot, Metalon President. “This is the first critical step in demonstrating functional products and successful business growth.”

“The Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center is pleased to announce this latest funding round,” said Dr. Alan Brown, Executive Director of the Center. “We believe this funding will help both Metalon and SolarPA commercialize their technologies and take their businesses to a new level.”

Creating Economic Impact for PA
Since 2007, the Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center has provided seed grants to 15 companies to support 19 early stage prototype development projects using nanotechnology and three pre-commercialization projects with universities. The total public investment has been $4,191,582, which has been matched by the recipient companies in the amount of $2,994,388.

Using a survey process developed by the Center’s funding partner, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the recipient companies have reported the following economic impact from this investment:

• Jobs created and retained: 115
• Leveraged investment by companies due to the Center’s funding: $43,219,000
• New patents filed: 17
• New technologies developed: 20

In addition, through its workshops, webinars, proposal feedback and one-on-one assistance, the Center has helped 310 Pennsylvania companies obtain funding, form partnerships and provide access to novel nanotechnologies emerging from Pennsylvania universities.

Article Courtesy of eTEQ


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

CMU's Jonathan Malen works to improve critical technologies for transportation systems

Jonathan Malen's work could lead to the creation of more precise thermal management devices critical to the cooling of sensitive electronic components in aircraft and other transportation systems. The work by the Carnegie Mellon University professor of mechanical engineering, funded with a new three-year, $360,000 grant from the U.S. Air Force, also may improve technologies related to energy conversion, thermal management and high-resolution imaging.

"I am elated to receive this award which will help me to continue my basic research into how the vibrational properties of small organic molecules can redefine thermal management and strategies," Malen said.

Malen proposes that like optics filtering colors of light, thin layers of small molecules sandwiched between solids may filter vibrations that carry heat across the interface. This may enable users to control the spectrum of vibrations in matter allowing more precise thermal management devices like those so critical in cooling sensitive electronic components in aircraft and other transportation systems.

Through the Air Force's Young Investigator Program, engineers nationwide are recognized for their exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research. Malen and 42 other researchers received research grants that totaled more than $16 million from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. More than 200 investigators applied for the research grants.

"This is a wonderful honor for such an innovative and hardworking researcher. We are extremely proud of his accomplishments so far and are certain that this award will lead to many additional breakthroughs in the future," said Nadine Aubry, head of Carnegie Mellon's Mechanical Engineering Department.

Before joining Carnegie Mellon in 2009, Malen was a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. He earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2000, and a master's degree in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Article Courtesy of EurekAlert


Monday, November 22, 2010

Deeplocal shares successes with students as a part of the ‘Amazing Alums’ panel event

“Deeplocal, Inc. wants to establish a culture that creates good ideas,” said Nathan Martin, the CEO of Deeplocal, as he explained that his company’s goal is to create a compelling user experience. Martin graduated from the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University in 1999.

Deeplocal Inc. is a Pittsburgh-based company comprised of artists, designers, and engineers who work together to form collaborations through different mediums. The members take pride in the fact that it is a self-start-up company, as it gives them the freedom to be more creative and actually take part in what they are designing rather than working at a large-scale company. At Deeplocal the artists, designers, and engineers are each connected to every part of the process from start to finish.

Roxy Viray, a fifth-year architecture student, commented, “Their Waffle Wednesdays are a great opportunity to connect with Deeplocal employees and other Pittsburgh innovators to discuss current events [and] new ideas and eat — the waffles were delicious. I was able to talk with a local artist and exchange advice about her installation and my studio project.”

Deeplocal’s process of creating this unique experience is through its use of Gutter Technology. This was a focal point of the discussion as Martin took the audience through many of Deeplocal’s projects.

Deeplocal does not like to complicate orders; instead, the company puts emphasis on solving client’s orders as quickly and efficiently as possible, starting with building a prototype.

When building this way, the team purposefully does not use the newest technology. Rather, the designers look to produce the prototype using the most basic technology and then build their way up.

According to Deeplocal’s official website, www.deeplocal.com, the company is rooted in creating unique and innovative products. “Deeplocal’s culture reflects our roots in the punk rock and art scenes. Our time is split between working with world-class brands, turning our own ideas into products and contributing to the greater arts community. Our client list includes brands like Nike, Volkswagen, GigaPan.org, Carnegie Mellon University, and numerous transit agencies across the country.”

Deeplocal has created many interesting and interactive advertisements. For example, when collaborating with Nike Livestrong, the company built a machine that would chalk messages on the road. People could send in a message and the machine would print it along the ground while a picture of the printed message would be sent back to the sender.

“I found out about Deeplocal during the Tour de France last year when their Nike Chalkbot was featured on TV,” said Judy Podraza, a fifth-year architecture student.

“I am proud that CMU alumni are coming up with new, innovative and non-traditional ways of connecting with people through things like text messages that get transformed into chalk messages seen by many. Deeplocal’s designs push the limits of art combined with technology and link the digital with the physical world,” Podraza further commented.

Another interactive advertisement was at the United States versus England soccer game on the opening day of the 2010 World Cup. Fans from both the United States and England could send each other trash-talking messages through soccer balls that were printed with their messages and shot out of a billboard in the other’s country.

Deeplocal inspires innovation by challenging its staff into thinking and problem-solving creatively.

Article Courtesy of The Tartan


Thursday, November 18, 2010

CMU crew works with high-tech 'toy'

Oberon rises from beneath the stage and Puck drops through an abstract tree trunk to meet him, both in fluid motion, and Puck announces, "My mistress with a monster is in love."

It's a rehearsal for the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and when you think CMU, you're apt to think actors, like Daniel Weschler's Oberon and Ben Ferguson's Puck, or singers, composers, directors ... but this is, after all, a school that once was called Carnegie Tech, so training students in behind-the-scenes, state-of-the-art technology is a natural fit.

That's where that up and down comes into play.

For about 18 months and now three productions, the technology known as the Navigator has been employed in a CMU production, this time to traverse the dreamscape of Shakespeare's comedy.

"Navigator is a technical program that helps move people, scenery and machinery around the stage," explains Peter Cooke, head of the CMU School of Drama. "The reason we introduced it is it's in use everywhere, on Broadway, Cirque du Soleil, big theatrical productions, and we thought it was very valuable for our students to learn this technology ... and we're one of the few schools to have this sophisticated level of technology in the automation on stage."

"You can write your own rules with it," explained Kevin Hines, assistant teaching professor of production technology and management.

He said the next phase for CMU is getting equipment to build its own version of Navigator, a skill set with obvious real-world applications for students.

Mr. Hines and third-year MFA candidate James Southworth led the way down beneath the stage to the unassuming Navigator, a computer tower interfaced with a laptop, set alongside small monitors that show the programmer what's happening onstage.

"It's at least a generation ahead of all the competing technologies in that the front end of this software is capable of translating three-dimensional motion of scenery into what that scenery actually has to do. ... You write a cue into the computer and the cue would repeat itself flawlessy each time."

Mr. Southworth was like a kid in a candy store with this equipment, explaining how he created a chandelier of about 40 pounds and played with moving it in an enclosed space, stopping it on a dime in any direction. When it was suggested that this technology could be employed with the cameras that hover over the field during NFL games, Mr. Southworth scoffed at the thought.

"Give me something hard to do," he said.

The CMU production of "Midsummer" features a modern set designed by Anne Mundell, associate professor of scene design, and music by MFA candidate Erik Lawson.

Don Wadsworth, professor of voice and speech, directs the play Nov. 18 through 20 and Nov. 30 through Dec. 4.

"We're two days from an audience, so we're just about there," Mr. Wadsworth said on Tuesday. He's eager for reaction from a filled CMU's Philip Chosky Theatre because he's done a few trims to Shakepeare's work to emphasize the dream sequence.

"We didn't mangle him too much; I did cut repetitive things. The whole idea of this concept is that it's a dream and so I didn't want to put an intermission in the middle of a dream ... so we cut it down to 100 minutes."

He compared the Navigator's capability to "spectacular movie effects." Before a system like this, realizing a director's or a designer's vision would require the building of a practical set. Now, a 3D model can be translated and transported digitally for scrutiny.

"Anything that've seen that can be moved in the theater can be moved with this equipment," Mr. Hines said. "They conceive it; we achieve it."

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jibbigo named top travel app by Travel & Leisure, staggering potential

Everyone's talking about Jibbigo, the born in Pittsburgh voice translation app for Apple products that's breaking the language barrier and generating an international buzz.

The company behind it, Mobile Technologies, is at the center of some high profile media attention. Jibbigo was named the top travel app by Travel and Leisure magazine; Reuters and the Science Channel gave it a thumbs up. BBC has been calling and the MT team was in San Francisco this month for the filming of a segment for Nova, which will air on PBS Feb. 9.

"The makers of Jibbigo have arguably made the smartest app in the app store," says Chief Operating Officer Matt Harbaugh, who left Innovation Works as CIO in October to put his entrepreneurial expertise behind the rapidly rising app star. "The size of the potential market is staggering, well over $1 billion."

The technology, 20 years in the making, was created at the International Center for Advanced Communication Technologies (interACT) by Carnegie Mellon's Alex Waibel, a recognized leader in the field. The company was officially founded last fall.

Jibbigo is currently a $25 download that gives users access to a 40,000 word vocabulary in one of five languages: English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Iraqi. New languages are on their way. Unlike other translation apps on the market, Jibbigo doesn't require an Internet connection.

The goal for now is to spread the word to consumers that the technology exists, says Harbaugh. You can travel to a foreign language and communicate instantly with people. How big will it be? Think business travelers, tourists the world over. "The market we will be able to address is enormous."

In addition to Murraysville, the company has offices in Karlsruhe, Germany, and Mountain View, CA. Plans call for strong growth and future hiring in Pittsburgh in sales, marketing, and business development, finance and operations.

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gigapan photos create a broad, new vision of Pittsburgh

Glass-walled skyscrapers that hold vertical hydroponic farms built to feed urban populations may sound futuristic, but Dickson Despommier thinks we may be seeing real ones within a year.

The idea, which came out of a project the Columbia University professor initiated with his students, was discussed recently on the public radio program "Living on Earth" (www.loe.org). Professor Despommier said Qatar, China and India are countries very interested in developing such methods of food production, and may move to do so soon.

Loopy or visionary? Time will tell.

But without vision and imagination, cultures become stagnant.

Pittsburgh has its own visionary in David Bear, a fellow at the Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University. The studio is an idea incubator, where artists, philosophers, scientists, computer engineers and others mingle as comfortably as poker players at a hunting cabin.

Mr. Bear is best known as the initiator of the High Point Park project, his investigation of new uses for the rooftop of the U.S. Steel Tower, Downtown, begun after he learned that it is the largest, highest space on top of any building on Earth. The one-acre site was conceived as a heliport but hasn't been used for that purpose in 18 years.

He proposes an environmentally innovative, publicly accessible urban park with unequalled views that could become a tourism destination and a symbol of Pittsburgh much as St. Louis' Gateway Arch is. Its features could contribute to the international dialogue over issues as varied as expanding populations, environmental stewardship and livable cities.

"New Perspectives of Pittsburgh: Interactive Urban Panoramas" is an extension of Mr. Bear's vision. This exhibition of large-scale prints of 20 Gigapan images at the Photo Forum space in the upper lobby of the U.S. Steel Tower is the first exhibition of printed Gigapans devoted to a single topic and the first centered around a theme.

It also has an interactive component: On-site computer kiosks allow visitors to navigate the digital images much like a Mapquest map. One visitor was able to pinpoint his Lawrenceville family home, for example, by closing down the visual miles between it and Downtown.

"It really does change perspectives," Mr. Bear said, and thus the exhibition title. The technology provides "the ability for catching a city in repose in a way that hasn't happened before."

Central is a 42-inch by 20-foot print of the first "Pittsburgh Gigapanorama," conceived by Mr. Bear and taken from the building roof on Oct. 19, 2009. Images from each side of the roof were stitched together to make it.

"No one had seen this view before this was made," Mr. Bear said of the 360-degree city panorama, aligned into a horizontal plane, that begins and ends with the new Consol Energy Center, at the image's far right in juxtaposition with the Civic Arena it has replaced.

While photographs capture the moment, the Civic Arena is a reminder that that moment is continually in flux. Two of the show's images are surprising because they are of Pittsburgh past, unexpected as the product of cutting-edge technology. "Oakland 1897" and "Downtown about 1929" were made from historic photographs in the collection of the Archives Service Center, the University Library, University of Pittsburgh.

Others show familiar Pittsburgh scenes -- "The Point From Mount Washington," "CMU and Oakland from the Cathedral of Learning," "Fireworks Over the Point" -- but with heretofore unregistered breadth, intensity and opportunity for exploration.

Steve Renich's surreal "Heinz Chapel & the Cathedral of Learning," in which the tops of local architectural landmarks broach an empty sky from opposite sides of the frame, is a look through the doorway of alternate aesthetic possibilities.

The exhibition is particularly appropriate in this, the 40th anniversary of the innovative building that debuted the use of Cor-ten steel in its external girdering system. Included on the walls are images and text reproduced from the booklet that accompanied the August 1970 opening of the Harrison, Abramovitz & Abbe-designed U.S. Steel corporate headquarters, billed as "a building of the 21st century" with such amenities as "moving stairways."

The October 2009 shoot was a rehearsal for the more publicized Gigapan taken Sept. 23 that will be exhibited at U. S. Steel Tower in early 2011. "No other city in the U.S. is doing this kind of project," Mr. Bear said.

As a longtime travel writer and former travel editor of the Post-Gazette, he has cosmopolitan knowledge of what makes a place special. Mr. Bear also wants to spread the word of what a great city Pittsburgh is. From a vantage point 841 feet above the street, his reach for the stars will travel a little closer.

The exhibition continues through Sunday at 600 Grant St. and is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. today through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free but bring photo identification to show at the security desk upon entry. To explore further, visit www.gigapanorama.org.


More Gigapans

Eight additional Gigapans may be seen at Carnegie Museum of Natural History through Dec. 31. They're the winners of a juried exhibition that was part of last weekend's first Fine International Conference on Gigapixel Imaging held at Carnegie Mellon University.

The aim of the conference was to encourage exploration of the Gigapan for application in the classroom, field and laboratory. The competition drew international submissions from staff of educational institutions and nonprofit organizations, and includes Saudi Arabian petroglyphs, a school of Salema fish aggregated into a ball to escape predators, and a tiny barnacle on a crab shell taken through a scanning electron microscope.

Among the larger works, a 23- by 31/2-foot image of the Janos Biosphere Reserve in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, shows a vast expanse of agave plants, rock and sky. A 17-by 31/2-foot landscape of Cape Crozier, in the Antarctic, features an Adelie penguin colony.

You can view and zoom in on the images on gigapan.org (click here for direct link)

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Organ network uses Carnegie Mellon algorithm to match live kidney donors with recipients

A computer algorithm developed at Carnegie Mellon University matched living kidney donors with medically compatible transplant candidates late last month as the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), operated by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), began a national pilot program to increase the number of kidney paired-donation (KPD) transplants.

The initial run of the computer matching process included just 43 kidney transplant candidates and 45 potential living donors, but a national KPD pool eventually could include as many as 10,000 donor-recipient pairs.

Each pair includes a potential donor who is not medically compatible with his or her original intended recipient, or is less than an optimal match. In the matching process, the computer looks for new combinations between the pairs based on compatible blood and tissue types. For example, in a two-way exchange, the donor from one pair is matched with a compatible recipient from a second pair, while the donor from the second pair is matched with the recipient from the first pair. In the initial run, three-way exchanges also were calculated.

Establishing a national pool could boost kidney transplants because the chances of finding compatible matches increase as the size of the exchange pool grows.

Smaller, existing kidney exchanges, which take these incompatible donor-recipient pairs and match them with other donor-recipient pairs, already have boosted the number of KPD transplants. In the last three years, exchanges have enabled more than 700 kidney transplants that otherwise would not have occurred. Two of those exchanges have used the Carnegie Mellon computer algorithm to match pairs.

"A unified nationwide exchange can yield significantly better solutions than multiple separate exchanges, and it is extremely rewarding that after we have worked on this for six years, the nationwide program is now live," said Tuomas Sandholm, a Carnegie Mellon professor of computer science who has led the development of computer algorithms for optimizing match runs.

The pilot program's initial computer run on Oct. 27 successfully matched seven people who need kidney transplants with medically compatible individuals who agreed to donate a kidney. Two of the seven candidates were highly sensitized because of previous exposure to donor antigens, which can make it particularly difficult to find donors with compatible tissue types.

"We are grateful both for Dr. Sandholm's expert consulting in developing our national pilot program and for the use of Carnegie Mellon's algorithm," said OPTN/UNOS President Charles Alexander. "These contributions have helped us develop the program more quickly and at significantly lower cost than we could have achieved otherwise, so we can focus on saving and enhancing lives through kidney paired-donation."

The need to increase the efficiency of kidney exchanges is compelling. The demand for donor organs — more than 86,000 people are now on the kidney waiting list — far exceeds supply. Last year, 28,463 people received kidney transplants, with 6,609 of those kidneys coming from living donors.

Examining all of the possible combinations of two- and three-way exchanges between the donor-recipient pairs is a massive computational task. The first algorithm that could solve this problem optimally on a nationwide scale — a projected 10,000 pairs in the pool — was developed in 2006 by Sandholm, Computer Science Professor Avrim Blum and then-graduate student David J. Abraham. The algorithm has since been further refined by Sandholm and Ph.D. students Pranjal Awasthi, Erik Zawadzki and John Dickerson.

The optimization problem places a huge demand on computer memory, Sandholm explained. Therefore, the algorithm never writes down the entire problem in the computer's memory. It nevertheless finds an optimal solution by formulating into memory only those parts of the problem that turn out to be relevant.

In the pilot phase of the nationwide program, 77 living kidney donor transplant programs are participating. Each is affiliated with one of four coordinating centers — the University of Toledo's Alliance for Paired Donation, Johns Hopkins Hospital, New England Program for Kidney Exchange and the UCLA Medical Center/California Pacific Medical Center.

Computerized matching will be performed every four to five weeks with information on potential living donors and candidates supplied by participating transplant programs. Each transplant program must document that potential donors have completed a rigorous medical screening and evaluation process, and that they have provided detailed informed consent for donation and for potential participation in a national match run.

"In the future, kidney exchanges could be made even better by using our newest generation of algorithms that consider not only the current problem but also anticipate donors and patients who might later join the system," Sandholm said. "It can sometimes be best to wait on some of the transplants so that more or better transplants can be found as new pairs enter the system. Our new algorithms figure that out automatically using statistical properties of the blood- and tissue-type distribution of the population to generate possible sequences of additional pairs joining."

Article Courtesy of EurekAlert


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pittsburgh's Bossa Nova Robotics battles for space on retailers' toy shelves

Prime-8 made the big time. The yellow-and-black robotic gorilla from Oakland had his picture in the 80-page Toys R Us "Great Big Christmas Book" distributed nationally in late October.

There he is (on sale for $69.99) on Page 59, between two Prehistoric Pets -- a Terrodactyl interactive dinosaur (on sale for $29.99) and a Cruncher interactive dinosaur (on sale for $89.99) -- and a radio-controlled Fast Lane wild fire monster truck (on sale for $79.99).

His sweet sibling, a fuzzy robotic penguin named Penbo, didn't make the book but, hey, there are different routes onto children's Christmas lists.

And if any toy wants to get under the tree this year, now is the moment to be out there flipping or purring or doing whatever it is that makes that toy special.

"This is really the busiest time of the year," said Ellen Wang, who leads sales and marketing for Bossa Nova Robotics, a Carnegie Mellon spinoff formed five years ago to commercialize robotic technologies.

A full third of the millions of shoppers who head to stores on the day after Thanksgiving buy toys, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, a number of organizations are predicting holiday spending overall could rise, but most believe that consumers will spend carefully. A survey by research firm NPD Group found 32 percent of shoppers plan to buys toys as gifts this year, down from 34 percent in 2009.

Into that less-than-playful environment, Prime-8 and Penbo are going up against lines such as Barbie, Hot Wheels, Squinkies, Zoobies, Legos, Imaginext and Sing-a-ma-jigs! Pretty scary stuff.

Still, they've made it this far and that was quite a process.

The toys could have been sold in U.S. retail markets last year but Bossa Nova, new to the industry, didn't have its timing quite right. "If you don't have your product ready by a certain time, you miss a whole year," explained Ms. Wang, who works out of the company's California office and joined the 20-employee business last year.

Pitching new products to retailers typically starts at the Toy Industry Association's Fall Toy Preview gathering in Dallas. The event, held in October, often determines which toys will be ordered by buyers for holiday sales -- a year later.

Bossa Nova wasn't quite ready to deliver by the deadlines set by major U.S. stores for the 2009 holiday season -- "I think we missed by a week," said Ms. Wang -- although Penbo and Prime-8 were available online at Amazon.com. Instead, "Our first year was predominantly focused on the European market."

That wasn't such as bad thing. The toys were sold in Scandanavia, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. A wholesaler in Italy ordered 46,000 units. At the wholesaler's suggestion, Bossa Nova altered Penbo, which is designed in Oakland and made in China. "We actually changed the fabric into a plush fabric so it's softer," said Ms. Wang.

A television commercial shown in Europe did well and, after being tested with U.S. focus group, the same commercial is now running on American cable networks such as Nickleodeon and Cartoon Network.

It also didn't hurt the company to have sales data to share with U.S. buyers when it went to the Dallas gathering in late 2009. Penbo (U.S. suggested retail, $59.99), in particular, did well despite being a relatively expensive toy in the midst of an economic downturn, Ms. Wang said.

Bossa Nova unveiled new branding in time for the Texas show -- the toys are now part of the iloveRobots brand -- and new packaging that uses consistent coloring across the line. "Really, to be successful, we are not selling product," she said. "We are selling experiences, we are selling a brand."

That brand can be found this year in Toys R Us, RadioShack and Target stores, as well as online. The line includes the new Blazor raging raptor (suggested retail price, $39.99) and Bebe, the tiny baby penguin that fits inside an egg that Penbo lays. There's also a mini version of Prime-8.

If the Dallas show is all about closed booths and secretive discussions with buyers, then the annual American International Toy Fair in New York City in February is about generating as much buzz as possible with media and industry. By then, Ms. Wang said, it's too late for competitors to copy products in time for the holiday season.

At the 2010 show, she was thrilled when a Fox News reporter started a piece in front of the iloveRobots booth. There are also videos of Penbo and Prime-8 in action on YouTube.com.

A Target spokesperson said the company sources from many places, including emerging vendors who show new items at toy fairs. "We look for what our guests would expect to find in a toy -- is it fun, new and different, and is there an interesting play pattern that makes it stand out from other toys?" said Tara Schlosser. She said Target offers Penbo "based on its innovative product features and relative value to other robotic offerings."

At the chain's Ross store last week, two neatly boxed blue Penbos sat on the bottom shelf in aisle E13 in the toy section, right next to also interactive dinosaur Cruncher. Cruncher was harder to miss because he had a special display platform that allowed shoppers to see him move and come when he was called. A couple of rows over, a dancing Mickey Mouse had a similar display and the sales associate said he was sold out.

Bossa Nova didn't release sales figures, so it's hard to tell how its line is doing. Ms. Wang said the toys arrived in Toys R Us in August, Target in September and RadioShack in October. The company is watching point-of-sale data and she said sales started to lift after the TV commercials began appearing the last week of October.

The toys also have gotten some good reviews. TimetoPlaymag.com, which put Prime-8 and Penbo in its list of top 20 tech toys, said there have been similar products to Penbo in the past but it's well-designed. "At the end of the day, however, it's about the play, and girls will love the interaction they have with Penbo -- and moms and dads will think it's pretty cool, too."

Prime-8 got a pat on his hard plastic back, too. "At nearly $80, this is an investment toy, but you're paying for some outstanding technology and it's definitely worth it for kids who are into tech and robots."

Some reviewers on Amazon.com raved about the toys. A few reported their particular child stopped playing with them pretty quickly. "If you have a child like mine (likes to figure things out and then move on) your money may be better spent elsewhere for something less expensive. However, if your child sticks with toys for a while, you can't go wrong," wrote Steve "droptiks" in June.

Ms. Wang said one of the biggest challenges for pricier items is convincing parents the toys are worth the expense. As the mother of a 4-year-old, she said she thinks carefully about investing in play things that exceed the $30 level and expects other consumers do, too.

Bossa Nova's research and development team in its Oakland offices is working to expand the company's offerings in ways that may take its products into bigger places such as Wal-Mart and even into specialty toy retailers. Each retail customer has its own needs.

Ms. Wang said Wal-Mart buyers loved Penbo a year ago but they were concerned about the price point, especially in the tough economy. Bossa Nova pitched the retailer again this October but doesn't know yet if it will make the Wal-Mart toy list next year.

But that's next year. For now, they've got plenty to do to make it through this holiday season and see how well their plans work out. One thing about being a relative rookie: "We're learning all the time."

To see Prime-8 and Penbo on YouTube.com: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fe7GxO_YsXg and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tt4odad9p8c.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Carnegie Speech Co. Raises $1M in Debt Offering

According to an SEC filing, Carnegie Speech Company Inc. raised $1.03 million of a targeted $1.10 million in a debt offering.

In September the company raised $75,000 for debt, while a year before it took in $2.2 million in equity funding, as reported by citybizlist.

Carnegie Speech Company develops software for assessing and teaching spoken language skills, drawing upon speech recognition and artificial intelligence technologies licensed from Carnegie Mellon University. The company's products are used by business, aviation, government, education and health care enterprises.

Named in the filing were Dr. Jaime Carbonell, chairman and founder; Angela Kennedy, president & CEO; Robert Turner, chief operating officer; Dr. Maxine Eskenazi, vice president, chief technology officer and founder; John Lucke, vice president, marketing; Gary Pelton, vice president, product development; Melanie M. Shivetts, vice president, finance and operations; and directors Chuck Dietrick, Birchmere Ventures; Dr. Edgar C. Harrell, Harrell Partners, LLC; Nathanael V. Lentz, Osage Partners; and Loretta McCarthy, McCarthy Group LLC and Golden Seeds.

On its website Carnegie Speech lists as investors the following: InQTel, Osage Ventures ,Golden Seeds Active Angel Investors, Mid-Atlantic Angel Group, Lore Associates, Innovation Works, Carnegie Mellon Angel Investor Forum, North Texas Angel Network, and Wisconsin Investment Partners.

Dr. Carbonell is Carnegie Mellon University's Chaired Allen Newell Professor of Computer Science and Director of Carnegie Mellon's Language Technologies Institute (LTI). His previous business ventures include the creation, IPO and sale of the Carnegie Group, Inc., a software-consulting corporation. He also previously served as an advisor to Lycos and currently serves on advisory boards of Vivisimo, Meaningful Machines, 3Ksoft USA, and Dynamix.

Angela Kennedy founded WISDOM Technologies Corporation and served as its President and CEO. She also had sales and marketing experience with IBM and software development management experience with the Lead Artificial Intelligence Group at Westinghouse Electric Corporation.

Article Courtesy of Citybizlist


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pittsburgh's Bossa Nova Robotics battles for space on retailers' toy shelves

Prime-8 made the big time. The yellow-and-black robotic gorilla from Oakland had his picture in the 80-page Toys R Us "Great Big Christmas Book" distributed nationally in late October.

There he is (on sale for $69.99) on Page 59, between two Prehistoric Pets -- a Terrodactyl interactive dinosaur (on sale for $29.99) and a Cruncher interactive dinosaur (on sale for $89.99) -- and a radio-controlled Fast Lane wild fire monster truck (on sale for $79.99).

His sweet sibling, a fuzzy robotic penguin named Penbo, didn't make the book but, hey, there are different routes onto children's Christmas lists.

And if any toy wants to get under the tree this year, now is the moment to be out there flipping or purring or doing whatever it is that makes that toy special.

"This is really the busiest time of the year," said Ellen Wang, who leads sales and marketing for Bossa Nova Robotics, a Carnegie Mellon spinoff formed five years ago to commercialize robotic technologies.

A full third of the millions of shoppers who head to stores on the day after Thanksgiving buy toys, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, a number of organizations are predicting holiday spending overall could rise, but most believe that consumers will spend carefully. A survey by research firm NPD Group found 32 percent of shoppers plan to buys toys as gifts this year, down from 34 percent in 2009.

Into that less-than-playful environment, Prime-8 and Penbo are going up against lines such as Barbie, Hot Wheels, Squinkies, Zoobies, Legos, Imaginext and Sing-a-ma-jigs! Pretty scary stuff.

Still, they've made it this far and that was quite a process.

The toys could have been sold in U.S. retail markets last year but Bossa Nova, new to the industry, didn't have its timing quite right. "If you don't have your product ready by a certain time, you miss a whole year," explained Ms. Wang, who works out of the company's California office and joined the 20-employee business last year.

Pitching new products to retailers typically starts at the Toy Industry Association's Fall Toy Preview gathering in Dallas. The event, held in October, often determines which toys will be ordered by buyers for holiday sales -- a year later.

Bossa Nova wasn't quite ready to deliver by the deadlines set by major U.S. stores for the 2009 holiday season -- "I think we missed by a week," said Ms. Wang -- although Penbo and Prime-8 were available online at Amazon.com. Instead, "Our first year was predominantly focused on the European market."

That wasn't such as bad thing. The toys were sold in Scandanavia, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. A wholesaler in Italy ordered 46,000 units. At the wholesaler's suggestion, Bossa Nova altered Penbo, which is designed in Oakland and made in China. "We actually changed the fabric into a plush fabric so it's softer," said Ms. Wang.

A television commercial shown in Europe did well and, after being tested with U.S. focus group, the same commercial is now running on American cable networks such as Nickleodeon and Cartoon Network.

It also didn't hurt the company to have sales data to share with U.S. buyers when it went to the Dallas gathering in late 2009. Penbo (U.S. suggested retail, $59.99), in particular, did well despite being a relatively expensive toy in the midst of an economic downturn, Ms. Wang said.

Bossa Nova unveiled new branding in time for the Texas show -- the toys are now part of the iloveRobots brand -- and new packaging that uses consistent coloring across the line. "Really, to be successful, we are not selling product," she said. "We are selling experiences, we are selling a brand."

That brand can be found this year in Toys R Us, RadioShack and Target stores, as well as online. The line includes the new Blazor raging raptor (suggested retail price, $39.99) and Bebe, the tiny baby penguin that fits inside an egg that Penbo lays. There's also a mini version of Prime-8.

If the Dallas show is all about closed booths and secretive discussions with buyers, then the annual American International Toy Fair in New York City in February is about generating as much buzz as possible with media and industry. By then, Ms. Wang said, it's too late for competitors to copy products in time for the holiday season.

At the 2010 show, she was thrilled when a Fox News reporter started a piece in front of the iloveRobots booth. There are also videos of Penbo and Prime-8 in action on YouTube.com.

A Target spokesperson said the company sources from many places, including emerging vendors who show new items at toy fairs. "We look for what our guests would expect to find in a toy -- is it fun, new and different, and is there an interesting play pattern that makes it stand out from other toys?" said Tara Schlosser. She said Target offers Penbo "based on its innovative product features and relative value to other robotic offerings."

At the chain's Ross store last week, two neatly boxed blue Penbos sat on the bottom shelf in aisle E13 in the toy section, right next to also interactive dinosaur Cruncher. Cruncher was harder to miss because he had a special display platform that allowed shoppers to see him move and come when he was called. A couple of rows over, a dancing Mickey Mouse had a similar display and the sales associate said he was sold out.

Bossa Nova didn't release sales figures, so it's hard to tell how its line is doing. Ms. Wang said the toys arrived in Toys R Us in August, Target in September and RadioShack in October. The company is watching point-of-sale data and she said sales started to lift after the TV commercials began appearing the last week of October.

The toys also have gotten some good reviews. TimetoPlaymag.com, which put Prime-8 and Penbo in its list of top 20 tech toys, said there have been similar products to Penbo in the past but it's well-designed. "At the end of the day, however, it's about the play, and girls will love the interaction they have with Penbo -- and moms and dads will think it's pretty cool, too."

Prime-8 got a pat on his hard plastic back, too. "At nearly $80, this is an investment toy, but you're paying for some outstanding technology and it's definitely worth it for kids who are into tech and robots."

Some reviewers on Amazon.com raved about the toys. A few reported their particular child stopped playing with them pretty quickly. "If you have a child like mine (likes to figure things out and then move on) your money may be better spent elsewhere for something less expensive. However, if your child sticks with toys for a while, you can't go wrong," wrote Steve "droptiks" in June.

Ms. Wang said one of the biggest challenges for pricier items is convincing parents the toys are worth the expense. As the mother of a 4-year-old, she said she thinks carefully about investing in play things that exceed the $30 level and expects other consumers do, too.

Bossa Nova's research and development team in its Oakland offices is working to expand the company's offerings in ways that may take its products into bigger places such as Wal-Mart and even into specialty toy retailers. Each retail customer has its own needs.

Ms. Wang said Wal-Mart buyers loved Penbo a year ago but they were concerned about the price point, especially in the tough economy. Bossa Nova pitched the retailer again this October but doesn't know yet if it will make the Wal-Mart toy list next year.

But that's next year. For now, they've got plenty to do to make it through this holiday season and see how well their plans work out. One thing about being a relative rookie: "We're learning all the time."

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Saturday, November 13, 2010

CMU, incubator land $1M

A partnership between Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business and local startup incubator Innovation Works has won a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The prize will be used over the next two years to increase the organizations' efforts to commercialize university research and nurture local startups.

The private-public partnership is part of the first class of recipients of the i6 Challenge grant from the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration.

The two organizations have worked for years to incubate young companies and keep technology firms in the region. But the prize represents a more close-knit relationship between the private university and Innovation Works, a nonprofit venture-capital firm primarily funded through state money.

Some of the i6 prize will go toward hosting workshops and activities for students and faculty interested in moving to the commercial space, said Art Boni, the director of the entrepreneurship program at the Tepper School.

The i6 Challenge named six winners in September who had the best plans on developing technology commercialization. The CMU and Innovation Works partnership won in the Philadelphia region category.

The competitive nature of the process mirrors the Race to the Top program that has states vying for educational funding and is part of the Commerce Department's new "export-oriented, innovation-driven" priorities, said Brian McGowan, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of commerce for economic development.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Qatar Foundation for Education Annual Research Forum

"Computer science is a vital and lucrative industry in today's increasingly computerized world," said Dr. Ahmed Elmagarmid, Executive Director of the Qatar Computing Research Institute, who will be speaking and leading a session on the topic at the forum. "Today, there are over 300,000 job openings in the field of computer science, 50,000 in healthcare IT alone. Job security in computing will only get better as we rely more and more on data and technology."

Dr. Elmagarmid further explains, "Computing plays a pervasive and persistent part in our daily lives touching nearly everything we do - from providing efficiencies in our daily routines to facilitating how we communicate with one another to helping us solve both simple and complex problems. As a society we have become accustomed to, and dependent on, the next best faster user experience. This satisfaction more often than not comes from the research and work of a computer scientist."

The State of Qatar has launched a number of initiatives to encourage youth training and education in computing as an integral component of its national vision to cultivate a knowledge-based society. Qatar Foundation recently established the Qatar Computing Research Institute, which will focus on core computing research including developing human language technologies, Arabic language search engines, searching with images and voice, data mining and management, and computer enabled scientific discovery allowing biologists to carry out experiments inside the computer for example.

The research done at QCRI will be multidisciplinary, promising to benefit many key industries in Qatar - from biomedicine to energy and environment to the arts.

"By showcasing the exciting research initiatives that are ongoing in Qatar, we intend the Annual Research Forum to ultimately drive more of the country's young people into scientific careers and study, particularly in the field of computing," Dr. Elmagarmid added.

Computing research will serve as one of the four main research "tracks" during the forum, which will run from December 12 to 13 in the Sheraton Hotel Doha and will be open to the public. These "tracks"—which also include biomedical, energy and environment, and humanities, arts, social sciences and Islamic studies research—compose the four core areas of research being featured at the forum through presentations, workshops and parallel sessions led by field experts.

Dr. Elmagarmid, one of Qatar's major supporters for computing innovation and development and a leader in the efforts to reverse "brain drain" from the country, will be leading a workshop on developing robust IT infrastructure at the forum covering such areas as networking, cloud computing, visualization and storage. The workshop will feature prominent figures in Qatar's technology sector including Meeza, QF Information Technology, Texas A&M University at Qatar and Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar.

One of the world's premier institutions for computer science research and education, Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science in Qatar is another major player in Qatar's efforts to develop the population's computing skills.

Dr. Majd Sakr, Assistant Dean for Research at Carnegie Mellon Qatar who will also be speaking at the December forum, commented, "Since establishing our campus in Education City in 2004, Carnegie Mellon's mission has been to educate and to nurture young minds in Qatar. We have brought our expertise in computing and computer science to help drive Qatar's vision to become a leader in technology innovation and research."

Computing is a vital field, one that continues to give the world benefits, says Dr. Sakr. "Computing makes lives safer - helps improve healthcare, transportation, even food security. Computer research invents the future, making discoveries in the next computing technology that impacts various fields."

"At Carnegie Mellon Qatar, we recognize the importance of computing and research. Our educators are also researchers. With this level of experience, the depths at which we educate young minds go further than just identifying problems - the students have the capacity to understand the problem and develop solutions. Not only do we take this approach in the classroom with our student body, but we are embedded in the community with our high school computing and programming outreach programs where we implement the same learning concepts focusing on projects where the impact is relevant to Qatar. We educate students to focus on problems of regional relevance and to develop solutions with worldwide impact," Dr. Sakr concluded.

The Annual Research Forum is dedicated to achieving higher standards of science and research, and is aimed at establishing Qatar as a research powerhouse in the Gulf and wider region. The forum will highlight leading research efforts in the country, and is Qatar Foundation's most recent undertaking in fostering science and research innovation.

Article Courtesy of AMEInfo


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Carnegie Learning, Inc. Co-Founder Awarded Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science

The Franklin Institute this week presented the 2011 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science to John R. Anderson, PhD, for the development of the first large-scale theory of the process by which humans perceive, learn and reason, and its application to computer tutoring systems. Anderson is a co-founder of Carnegie Learning, Inc. and his Adaptive Control of Thought (ACT) theory is the psychological model that is the foundation of the company’s Cognitive Tutor® software.

The 186-year-old Franklin Awards are among the most prestigious in their fields. Past winners include Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, Marie and Pierre Curie, and Jane Goodall.

Anderson, the R. K. Mellon University Professor of Psychology and Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, created ACT-based computer tutoring systems that used interactive techniques to teach math and computer programming. Early trials of the Cognitive Tutor® proved that students using the software learned the material much faster and attained better grades than other students limited to traditional textbook methods. Carnegie Learning, Inc. was formed in 1999 to develop and market K12 math education curricula based on this approach to learning.

“John Anderson’s work introduced a previously unreached level of detail and specificity to the application of cognitive science to education,” said Dr. Steve Ritter, chief scientist at Carnegie learning, Inc., and a former student of Dr. Anderson’s. “What distinguishes John’s work is its remarkable impact on the field of education. His theory and ongoing research are changing the way we teach math by providing a much deeper understanding of how to effectively differentiate and individualize instruction.”

Currently, over 1000 school districts and more than 500,000 students each year learn math using Cognitive Tutor® software. Carnegie Learning® Math programs are adopted in 15 states and are implemented in school reform and improvement programs in Miami-Dade, Chicago Public Schools, and the Recovery School District, among many others. Carnegie Learning is an approved School Improvement Partner in the states of Michigan, West Virginia, and Hawaii.

Article Courtesy of Business Wire


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Carnegie Mellon University puts tech rig into infrastructure

Patrick Lazik likes to play practical jokes on his parents from time to time.

From Oakland, the Carnegie Mellon University graduate student can click a button on a computer screen and turn on the hot tub in his parents' home in Munich. Or turn off lights in their living room. Or draw their blinds.

"They freak out when I do that," said Lazik, 23, who studies electrical and computer engineering. A video link allows him to see their reaction.

The technology that makes Lazik's gags possible, integrated with a computer program allowing him to monitor energy use in his parents' home in real time, is no joke. It's part of the wide-ranging research that will drive CMU's Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator, opening early next year.

The program, being developed with $2.2 million in state and private money, will look for technological answers to America's infrastructure problems.

"When you talk about infrastructure, you're talking about everything," said Ed Schlesinger, incubator co-director and head of CMU's electrical and computer engineering department. It includes traditional systems -- such as roads, bridges, railroad tracks, pipes, power grids and buildings -- and what he called "cyber-infrastructure," or the computers, networks and sensors increasingly used to run, inspect and maintain them.

"Many parts of the (traditional) U.S. infrastructure are deteriorating, but we don't have the trillions of dollars" needed to build, rebuild or run them, said James Garrett, an incubator co-director and head of CMU's civil and electrical engineering department. More efficient, cost-effective approaches provided by next-generation technology are needed, he said.

Officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking on campus Wednesday. Researchers showed off some works in progress: from devices aimed at better pinpointing leaks and cracks in pipelines and weak spots in bridges to ones that would reduce energy use in homes and businesses. An electric car shuttled people around campus.

CMU will remake existing space into homes for two research areas, both about 1,500 square feet and named for primary corporate sponsors. The Bombardier Smart Infrastructure Collaboration Center, named after the aerospace and transportation company with operations in West Mifflin, will be in Hammerschlag Hall; the IBM Smart Infrastructure Laboratory will be in Porter Hall.

Work is under way.

Joel Harley and Yujie Ying, both doctoral students, showed technology designed to better monitor pipelines. More than 250,000 miles of transmission pipelines and 1 million miles of distribution lines are in the United States. Instead of probing them inch by inch to hunt for cracks and leaks, technology would enable companies to run ultrasonic waves between two sensors spaced far apart.

"It's still several years before this will be used in practice, but it will save time and money," Harley said.

Anthony Rowe, assistant research professor of electrical and computer engineering, showed energy-use readings collected by some of the 1,500 meters on CMU's campus. The goal is to use sensors to reduce energy use automatically in campus buildings, based on their needs and level of use at a given time.

"We are building the faith with the facilities management department," Rowe said.

Paul E. Rybski, a CMU systems scientist, thinks sensor technology will save lives and money. A university-developed driverless sport utility vehicle has traveled up to 60 miles, using 16 sensors to guide its way. He thinks such technology will guide light-rail vehicles without rails, eliminating costly maintenance, and serve as "robot chauffeurs" for regular people.

"I am so looking forward to the day when I can set the full cruise control in my car, take my hands off the wheel and go cross country without having to drive," said Rybski, 37. "I think it will happen in my lifetime."

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

DARPA chooses Carnegie Mellon to develop autonomous capability for 'flying car'

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a 17-month, $988,000 contract to Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute to develop an autonomous flight system for the Transformer (TX) Program, which is exploring the feasibility of a military ground vehicle that could transform into a vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) air vehicle.

The TX vehicle envisioned by DARPA would be capable of transporting four people and 1,000 pounds of payload up to 250 nautical miles, either by land or by air. Its enhanced mobility would increase survivability by making movements less predictable and would make the vehicle suitable for a wide variety of missions, such as scouting, resupply and medical evacuation.

"The TX is all about flexibility of movement and key to that concept is the idea that the vehicle could be operated by a soldier without pilot training," said Sanjiv Singh, CMU research professor of robotics. "In practical terms, that means the vehicle will need to be able to fly itself, or to fly with only minimal input from the operator. And this means that the vehicle has to be continuously aware of its environment and be able to automatically react in response to what it perceives."

Carnegie Mellon has a long history of leadership in autonomous navigation. That includes the self-driving SUV called Boss, the winning entry in DARPA's Urban Challenge robot road race in 2007, and DepthX, an autonomous NASA submarine that explored the world's deepest sinkhole, also in 2007. Singh applied expertise in robotic perception and planning to demonstrate a fully autonomous helicopter flying in between wires, trees and buildings in DARPA's Organic Air Vehicle II (OAV2) Program and, working with Piasecki Aircraft earlier this year, demonstrated that a full-size helicopter could avoid low altitude obstacles, select a landing site and land without human input.

Carnegie Mellon is one of six contractors DARPA has chosen for the TX program. The focus of CMU's program will be on situational awareness, collision avoidance and intuitive control. Honeywell Laboratories, which worked with Carnegie Mellon in the OAV2 program, is a subcontractor to Carnegie Mellon and will work on the human factors issues associated with the program.

AAI Corp. and Lockheed Martin Co. were selected by DARPA to develop overall design concepts for the transforming vehicle during the first phase of the TX program. Pratt &Whitney Rocketdyne, which is developing engine technology, and Carnegie Mellon were selected as "critical enabling technology" vendors.

Article Courtesy of EurekAlert


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

World's first gigapixel research conference held at Carnegie Mellon this week

"A miniature time machine," is how Illah Nourbakhsh describes just one of the many cutting-edge showcases in first ever Fine International Conference on Gigapixel Imaging for Science at Carnegie Mellon University this week.

The gigapixel gives a whole new structure to a photograph. Where a normal camera records images in megapixels, gigapixels contain billions of pixels that expand the structure of a picture down to the smallest detail.

The conference is attracting researchers from around the world who will explore the use of gigapan in the classroom, field and laboratory. It's the first event of its kind and Pittsburgh is savvy enough to be on the forefront of it. The implications for science are unprecedented, giving them an opportunity to view cells close-up, even catalog entire collections of information such as insects.

Three exciting keynote speakers will share their thoughts on this new technology; Mark Bauman, executive vice president of National Geographic Television, Alan Eustace, Google's senior vice president and Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center.

The aforementioned "time machine" is called the Time Lapse, and is what has Nourbakhsh most excited.

"We would take gigapixel panoramas every five minutes for a year or more, enabling us to go back and forth or roll back time for a particular place," says Nourbakhsh.

Also featured will be full-sized galleries of panoramas to be judged by artists and others, which will be displayed for the public at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History until January.

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Taking in the Crowd

So there you are, taking in the ballgame and surrounding ambience after scoring some once-in-a-lifetime tickets to see the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

Maybe you’re skipping work or maybe you’re skipping out on your wife’s dinner plans with her parents — you really don’t like her parents anyway — after saying you had to work.

And you pulled it off. No one suspected a thing … until …

Major League Baseball, through the modern miracle of the GigaPan, recently posted panoramic crowd shots from all rounds of the playoffs. The high-resolution images show nearly the entire crowd at each game. The big picture is made from piecing together a whole bunch o’ smaller crowd shots, and any-ol’-body can log on, find themselves or [ahem] others in the sea of humanity, and tag them on Facebook.

There goes the alibi.

Seriously, though, it’s an awesome power when used for the forces of good. The boss-man here said he found himself during the American League Championship Series.

Not hard, though, I’d imagine, with that big-a… huge-heinie bald head of his. [hehe] Just kidding around, there, boss [hehe], you strike a dashing figure.

Article Courtesy of NBC Universal

View image here


Thursday, November 4, 2010

CMU's Bone Tissue Engineering Center Receives Defense Department Research Grant to Help Injured Soldiers

Carnegie Mellon University's Bone Tissue Engineering Center is working to help soldiers who have lost limbs in combat.

CMU's Jeffrey O. Hollinger, director of the center, and Professor Krzysztof Matyjaszewski have received a three-year, $2.9 million U.S. Department of Defense research grant to develop a therapy that would aid amputees, specifically wounded soldiers. The therapy aims to prevent bone nodules from forming in the muscle at the site of amputation, a painful condition that makes it difficult for amputees to wear limb prostheses.

"This grant will help us prevent heterotopic ossification at the amputation stumps in military troops wounded in combat. Our work is critical as amputations increase with the current surge in Afghanistan," Hollinger said.

Amputations among wounded soldiers increased more than 60 percent, from 47 in 2009 to 77 through Sept. 23 of this year, according to U.S. Army reports. The chief causes of amputations are injuries from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that are planted in the ground or along roads.

When a limb is amputated, whether by surgical means or as the result of a violent injury, bone can begin to form in the body's soft tissue through a process called heterotopic ossification. Through the new grant, Hollinger and Matyjaszewski, the J.C. Warner Professor of Natural Sciences at CMU's Mellon College of Science, will develop new tools that will help prevent the growth of these painful bone formations in the muscles of amputees. The bone formations can make it difficult for amputees to wear limb prostheses.

"We are developing novel nano-structured polymers that will place selective biological cues at the stump site to block the bone formation cascade in the soldier's traumatized muscle," said Hollinger, who also is director of the Craniofacial Program, one of five programs funded under the Rutgers-led consortium in the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine. Hollinger's program is researching therapies to help heal combat injuries to the face and jaw.

Matyjaszewski, renowned for developing a method that allows for nanoscale control over the polymers formation, said the ability to control and block mineralization and bone formation opens up many compelling opportunities for increased research. Heterotopic ossification can occur in a number of situations other than amputation, most commonly after joint replacement surgery.

The new research grant also will support two research staffers, three full-time Ph.D. students and one post-doctoral fellow.

Article Courtesy of PRNewswire


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cyber Smart Kids

With countless Internet threats in cyberspace, it’s hard enough for adults to avoid dangers online, and possibly even harder for tech-savvy, yet curious kids. Now computer scientists have designed a game that teaches kids cyber security in a language that they can understand.

Spyware, Spam, Pop-Ups, Malware. Do your kids know how to avoid them? At Carnegie Mellon University's Information Networking Institute, computer scientists have developed an online game for kids to show them how to be safe in cyber space.

“We want to promote safe computing with children before they’ve had the opportunity to develop risky behavior or bad habits,” Dena Haritos Tsamitis, a director at Carnegie Mellon University told Ivanhoe.

MySecureCyberspace is an interactive computer game. Players travel through the cyber academy-learning safety tips along the way.

“For each mission, there’s a faculty member who will instruct them about the important parts of the game," Haritos said.

Kids can transport their online characters into cyberspace where they see cyber threats first-hand, like a computer virus or a Trojan horse, that sneaks into your files. Saint Bede's Parochial School in Pittsburgh downloaded the MySecureCyberspace game. Students use the program as part of their computer science education.

“It did tell you how to create a strong password. Not one that hackers can hack easily," 6th grader, Sean said.

“Getting emails that have Spam, and if they have Spam you should never open them and read them," 6th grader, Andrew Klabnik said.

Educators say learning safety in a game format is very effective, especially for this age group.

“They’re so used to playing games on the game boys and all of the other hand held items that they have IPods, and everything they respond to that stimulus," Mary Drummond, Principal at Bede's Parochial School explained.

Article Courtesy of Ivanhoe Newswire


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cognizant Launches Center for Future of Work at Carnegie Mellon

Cognizant (Nasdaq: CTSH), a leading provider of consulting, technology, and business process outsourcing services, and Carnegie Mellon University today announced the launch of the Center for the Future of Work, an interdisciplinary research center that has been established at Carnegie Mellon's H. John Heinz III College. Funded with an initial seed gift from Cognizant, the research will focus on technological and social systems that will enable next-generation organizations, with a focus on virtualized or distributed work environments.

The Center for the Future of Work will draw on university-wide, interdisciplinary research capabilities to study the interaction between physical and virtual work spaces that will enable major breakthroughs in the design of work processes and environments for network-enabled organizations of the future. The objective is to create a rich understanding of the interactions among present and emerging technologies, incentives that support knowledge creation and sharing in physical and virtual workplaces, and individual and group behaviors to create evidence-based guidelines for best practices and optimum workplace design.

"We are witnessing a great transformation in the way people and organizations work. Broadband, mobility, and social computing technologies have brought rich new experiences to our personal lives, and increasingly to our workplace as well. And the millennial generation has created new expectations for collaboration and personal engagement that will further enrich the work experience. Carnegie Mellon's strong history of cross-disciplinary collaborations brings together world-renowned faculty whose research interests are well aligned with the creation of work environments in the 21st century," said Francisco D'Souza, President and CEO of Cognizant and a member of the Board of Trustees of Carnegie Mellon.

"Cognizant is an ideal corporate partner in this pursuit because of its desire to innovate and lead its industry in providing integrated solutions and next-generation work systems and environments for a highly diverse global client base. Cognizant itself embodies the collaborative and virtual organization of the future. An example is the company's Cognizant 2.0 knowledge-sharing platform, which will be made available to our research teams," said Ramayya Krishnan, Director of the Future of Work Center and Dean of Heinz College.

The Center will leverage the strengths of Carnegie Mellon's iLab, which is home to campus-wide interdisciplinary research on IT-enabled societal scale phenomena. The Center will engage faculty leaders and their graduate students from a diverse array of disciplines including information systems, organization science, machine learning, human computer interaction, operations research, and computer science.

Following a call for proposals, the Center for the Future of Work has selected eight research projects that will receive immediate funding. Faculty and students from five schools—the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Institute of Technology, the School of Design at the College of Fine Arts, Heinz College, and the Tepper School of Business—will research topics such as collaboration and communication, knowledge management and knowledge transfer in distributed environments, content development through crowd sourcing, and the tools, incentives, technologies, and methodologies needed to meet the challenges and opportunities facing knowledge-based organizations.

In addition, the Center will also select a small set of proposals to fund as faculty probes to try "riskier" ideas or to engage key faculty around the university. The Center will make use of the global and distributed nature of Carnegie Mellon's programs as test beds for future of work ideas.

Article Courtesy of PRNewswire


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kauffman Foundation Recognizes Carnegie Mellon as National Leader in Commercialization Efforts; Grant to Project Olympus Will Create Grad Student Fellowship

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (http://www.kauffman.org/) today recognized Carnegie Mellon University for its creative approaches to helping students and faculty move their innovations from the laboratory to the marketplace by awarding a $100,000 grant to the university's Project Olympus (http://www.olympus.cs.cmu.edu/) for a program to train a select group of student entrepreneurs.

The Project Olympus Commercialization Fellows Program will create a cadre of students who will graduate with the skills necessary to turn their research ideas into commercial products or services. Olympus staff will provide fellows with structured business guidance, incubator space, and connections and visibility through Olympus' networks and events. Fellows will take entrepreneurially oriented courses during their fellowship year on topics including venture capital, business planning and business law.

The Kauffman Foundation today designated three universities - Carnegie Mellon, the University of Missouri System and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - as "Kauffman Commercialization Leaders."

"These universities exhibit a strong commitment to bringing the innovations developed on campuses into the commercial marketplace, which benefits society and ultimately enhances economic growth," said Carl J. Schramm, Kauffman Foundation president and CEO. "We are very pleased to recognize and support their efforts."

"This recognition of Project Olympus is well deserved and serves as another example of Carnegie Mellon's success in bringing innovation to the marketplace," said Carnegie Mellon Vice President of Research Rick McCullough. "Carnegie Mellon is a leader in developing successful spin-out companies, with more then 200 companies created in the past 15 years. We thank the Kaufmann Foundation for their generous grant to assist the next generation of entrepreneurs."

Since 2007, Carnegie Mellon ranks first among all U.S. universities without a medical school in the number of start-up companies created per research dollar spent, based on a report by the Association of University Technology Managers.

The Kauffman Foundation, dedicated to growing economies by advancing entrepreneurship and innovation, developed this new award as a way to shine a spotlight on universities that have developed new models to accelerate the commercialization of technologies developed at the university level.

Since 2007, Carnegie Mellon's Project Olympus has provided start-up advice, micro-grants and incubator space for students and faculty who want to explore the commercial potential of their research ideas, and has helped them make connections with local, regional and national financial resources. Under the direction of Computer Science Professor Lenore Blum (http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~lblum), the project is building an infrastructure and developing an entrepreneurial culture that will enable these new businesses to grow in the Pittsburgh region. To date, 38 companies have been formed with Olympus help, including reCAPTCHA Inc. (http://www.cmu.edu/news/archive/2009/September/sept16_recaptcha.shtml), which was acquired last year by Google, and another, Dynamics Inc., that has received major venture capital funding and was featured recently in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/22/your-money/credit-and-debit-cards/22cards.html?_r=1&emc=eta1).

"We are excited to be spotlighted by the Kauffman Foundation for our work bridging the gap between university research and economy-stimulating commercialization," Blum said. "It is a great honor to be recognized by the premier organization promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. The new program made possible by this gift will give some of our brightest students the know-how to turn their ideas into products and services that will benefit many people."

For more information on Project Olympus, visit its website at http://www.olympus.cs.cmu.edu/ and follow Olympus on Twitter @projectolympus. Project Olympus is part of Carnegie Mellon's top-ranked School of Computer Science, www.cs.cmu.edu.

Article Courtesy of AScribe


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Carnegie Mellon researchers break speed barrier in solving important class of linear systems

Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have devised an innovative and elegantly concise algorithm that can efficiently solve systems of linear equations that are critical to such important computer applications as image processing, logistics and scheduling problems, and recommendation systems.

The theoretical breakthrough by Professor Gary Miller, Systems Scientist Ioannis Koutis and Ph.D. student Richard Peng, all of Carnegie Mellon's Computer Science Department, has enormous practical potential. Linear systems are widely used to model real-world systems, such as transportation, energy, telecommunications and manufacturing that often may include millions, if not billions, of equations and variables.

Solving these linear systems can be time consuming on even the fastest computers and is an enduring computational problem that mathematicians have sweated for 2,000 years. The Carnegie Mellon team's new algorithm employs powerful new tools from graph theory, randomized algorithms and linear algebra that make stunning increases in speed possible.

The algorithm, which applies to an important class of problems known as symmetric diagonally dominant (SDD) systems, is so efficient that it may soon be possible for a desktop workstation to solve systems with a billion variables in just a few seconds.

The work will be presented at the annual IEEE Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science (FOCS 2010), Oct. 23-36 in Las Vegas.

A myriad of new applications have emerged in recent years for SDD systems. Recommendation systems, such as the one used by Netflix to suggest movies to customers, use SDD systems to compare the preferences of an individual to those of millions of other customers. In image processing, SDD systems are used to segment images into component pieces, such as earth, sky and objects like buildings, trees and people. "Denoising" images to bring out lettering and other details that otherwise might appear as a blur also make use of SDD systems.

A large class of logistics, scheduling and optimization problems can be formulated as maximum-flow problems, or "max flow," which calculate the maximum amount of materials, data packets or vehicles that can move through a network, be it a supply chain, a telecommunications network or a highway system. The current theoretically best max flow algorithm uses, at its core, an SDD solver.

SDD systems also are widely used in engineering, such as for computing heat flow in materials or the vibrational modes of objects with complex shapes, in machine learning, and in computer graphics and simulations.

"In our work at Microsoft on digital imaging, we use a variety of fast techniques for solving problems such as denoising, image blending and segmentation," said Richard Szeliski, leader of the Interactive Visual Media Group at Microsoft Research. "The fast SDD solvers developed by Koutis, Miller and Peng represent a real breakthrough in this domain, and I expect them to have a major impact on the work that we do."

Finding methods to quickly and accurately solve simultaneous equations is an age-old mathematical problem. A classic algorithm for solving linear systems, dubbed Gaussian elimination in modern times, was first published by Chinese mathematicians 2,000 years ago.

"The fact that you can couch the world in linear algebra is super powerful," Miller said. "But once you do that, you have to solve these linear systems and that's often not easy."

A number of SDD solvers have been developed, but they tend not to work across the broad class of SDD problems and are prone to failures. The randomized algorithm developed by Miller, Koutis and Peng, however, applies across the spectrum of SDD systems.

The team's approach to solving SDD systems is to first solve a simplified system that can be done rapidly and serve as a "preconditioner" to guide iterative steps to an ultimate solution. To construct the preconditioner, the team uses new ideas from spectral graph theory, such as spanning tree and random sampling.

The result is a significant decrease in computer run times. The Gaussian elimination algorithm runs in time proportional to s3, where s is the size of the SDD system as measured by the number of terms in the system, even when s is not much bigger the number of variables. The new algorithm, by comparison, has a run time of s[log(s)]2. That means, if s = 1 million, that the new algorithm run time would be about a billion times faster than Gaussian elimination.

Other algorithms are better than Gaussian elimination, such as one developed in 2006 by Daniel Spielman of Yale University and Miller's former student, Shang-Hua Teng of the University of Southern California, which runs in s[log(s)]25. But none promise the same speed as the one developed by the Carnegie Mellon team.

"The new linear system solver of Koutis, Miller and Peng is wonderful both for its speed and its simplicity," said Spielman, a professor of applied mathematics and computer science at Yale. "There is no other algorithm that runs at even close to this speed. In fact, it's impossible to design an algorithm that will be too much faster."

Article Courtesy of EurekAlert


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Universities receive grants to study climate change decisions

The National Science Foundation recently awarded nearly $5 million to four university-based centers whose research focuses on understanding decision making within the context of climate change and other long-term environmental risks.

The awards bring together scholars from many different fields, such as decision science, psychology, economics, geography, atmospheric science, engineering, mathematics and computer science, to identify effective ways to make decisions when both the nature of the problems and the potential impacts of responses are uncertain.

"These centers are taking a novel approach to environmental decision making," said Cheryl Eavey, a program director in NSF's Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SBE) and one of three co-managers of the awards. "Together, they are examining problems in coordinated ways that have not been undertaken in the past, and they are actively working with practitioners and stakeholders to facilitate the use of basic knowledge in practical ways."

These awards were supported by SBE through its Decision Making Under Uncertainty (DMUU) funding opportunity. Comparable levels of support are expected to be provided for the following four years to enable these teams to conduct longer-range, integrated research, education, and outreach activities.

"The DMUU research teams are examining many questions regarding how people and organizations understand climate change and other long-term environmental risks and how those understandings influence their plans to react to changing environmental conditions," said co-manager Thomas Baerwald, senior science advisor in NSF's Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences. "In addition to understanding the varied approaches that are used for different kinds of problems, a special challenge is to understand how effective decisions can be made across a number of environmental policy issues when long-term outcomes are uncertain."

Carnegie-Mellon University, $1,200,006
Title: Center on Climate Decision Making

This distributed interdisciplinary collaborative group will combine knowledge and research methods from behavioral and decision sciences, engineering, and natural science to assist individuals, corporations, governments, and the international community to better address many of the difficult climate decisions they now face. The group's researchers, who are associated with about 10 different organizations, will address a range of topics including decisions about reducing emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy system, decisions related to adapting to the impacts of climate change, issues that arise as a result of interactions between reducing emissions and adapting to change, and dealing with unexpectedly rapid or large changes or impacts.

Article Courtesy of Science News


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Credit Cards Soon to Get a Makeover

The simple credit card is about to get a makeover.

Next month, Citibank will begin testing a card that has two buttons and tiny lights that allow users to choose at the register whether they want to pay with rewards points or credit, at most any merchant they please.

Other card issuers are testing more newfangled cards, including some that can double as credit and debit cards, and cards with fraud protections baked right into the plastic. One, for instance, shows a portion of the account number only after the cardholder enters a PIN.

The microscopic engine powering the plastic will help breathe new life into a 1950s-era technology — the black magnetic stripe found on the back of the 1.8 billion credit and debit cards circulating in the United States. Much of the world has already moved to using more advanced cards, like the ones in Europe that require a PIN and use a chip instead of a magnetic strip.

Even with the innovations, no one knows how long plastic cards will reign. They may eventually be rendered obsolete by technologies that will transform consumers’ cellphones into virtual wallets, and a large number of companies, including Visa, MasterCard and Apple, are developing these. But several card analysts say it will probably take a while before any one technology standard becomes available across all phones and merchants.

In the meantime, banks are hedging their bets. Citi’s cards — known as 2G, for second generation — are no thicker and just as flexible as conventional plastic, but they contain a battery with a four-year life, an embedded chip and, of course, the buttons, which took nearly a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop.

“It’s a big deal,” said Megan Bramlette, director of research for the Auriemma Consulting Group, a payments industry consultant in New York. “If once a month a consumer can fill up their gas tank for free, and they don’t have to do anything except push a button before they swipe their card, that’s cool. And that is something that I think will resonate with consumers.”

Dynamics Inc., the company that developed the minicomputers-in-a-card, said that it had more cards in the works and that its bank partners would introduce its electronic cards on their own schedules.

Citi’s cards will be tested by a select group of cardholders beginning in November, though some Citi employees have been testing the cards since May. The pilot program will expand as Citi incorporates user feedback. The bank plans to make the cards available on a broader scale in mid to late 2011.

The 2G card will be offered on two of Citi’s existing rewards cards, including the Citi Dividend Platinum Select MasterCard, whose holders earn 1 percent cash back on all purchases and 2 percent on categories that change seasonally, as well as the Citi PremierPass Elite, whose holders generally earn one point for every dollar spent and mile flown.

To pay with points, users press the request-rewards button before swiping the card; the button marked regular credit allows a straight credit transaction.

Pressing the buttons changes the data imprinted on the magnetic stripe, so it still works like conventional plastic and can be swiped through existing card terminals nationwide. At least for now, cardholders need to know how many points they have, and if they don’t have enough, the transaction will be processed using credit.

“We’ve developed a proprietary technology that will allow Citi to do the conversion when the transaction comes through,” said Terry O’Neil, executive vice president of Citi Cards. “All they need to do is push that request-rewards button and we take care of everything else for them. They leave the store with the merchandise they selected.”

The cards are going to be most valuable to bigger spenders. The average cardholder spends about $6,300 a year, according to The Nilson Report, and, on a typical rewards card, users may earn one point for each dollar spent. At one penny a point, that translates into about $63 in annual rewards. Still, that is enough for a free cup or two of coffee each month.

Citi may yet change its rewards equation or decide that redeeming points at certain locations will yield better returns. “What we want is to get feedback directly from the customers, which will influence how we will roll the cards out,” Mr. O’Neil said. “We want to dig a little deeper on what the right redemption model is.”

American Express recently made its Membership Rewards points redeemable at Amazon.com, though they are not worth much: one point is equal to seven-tenths of penny that can be spent at the online retailer.

“Creating greater flexibility on how you redeem rewards points has been percolating in the industry for two or three years now,” said David Robertson, publisher of The Nilson Report, an industry newsletter. “The novelty of being first to market is a plus for Citi. But I anticipate that other issuers will have the technology as well.”

The technology that makes the new Citi card possible was created by Jeffrey D. Mullen, the 32-year-old chief executive of Dynamics, an electrical engineer and former patent lawyer who started the company in 2007 while he was working on his master’s degree in business at Carnegie Mellon. Months after he graduated, he secured $5.7 million in venture capital financing from Adams Capital Management. (Citi initially declined to issue him one of the electronic cards he had created, because he had used his entire credit line to start the company. He ultimately received one.)

“We are just scratching the surface with what these cards can do with these initial products,” said Mr. Mullen, whose innovation won business plan competitions, as well as $1 million in free advertising at a recent technology conference. “We are trying to be the innovation arm of an industry that has never had one. With this card, which is the baby-step card, you need to acclimate the consumer.”

Another Dynamics card would allow cardholders to have multiple accounts on one card, like a corporate and personal card. The company introduced another card this week, which he said would reduce fraud associated with “skimming,” when thieves steal your account number using a small scanner, but not your physical card.

All the cards, which are being produced by laptop and cellphone manufacturers, were tested by robots to make sure they would hold up for thousands of swipes. They can also withstand the washing machine. Clearly, they cost more to develop than conventional plastic; Mr. Mullen declined to provide specifics. Citi said it had not yet determined whether customers would be required to pay for the cards once officially introduced.

“The U.S. is the last bastion of the magnetic-stripe technology and shows no near-term desire to switch to chip technology,” said Mr. Robertson of The Nilson Report. “So what Dynamics is doing is extending the life of the mag stripe by adding a number of features that you find on chip cards.”

Article Courtesy of NYTimes


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CMU firm advances in moon rover contest

In the international race to become the first private venture to put a robotic rover on the moon, Carnegie Mellon University spin-off company Astrobotic Technology Inc. just got a big boost.

NASA has named Astrobotic one of six American companies eligible for up to $10.1 million in grant money if it successfully lands what it has dubbed Red Rover on the moon and can send back valuable data about its mission and how its novel technology has worked.

All six companies -- and at least three of five other companies that applied for the grant but did not get it -- are also competing in the Google-sponsored Lunar X PRIZE that could award up to $30 million to the first team to get its rover on the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to Earth.

Winning the grant is more important than just getting some of NASA's money.

"This is concrete proof that NASA will buy data from this mission," Astrobotic's president David Gump said. "We'll take that and use it to get more investment."

NASA's grants -- while relatively small compared to the $100-million-plus costs of the various ventures' budgets -- act as perhaps the best sign to the business community yet that the technology being developed for the competition is worth investing in, said William Pomerantz, senior director for space prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation, which runs the competition for Google.

"It sends exactly the right signals, not only to the teams, but to the investment community," Mr. Pomerantz said. Investors "were waiting for a clear signal that NASA was interested in what our teams were doing."

Google, which sponsored a $10 million contest that led to a manned craft to fly onto the edge of space in 2004, announced the competition in 2007 as one of "the grand challenges of our time that we can use to move people forward."

The NASA grant announcement also comes with good timing.

When it first announced the competition in September 2007, Google set Dec. 31, 2012, as the cut-off date to win the maximum $30 million prize, with less money won if the recipient launched and succeeded in its mission on the moon after that date.

But "the economy tanked right after we made our announcement," Mr. Pomerantz said, and the teams have had a hard time raising funds. Lunar X is in the process of moving its deadline date back a year, to Dec. 31, 2013.

Astrobotic has declared that it would launch by April 2013, "and we think we're in the lead with that," Mr. Gump said.

But at least one other team -- Synergy Moon of California -- said it will go earlier.

Synergy Moon spokeswoman Randa Milliron said her company will launch by December 2012. The team had applied for the NASA grant, too, but Ms. Milliron said it was no great loss to not get it.

"Everybody likes money and the prestige attached to it," she said. "So in the public eye it's probably good to be attached to NASA. But it's no guarantee of success."

Carnegie Mellon was one of the first to announce the formation of a team that came to include Astrobotic, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Aerojet, Scaled Composites, International Rectifier, Harmonic Drive LLC, and Caterpillar Inc.

There are 22 teams -- 10 of them based in the United States -- competing for the Lunar X PRIZE competition. A 23rd team could be added soon, with several more added before registration ends at the end of the year, Mr. Pomerantz said.

Mr. Gump said Astrobotic will need $70 million to $100 million to get its Red Rover launched -- via a Falcon 9 rocket -- and operating on the moon, and it still needs $5 million to $25 million of new investment to make it possible.

He expects two-thirds of the cost to come from corporate sponsors and customers, who could take advantage of an additional 220 pounds of payload capacity to launch other scientific equipment.

The other third of the cost should come from investors, he said.

But because only $1.1 million of the NASA grant could be won before the project's launch -- the rest is based on results once the rover is up and running on the moon -- the bulk of the grant won't help pay for the project, Mr. Gump said, but will help with bills or profit later.

Robert Kelso, commercial lunar programs manager for NASA, said the space agency was eager to weigh in on the Lunar X competition, though the grant was open to anyone.

"NASA does see value in this and we're willing to put up millions of dollars to support it," he said.

All six teams that were chosen for the grant by NASA will compete at each of four stages in the race to get on the moon, and provide data from each, which NASA will then judge which is most valuable for its ongoing research.

Among the data that NASA will pay the teams for is how to land at a precise location, how to avoid obstacles like boulders and craters and how the robot rover survives the lunar night.

Though some worried that this was NASA's way of picking who it thought would be winners and losers in the Lunar X competition, Mr. Kelso said that wasn't the goal for one basic reason.

"Who's to say one or the other won't be successful?" he said. "We're just enjoying the competition and will sit back and see what happens."

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

High Battery Cost Curbs Electric Cars

The push to get electric cars on the road is backed by governments and auto makers around the world, but they face a big hurdle: the stubbornly high cost of the giant battery packs, which can account for more than half the cost of an electric vehicle.

Both the industry and government are betting that a quick takeoff in electric-car sales will drive down the battery prices. But a number of scientists and automotive engineers believe cost reductions will be hard to come by.

Unlike with tires or toasters, battery packs aren't likely to enjoy traditional economies of scale as their makers ramp up production, the scientists and engineers say.

These experts say increased production of batteries means the price of the key metals used in their manufacture will remain steady—or maybe even rise—at least in the short term. They also say the price of the electronic parts used in battery packs as well as the enclosures that house the batteries aren't likely to decline appreciably.

The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal of bringing down car-battery costs by 70% from last year's price by 2014.

Jay Whitacre, a battery researcher and technology policy analyst at Carnegie Mellon University, said in an interview the government's goals "are aggressive and worth striving for, but they are not attainable in the next three to five years." He predicted "it will be a decade at least" before that price reduction is reached.

Current industry estimates say the battery pack in the all-electric Nissan Leaf compact car coming out in December costs Nissan Motor Co. about $15,600.

That cost will make it difficult for the Leaf, which is priced at $33,000, to turn a profit. And it also may make the Leaf a tough sell, since even with federal tax breaks of $7,500, the car will cost about twice the $13,520 starting price of the similar-size Nissan Versa hatchback.

Nissan won't comment on the price of the battery packs, except to say that the first versions of the Leaf won't make money. Only later, when the company begins mass-producing the battery units in 2013, will the car become profitable, according to Nissan.

The Japanese company believes it can cut battery costs through manufacturing scale. It is building a plant in Smyrna, Tenn., that will have the capacity to assemble up to 200,000 packs a year.

Other proponents of electric vehicles agree that battery costs will fall as production ramps up. "They will come down by a factor of two, if not more, in the next five years," said David Vieau, chief executive officer of A123 Systems of Watertown, Mass., a lithium ion battery maker that recently opened a large plant to produce automotive batteries in Livonia, Mich.

Alex Molinaroli, president of Johnson Controls Inc.'s battery division, is confident it can reduce the cost of producing batteries by 50% in the next five years, though the Milwaukee, Wisc., company won't say what today's cost is.

The anticipated cost reduction by one of the world's biggest car-battery makers will mostly come from efficient factory management, cutting waste and other management-related expenses, not from any fundamental improvement of battery technology, he said.

But researchers such as Carnegie Mellon's Mr. Whitacre, the National Academies of Science and even some car makers aren't convinced, mainly because more than 30% of the cost of the batteries used in the packs comes from metals such as nickel, manganese and cobalt. (Lithium makes up only a small portion of the metals in the batteries.)

Prices for these metals, which are set on commodities markets, aren't expected to fall with increasing battery production—and may even rise as demand grows, according to a study by the Academies of Science released earlier this year and engineers familiar with battery production.

Lithium-ion battery cells already are mass produced for computers and cellphones and the costs of those batteries fell 35% from 2000 through 2008—but they haven't gone down much more in recent years, according to the National Academies of Science study.

The Academies and Toyota Motor Corp. have publicly said they don't think the Department of Energy goals are achievable and that cost reductions are likely to be far lower. It likely will be 20 years before costs fall by 50%—not the three or so years the DOE projects—according to a National Academies council that studied battery costs. The council was made up of nearly a dozen researchers in the battery field.

"Economies of scale are often cited as a factor that can drive down costs, but hundreds of millions to billions of ... [battery] cells already are being produced in optimized factories. Building more factories is unlikely to have a great impact on costs," the National Academies said in its report.

The report added that the cost of the battery-pack enclosure that holds the cells is a major portion of the total battery-pack cost, and isn't likely to come down much.

In addition, battery packs include electronic sensors and controls that regulate the voltage moving through and the heat being generated by the cells. Since those electronics already are mass-produced commodities, their prices may not fall much with higher production, the study said.

Lastly, the labor involved in assembling battery packs is expensive because employees need more training than traditional factory staff because they work in a high-voltage environment. That means labor costs are unlikely to drop, said a senior executive at a battery manufacturer.

When car makers began using nickel-metal hydride batteries, an older technology, in their early hybrid vehicles, the cost of the packs fell only 11% from 2000 to 2006. Costs since then have seen little change, according to the National Academies study.

Toyota Motor executives, including Takeshi Uchiyamada, the Japanese auto maker's global chief of engineering, say the company's experience with nickel-metal hydride batteries makes them skeptical that the price of lithium ion battery packs will fall substantially.

"The cost reductions aren't attainable even in the next 10 years," said Menahem Anderman, principal of Total Battery Consulting Inc., an Oregon House, Calif.,-based battery research firm.

"We still don't know how much it will cost to make sure the batteries meet reliability, safety and durability standards. And now we are trying to reduce costs, which automatically affect those first three things."

Article Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mobile Games Teach Chinese Children To Read

Mobile phone games could provide a way for Chinese children to learn how to read, especially in rural areas.

Research at Carnegie Mellon University found that two of the games showed promise with children in Xin'an, an underdeveloped region in Henan province. Further studies in Beijing also showed that kids who played the games increased their knowledge of Chinese Characters.

The studies were run by the university's Mobile & Immersive Learning for Literacy in Emerging Economies Project.

"We believe that the cooperative learning encouraged by the games contributed to character learning," said CMU's Matthew Kam, assistant professor in the School of Computer Science's Human-Computer Interaction Institute and project director, in a statement. "The results of our studies suggest that further development of these games could make inexpensive mobile phones important learning tools, particularly for children in underdeveloped rural areas."

Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, with more than 1 billion Mandarin speakers. Unlike languages that use alphabets, Chinese has characters that each represents a syllable or word, and often both. About 6,000 characters are commonly used, but the shape of each character provides few clues to its pronunciation and different dialects pronounce the same character differently.

The researchers analyzed 25 traditional games played by children in China to identify elements, such as cooperation, songs and handmade game objects that could be used to design two educational mobile phone games.

In one, Multimedia Word, children have to recognize and write a correct Chinese character based on pronunciation hints, a sketch, photo or video. In a second game, Drumming Stroke, children pass the mobile phone one by one on the rhythm of a drum sound played by the mobile phone, with each player required to write one stroke of a given Chinese character by following the exact stroke order.

Kam and other CMU researchers are collaborating with Chinese computer scientists to further explore the mobile gaming's potential as an educational tool.

This isn't the first time mobile games have been used as an educational strategy. A similar project was initiated in India, and the CMU team is also looking at starting one in Kenya.

Kam says if the mobile games work as learning tools, it could spur the development of both mobile phone networks and greater usage in many underdeveloped areas.

Article Courtesy of International Business Times


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Want Super Powers? Try Super Technology

A man's head is enclosed by a big, pillow-shaped machine. Scientists in white coats take notes as the machine scans the subject's brain waves, seeking to penetrate his thoughts—to read his mind. "I think the word is 'eye,'" the computer says in an otherworldly voice, after performing a lengthy analysis.

Is this a comic book? Not quite—but pretty close.

Researchers from Intel Labs Pittsburgh (INTC), Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Pittsburgh are working on a project called NeuroSys. Using a 1,000-word database, they have developed software that uses a system of algorithms that can match a person's brain activity with words they are thinking—in other words, a device that can read minds.

For centuries, people have dreamed of overcoming the natural limitations of our bodies and minds to become, in effect, superhuman. In comic books and TV series like ABC's No Ordinary Family, super powers are reserved mainly for those who have been born with mutant abilities (Wolverine), are alien to Earth (Superman), or were somehow exposed to radiation (Spider-Man). But while it is unlikely that any of us were born on Krypton, technology can help us when nature and gamma rays can't. Through technology, we have already learned to defy gravity, move at great speeds, and survey the depths of the ocean and the outer reaches of the stars. Now technology can help mere mortals breathe underwater like Aquaman, repel bullets like Superman, and even manipulate the weather like Storm.

For example, scientists at Raytheon (RTN) have been working on an exoskeleton to give its user super strength like that of the Hulk. Researchers at the University of Washington are working on bionic contact lenses that would give wearers Superman-like super vision. (To see an array of tech-induced super powers, click here.)

Decoding the Meaning of Thoughts

Most of these technologies are still at the research stage or are too expensive for commercial use. You'd have to be as rich as Tony Stark—the billionaire alter ego of Marvel Entertainment's Iron Man—to be able to afford most of these powers. It remains that what we once thought impossible is on the verge of becoming possible.

In comic books, characters such as the X-Men's Professor X or Emma Frost possess the power to read people's minds. For millennia this has been regarded as the ultimate power. Such a tool could be used to control armies and create fortunes. Fortune telling and mystical mumbo-jumbo aside, it has been a power about which we can only dream. Perhaps for not much longer.

At the NeuroSys Project in Pittsburgh, Dean Pomerleau, one of the researchers from Intel, spends one to two hours in a magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine, a bulky piece of equipment that looks like a giant salon hair dryer and can monitor brain activity. He is given a set of words to think and the machine identifies the locations in his brain that show increased activity. The parts that light up when thinking "dog," for instance, are different from those that respond to "airplane."

The machine's learning algorithm typically matches activity in more than 1,000 of 20,000 possible locations in the brain with a word, says Pomerleau. "It is a constellation of bright spots that can be interpreted pretty definitely as one word or another."

There also appear to be overlaps among languages. The same parts of the brain light up whether you are thinking of a word in Portuguese or English, for example. "We're not just decoding language, but the meaning of your thoughts," says Pomerleau.

Article Courtesy of Bloomberg Businessweek


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Astrobotic Technology wins NASA contract

Astrobotic Technology Inc., the Carnegie Mellon University spin out seeking the Google Lunar X Prize, is one of six companies nationwide to land a contract with NASA worth up to $10 million.

Astrobotic aims to lead a private moon expedition that will have a 220 payload capacity available for purchase by universities, space agencies and other companies. With this mission, slated for launch April 2013, the company aims to win the $24 million Google Lunar X Prize as well as the state of Florida’s $2 million launch prize. Both prizes were created to encourage private space exploration.

With the NASA contract, the company will receive payment at certain milestones in development with up to $1.1 million available before the launch of the spacecraft. Such milestones include $10,000 for system definition review, which is being written now, and $500,000 for the first hardware demonstration of risk reduction, said Astrobotic president David Gump.

The first risk reduction demo for the company will be showing how it intends the craft to survive the frigid lunar night, specifically how the batteries will be able to survive being frozen and thawed. Gump expects this milestone to happen by the end of the year.

William “Red” Whittaker, founder of Astrobotic and the Field Robotics Center at CMU, said in a written statement this project combines small and large companies and the university to tap everyone’s “intellectual capital.”

“Together we’ll create a lunar exploration mission at a breakthrough cost that enables public participation from around the world,” he said.

The NASA funding is part of the agency’s Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data program. The contracts are valued at $30.1 million and last up to five years. Data collected through this program will help the space agency in its “efforts to enable affordable and sustainable space exploration,” it said in a written statement.

Additionally, Astrobotic named the partners that have signed on as part of the technical team for the company: Carnegie Mellon University, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Aerojet, Scaled Composites, International Rectifier, Harmonic Drive LLC and Caterpillar Inc.

In September, Astrobotic announced it had received investment from British entrepreneur Julian Ranger. The exact amount of the investment was not disclosed but is said to be in the low six figures. The money is being used for business expenses and for staff, Gump said. Full-time staff range between three and six people depending on the work demand. Roughly 40 students and researchers from CMU also are working on the project.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times


Sunday, October 17, 2010

CMU student wants to know how many are on campus; so far she's up to 547

They have names as endearing as "Sparky" and as confounding as the "Double-Taker (Snout)."

Some are snakelike, designed to look for survivors beneath collapsed buildings. Others are built to haul construction material in space, deliver snacks around the office or play soccer.

Over the years, people at Carnegie Mellon University have done just about everything imaginable with their robots.

Everything, that is, but count them.

Enter Heather Knight, a first-year doctoral student in robotics from Boston who arrived this fall from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

More than a little zealous on the subject, she wasn't satisfied to simply guess how many robots might be taking up floor space in campus labs, resting atop classroom shelves or residing in file cabinet drawers.

Instead, she resolved to count every last one, embarking on the university's first-ever Robot Census.

She's at 547 robots after several weeks of counting.

Dozens of faculty and students have filled out a two-page census form asking them to specify their robot's type, building location and address, degree of intelligence and freedom, primary language, and whether it has wireless Internet connectivity.

Next to a question about their robot's job status, census participants are asked to check one of four options: "working," "learning," "retired" or "under construction."

At CMU, robots seem to be everywhere -- in theater productions, art studios and research labs.

Some are humanoid and semi-humanoid. Others look like toy trucks, construction cranes or dogs.

Ms. Knight's research interests lie in human-robot interaction. She said she does not want to impose on census participants a rigid definition of what constitutes a robot.

"That's one of the exciting things about this," she said. "I leave it 100 percent up to them."

That said, there are some obvious prerequisites that include, she said, "some sort of actuation or ability to affect the world, some sort of sensor and ability to perceive the world and some internal computation capability."

If she manages to get a complete campuswide count, CMU will be able to tell the world with authority not only that its undergraduate-to-faculty ratio is 11.5-to-1, or that 59 percent of those undergraduates are male, but also this -- the ratio of robots to humans on campus.

That statistic might well become a point of pride at a place that went so far as to establish a Robot Hall of Fame and once spawned a Human-Robot Interaction Reading Group, a weekly gathering for those interested in sharing relevant research.

The campus is home to the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, founded in 1979 and considered to be among the world's biggest centers for robotics research and education.

The institute's director, Matt Mason, said it's odd that the campus has never gotten a grip on its robot population. Then again, he said, faculty have wide autonomy to conduct their research, so it's not easy to know every robot being developed.

"Some of us are working on robots for education; some of us are working on robots for mines or agriculture," he said. "We get some of our funding from the Defense Department, so there are robots for reconnaissance, surveillance and all kinds of defense applications."

He said one of the most mind-bending projects he saw upon taking the job was work on a machine that watches lab mice and takes detailed recordings of their behavior, so humans can be liberated from that work.

Some robots tallied so far in the census are from Howie Choset, an associate professor of robotics, who counts among his research efforts "Modsnakes" or modular snakes, slender locomotive devices 2 or 3 feet long made of aluminum and rubber, enabling them to crawl through collapsed buildings or inside pipes.

He said he saw nothing unusual about a robot census, then qualified those words: "I come to work every day and walk by a robot receptionist, so that tells you what my sense of normal would be."

He was referring to "Tank," a talking "roboceptionist" that greets visitors to Newell Simon Hall.

Its cartoonlike face on a flat-screen monitor has eyes that move left and right, and it can answer questions typed into a keyboard.

Where's the elevator, Tank? "Go past my desk and turn right," comes the reply.

How's your father? "It's painful. We don't speak much anymore."

Another robot in the census, "Snackbot," may not be chatty about family matters but nonetheless should be popular doing what it's designed to do: Traverse hallways, delivering food to office workers.

There's more than hunger behind the project, a collaboration between the Robotics Institute and CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute. It enables researchers to explore social interaction and how robots respond to people.

Some are interactive art installations.

One example, "Double-taker (Snout)," is an 8-foot-long industrial robot arm. Its creators say it was built to look like a gigantic inchworm or an elephant's trunk and has an oversized eye at one end. Its design allows it to swing in response to human movements, creating an impression it is doing "double takes" at passers-by who approach.

It was installed in 2008 above an entrance to the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Those on campus say the robots in Ms. Knight's census are a mix of originals developed at Carnegie Mellon, duplicates and others purchased to help with research and teaching.

Ms. Knight said she plans to buy her own robot and would like to see her campus count eventually blossom into a nationwide tally of robots.

Along with providing a head count, the census should yield insight into the varied types of research and what the school's "robot culture" is.

In her view, robots are anything but bit players at the university.

"As much as we're here for the professors," she said in remarks posted on the university's website. "We're also here for the robots."

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Friday, October 15, 2010

GigaPan Joins Google, NASA, Intel, and More in Support of the Fine International Conference on Gigapixel Imaging for Science Science like you've never seen before at Carnegie Mellon University, Nov. 11-13

Aiming to explore innovative use of GigaPan in the classroom, the field and the laboratory, the Fine International Conference on Gigapixel Imaging will feature all aspects of gigapixel technology in the science field.

Gigapixel technology is changing the way we see and communicate.

From space exploration, archaeological discovery, to nanotechnology and beyond, gigapixel imaging is providing scientists with a new level of exploration and discovery. GigaPan provides the equipment, software and website to support gigapixel imaging and proudly supports the Fine Outreach for Science in the first Conference for Gigapixel Imaging.

Other support for the Fine Conference provided by: Google Carnegie Mellon University Intel AAAS Fine Foundation NASA IEEE Hear keynote speakers from Google, National Geographic and NASA.

The conference will also offer tutorials, workshops, technical presentations, poster presentations, lightning talks, birds of a feather sessions and a juried exhibition of GigaPan prints.

Conference website links: Learn More Register Sponsorship opportunities Talks and Panel Discussions Workshops WHAT IS A GIGAPAN? Gigapans are gigapixel panoramas, digital images with billions of pixels. They are huge panoramas with fascinating detail, all captured in the context of a single brilliant photo. Phenomenally large, yet remarkably crisp and vivid, gigapans are available to be explored at GigaPan.com. Zoom in and discover the detail of over 40,000 panoramas from around the world.

GigaPan EPIC Series Capture brilliant gigapixel cameras with almost any camera! The GigaPan EPIC, EPIC 100 and EPIC Pro make it fun and easy. Which EPIC is right for you? Visit gigapansystems.com GIGAPAN NEWS UPDATES GigaPan is the leader in gigapixel imaging. See how BBC, MLB and National Geographic are using GigaPan to change the way you see the world.

NEW! The newly released GigaPan iPad App brings the best images from gigapan.com to your iPad for the most natural gigapixel browsing experience available.

Browse the collection of 40,000+ panoramas hosted at gigapan.com Learn! See more information about each gigapan Explore! Pan and zoom using multitouch gestures Share! Send your friends links to your favorite panoramas GigaPan Now Available Retail! Find the GigaPan EPIC Series at these premier U.S.

retailers: B&H Glazer's Camera Murphy's Camera Pro Photo Supply Stewart's Photo Retailers also available around the world, in several European countries, Canada, Australia and South America. Learn more ABOUT GIGAPAN GigaPan EPIC series is based on the same technology employed by the Mars Rover to capture the incredible images of the red planet. Powerful GigaPan technology is the result of a joint research project by scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and NASA. Now everyone has the opportunity to use technology developed for Mars to take their own incredible images here on Earth.

Article Courtesy of CNBC


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bernanke visits biotechnology site in Oakland

Say what you will about the economic crisis, but it's done amazing things for Ben Bernanke's celebrity.

In what other economic environment would hallways fill with paparazzi ready to catch the chairman of the Federal Reserve? When else would national cable stations send two teams of reporters to track a former Princeton professor?

Boom mics almost outnumbered Secret Service earpieces when Mr. Bernanke stopped Wednesday for two hours at the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse. He's in town for a meeting today between the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the Fed's Pittsburgh branch, and the listening-tour portion of his trip started at the Greenhouse, a local incubator program for biotechnology companies.

But drastic economic measures like stimulus funding and bank bailouts have transformed the Fed chairman from a bureaucratic mainstay into a political operative, equal parts prophet and punching bag.

Indeed, if Wednesday's discussion was any proof, Mr. Bernanke now presides over a nation of nervous entrepreneurs ready to question his every decision -- even if he's in the same room.

A quiet tour of four Greenhouse-assisted companies was followed by a lively discussion on the problems executives face in a national credit crunch.

Among the audience's gripes: dried-up venture capital markets, fluctuating health care costs, the bureaucracy of military contracts, Pittsburgh's congested parkways.

Some offered their own ideas.

A tax credit for venture capital and early-stage angel investments could encourage the market, suggested Sunil Wadhwani, chairman of the board of the Pittsburgh branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

Depleted funds in the venture capital community emerged as a chief concern, especially since it's a form of funding often credited with creating Pittsburgh's burgeoning young tech companies.

"It's the third leg of the stool," said Keith Schaefer, president and chief executive of BPL Global, a smart grid tech firm in Cranberry that's grown to include seven locations worldwide.

Mr. Bernanke spoke for five minutes on Pittsburgh's well-covered renaissance in technology, calling the city's resurgence "a microcosm as a whole of what the country is doing and needs to do."

Future generations will look to Pittsburgh as a contributor in the victories over cancer and Alzheimer's disease, said Pittsburgh Technology Council President and Chief Executive Audrey Russo. She spoke for 10 minutes on Pittsburgh's history as a leader in technological innovation.

Mr. Bernanke's visit stopped by the labs of four Greenhouse portfolio companies -- an economist's version of the politician's factory floor tour.

Executives from ThermalTherapeutic Systems Inc. showed off a machine that heats and circulates sterile fluids during surgery, and Mr. Bernanke tried his hand with a snaking robot camera by Cardiorobotics Inc. that's used in minimally invasive procedures.

Diamyd Inc. executives told the chairman about work on treatments for diabetes, and a team at Biosafe explained a polymer they developed that kills microbes.

In his remarks to the crowd, Mr. Bernanke cited the portfolio companies as examples of the "cool" technology he sees on trips like this.

As the discussion wrapped up, Sandra Pianalto, president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, thanked the executives from her region.

"Your passion, your energy, your ideas reassure me that this region is moving forward," she said.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Carnegie Learning Signs Deal with Qatar-Based Learning Centers

Educate Qatar, a Doha-based company establishing after school in-center and online tutoring programs for Qatari grade school, middle school, and high school students, will license Cognitive Tutor® software and Carnegie Learning® Math textbooks for learning programs throughout Qatar.

“We chose the Carnegie Learning® Math curricula because we believe in the science behind the program”

Educate Qatar specializes in education and training with a portfolio that includes international brands for academic and corporate services and solutions. Educate Qatar is a newly established subsidiary of Al Faisal Holding, an investment firm committed to elevating the quality of life in Qatar. Among the largest companies in Qatar, Al Faisal Holding is active in education initiatives, property development, hospitality, manufacturing, managed services, and trading/distribution.

Since 2006, Carnegie Learning® Math programs have been taught as a supplemental, after school course with high-achieving Qatari high school students enrolled in university courses in Education City in Doha.

“We chose the Carnegie Learning® Math curricula because we believe in the science behind the program,” said Mohamed Dobashi, chief executive officer of Educate Qatar. “Carnegie Learning will bring students in Qatar and the region a new, scientifically proven way to learn mathematics. We looked at a number of products and decided on Carnegie Learning because we want to deliver higher quality math education and we believe Carnegie Learning provides this.”

Article Courtesy of Business Wire


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fueling Startups: Highlights of the Pop City Event

Entrepreneurs are critical to healing what ails many cities today, says Ann Dugan.

As the founder of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, at the Katz Graduate School of Business at Pitt, Dugan helps entrepreneurs get new ideas and companies off the ground, including startups that address challenging issues such as crime and poverty.

Imagine what Pittsburgh could accomplish if we empowered the region to get behind a culture of thriving startups, suggests Dugan.

It was on that note that the moderator of the Pop City event on "Fueling Startups" launched an intense and informative discussion on how to create an entrepreneurial community in the region that retains young people after graduation. The forum attracted a full house and some of the most forward-thinking leaders in Pittsburgh to The Cabaret at Theater Square in the Cultural District.

The Art of the Long View

First of all, the region needs to approach the problem with patience, says Deeplocal CEO Nathan Martin. Getting people engaged and creating community is a process that takes time. A self-described apostle for Pittsburgh, Martin's company is creating some of the most innovative social tech in the world--from Pickupalooza to Gumband and RouteShout.

"We need to change the culture (in Pittsburgh) and our idea of what is an entrepreneur," says Martin. Just back from Portland, a city teeming with good restaurants and a vibrant, young working population, Martin believes it can happen here if we give graduates good reasons to stay. "We need to play for the long game, not the short game."

Brendan Calder of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, agrees with Martin. Like Portland, Toronto is a cosmopolitan city filled with young graduates who stay. One reason may be that Canada has more relaxed immigration polices laws in comparison to the U.S. Another is that the Rotman School, with its new entrepreneurial center, is helping to brand Toronto as an attractive place for entrepreneurs.

"Toronto has allowed many high rise condos to be built downtown, which attracts and houses lots of young people," says Calder. "There's also strong support for the cultural arts, venues like the Bell Lightbox, which features new films daily."

Everything starts with culture agrees Rich Lunak, CEO and president of Innovation Works, the single largest investor of seed-stage technology companies in the region and one of the most active in the country. IW played a key role in assisting highly successful startups such as ShowClix, ALung and ModCloth.

Several years ago, IW created Alpha Lab, an intense 20-week program that runs twice a year. The program creates a diverse community of aspiring companies in the South Side that work on software, entertainment and Internet-related technology. Alpha Lab has attracted 350 applicants from 30 states and 7 countries, says Lunak. One of the companies, Shoefitr, won the online global pitch contest in This Week In Startups.

"We're looking for the next Google, Intel or Microsoft," he says. "By and large a lot of companies struggle. We have to crack that code a lot better or we risk being less competitive in the world."

Incubators are a great place to try out new ideas, says Lenore Blum, founding director ofProject Olympus and Probes, programs at Carnegie Mellon that build community and provide support to enable talent and new ideas get to commercialization. Of the 60 projects that have cycled through Project Olympus, 30 have become companies. Several, such as ReCAPTCHA and Dynamics, have been wildly successful.

Carnegie Mellon has some of the best technological resources on the planet, says Blum, but too many grads are leaving after college for places like Silicon Valley. Blum has asked these grads why they are leaving.

"It's not just for the money," she says. "If they start something in California and they fail, everyone says, great, you learned something. Pittsburgh is little risk adverse."

But the momentum is building. Deeplocal is one of the companies behind it with breakfast meetups called Waffle Wednesdays. Held on selected Wednesday mornings, it brings investors and entrepreneurs together to share stories and show off gadgets over java and waffles.

Beyond the great ideas and the due diligence, there's the other big issue: money and the difficult challenge of the first loan, landing a round of seed funding to start the wheels turning. The panel offered several suggestions to entrepreneurs, especially those who don't have connections to deep pockets:

• Don't underestimate the value of a small loan. Search out small pockets of money such as the Sprout Fund and Bridgeway Capital or Idea Foundry.
• Start young when you have more time, can take risks and afford massive losses. You don't have as much to lose.
• Support tax credits that reduce the barriers and make it easier for angel investors to invest and create incentives for entrepreneurs.
• There are lots of great organizations in Pittsburgh. Take advantage of them. Get involved, network, and learn as much as you can about your community.

At the end of it all, many in the audience say they were inspired and encouraged by the discussion.

"It was refreshing to be in a room surrounded by hundreds of people who understood this predicament," says Alicia Bekeny, project manager for a Pittsburgh social venture, TerraShift. "Hearing the panelists discuss their professional paths and projects further helped me to approach entrepreneurship not as a risk, but as an exciting voyage. It's good to know others are going the same way, too, and brought extra compasses and maps."

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

CMU Receives Andy Warhol Foundation Grant To Research Contemporary Artists Working at the Intersection of Art, Science and Technology

The STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have received a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts to support a curatorial fellowship for Andrea Grover, who will research contemporary artists working at the intersection of art, science and technology.

Grover, founder and former director of Aurora Picture Show in Houston, Texas, has long been interested in artists who work across disciplines. She curated “29 Chains to the Moon: Artists' Schemes for a Fantastic Future,” an exhibition at CMU’s Miller Gallery that highlighted the visions of artists, scientists and designers imagining life in our present and future world.

Her residency is co-hosted by the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, an artist-centered laboratory that supports atypical, interdisciplinary and inter-institutional research at the intersection of art, science, technology and culture, and the Miller Gallery, the university's gallery for contemporary arts. Working as a research fellow and visiting curator, Grover will have access to a wide range of university resources that will enhance her work.

Warhol Curatorial Fellowships are designed to encourage original, in-depth research leading to new scholarship in the field of contemporary art. Grants of up to $50,000 are awarded to institutionally affiliated curators twice a year in support of travel, archival research, meetings, interviews and other activities.

Grover will research the impact and legacy of mid-20th Century artists-in-industry initiatives, such as the Artist Placement Group in London and the Art and Technology Program in Los Angeles, on hybrid arts today. Grover says the fellowship will culminate with a group exhibition and publication that examines the state of art, science and technology hybrid practices, factoring in recent cultural trends such as the “Maker Movement.” In order to produce a publication that can convey the complex efforts underlying many interdisciplinary enterprises, she will coordinate a “book sprint,” a collective authoring process by collaborators from different areas of expertise who will work together on conceptualizing, planning and publishing a book in one week. Both the exhibition and publication will analyze the benefits and challenges of convergent approaches to art and science.

While at Carnegie Mellon, Grover will pursue connections with students and faculty in the arts, science and engineering communities as well as those working in hybrid hubs, such as the Center for the Arts in Society and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute’s Living Environments Lab.


Article Courtesy of Miller Gallery at CMU


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Carnegie Mellon, FBI Announce Competition Promoting Internet Safety Awareness

Carnegie Mellon University and the Federal Bureau of Investigation today announced a national competition, in which students will share their knowledge about how to avoid dangers associated with Internet use by creating computer animations that promote safety concepts.

The animation competition is the latest component to the FBI's ongoing Safe Online Surfing (SOS) Program developed by the FBI's Cyber Division and Nova Southeastern University. The SOS Program delivers critical Internet safety information to third- through eighth-grade students. More than 70,000 children in 41 states have completed the program, which fosters fun competition between local schools. SOS became one of the FBI's national initiatives in October 2009.

The FBI, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, is expanding SOS to include a national competition, in which middle and high school students will create 45-second animations using Alice, a software package developed and provided free of charge by Carnegie Mellon that enables even novices to make 3-D computer animations.

The need to educate young people about hazards associated with Internet use has never been greater. Predators solicit one in seven children online, according to a recent study, and more than half are asked to send photographs of themselves.

"The Internet is a powerful resource for our youth, but it also presents opportunities for those who would attempt to do them harm," said Gordon M. Snow, assistant director of the FBI Cyber Division. "The Safe Online Surfing program is designed to teach young people what they need to know to avoid falling victim to individuals who want to take advantage of their youth and innocence. Through this project, we hope to keep a generation of children safe online and tap into their creativity to promote their own protection."

"We at Carnegie Mellon are honored to collaborate with the FBI on the SOS Project," said Wanda Dann, associate teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon and director of the Alice Project. "The Internet offers great resources for learning and communication and we want to help children learn to use these resources safely. In this collaboration, teachers and students will work together to learn safe surfing techniques. By using our Alice software to create 3-D animations, students can then use their imaginations and creativity to spread this message even further and perhaps even more effectively."

"I'm so pleased with the success that the FBI-SOS program has experienced over the last five years," said Daryl Hulce, SOS Program administrator at Nova Southeastern University. "It started out as just an idea but has grown into a fun and engaging program that has provided children with the information necessary to confidently make safer decisions online. By partnering with Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science, we will have the ability to reach more children and families with our message."

The Alice Project was created by the late Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon who gained international fame three years ago when he delivered a speech that became an Internet sensation and the basis of the best-selling book, "The Last Lecture." The address to students and faculty members, presented after he received a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, was a frank, often funny and ultimately uplifting talk about how to achieve your dreams.

Pausch's vision for the Alice software was to make the process of creating 3-D computer animations so much fun that students didn't realize that they were also learning something very hard -- computer programming. "In the same way, we want to make creating animations for the SOS competition so engrossing that it actually causes students to think long and hard about how to use the Internet safely," Dann said.

As Pausch wrote in the book he co-authored, "Walt Disney's dream for Disney World was that it would never be finished. He wanted it to keep growing and changing forever. In the same way, I am thrilled that the future versions of Alice now being developed by my colleagues will be even better than what we've done in the past."

Middle and high school students are eligible to participate in the competition by creating 45-second animations using the Alice Project software. The entries should express one or more of the SOS program's safety concepts. Submissions will be reviewed and the top entries will be posted on www.fbi-sos.org for voting. The FBI will recognize the creators of winning entries and their teachers.

Participating schools must register at www.fbi-sos.org before Feb. 1, 2011. Animations are due by March 31, 2011, and may be sent to www.fbi-sos.org.

The Alice Project has received support from Sun Microsystems, Electronic Arts, National Science Foundation, DARPA, Intel, Microsoft and SAIC, as well as Google, General Dynamics, The Heinz Foundation and The Hearst Foundation.

Carnegie Mellon is a leading center for research on cybersecurity and Internet privacy and has developed innovative programs for educating young people about online safety. CMU's Information Networking Institute operates educational outreach programs such as MySecureCyberspace, a portal that helps the public understand the dangers of Web surfing and offers an encyclopedia of terms, key articles and tools to combat cyberbullying, identity theft and online predators. The outreach also includes a cyber game designed for fourth- through sixth-graders that teaches Internet safety and computer security.

Article Courtesy of PRNewswire


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Robots Soon To Become Part Of Home, Work Life

According to robotic scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, robots like "Rosie" from "The Jetsons" will soon be finding their way around our homes and offices.

"Sooner than you think," Siddhartha Srinivasa, of Intel, said. "Technology has come along so fast."

For example, scientists have developed a robot butler. A collaborative project of Intel and CMU, the robot can retrieve and deliver items on command – a luxury for some, but a necessity for others like Danny Christiana.

"I'm paralyzed from the neck down. I have limited use of my arms," he explained.

Danny is a mechanical engineering student at Slippery Rock who lost use of his limbs in a motorcycle accident. He's been working with robotic scientists all summer to develop new tasks for Herb to assist him with in daily life.

"If I never regain strength in my hands that he would be able to retrieve things for me, get the phone in case of an emergency, food, drinks, water," Christiana explained.

Project Manager Srinivasa says robots like Herb will help the disabled and elderly live independent lives.

"Any small thing that helps them live in their homes for longer -- just a little bit longer -- is a huge improvement to their quality of life," Srinivasa said.

But soon, scientists say, all of us will be interacting with robots, like a roboceptionist.

"Paul Rybski is 217 Smith Hall. Would you like directions?" the roboceptionist told KDKA's Andy Sheehan as it directed him to the office of Paul Rybski, one of its developers.

"Excuse me. My name is Snackbot. I have an order for Paul," another robot said.

Responding to orders typed into a desk computer, Snackbot may someday be roaming the corridors of your office bringing hungry workers their mid-afternoon snacks.

Snackbot is one of a new breed of robots called "service robots" and this may be just the first of many functions.

"Snacks were the easiest thing because everyone likes to be fed of course," Rybski said.

In fact, the robots at CMU are mostly works in progress as their developers try to find the right design and function so people will welcome them into their homes, making them as commonplace as the personal computer or the smartphone.

"Once the first really good one happens, everyone will jump on the bandwagon and that'll make really big inroads and we'll see how they branch from there," he said.

Already, robotic devices like the Roomba vacuum floors and carpets with no human strain and scientists think that very soon other robots will be brought into homes and at workplaces.

It promises to be the next wave of technology that is rapidly changing the way we live.

Article Courtesy of KDKA


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wombat Security awarded $750,000 SBIR grant

Wombat Security Technologies is being tapped by the U.S. Air Force to develop a game platform for cyber security training.

The Carnegie Mellon University spin-out was awarded a $750,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant by the Air Force as a phase II grant. Under the agreement, the company will also supply the Department of Defense with one of its existing games, Anti-Phishing Phyllis.

Until now, the company designs games that are aimed at educating workers on how to recognize phishing scams, or e-mails that try to trick a reader into giving up personal or company information. With the contract, the company will move into other areas of training.

“Today, Wombat Security Technologies offers the most comprehensive and effective suite of anti-phishing training solutions,” said Jason Hong, co-founder and chief technology officer of the company. “With this platform, Wombat is moving beyond phishing and expects to firmly establish itself as the global leader in cyber security training and awareness.”

The company has found that the games are a more engaging and effective way to train employees than the more mundane materials traditionally used, such as memos and PowerPoint presentations.

By working with the government, the company will be able to develop more products that can also be used in the private sector, said Norman Sadeh, co-founder and CEO of Wombat.

“The platform will help both government and private sector organizations keep up with the rapidly growing number of cyber security threats that take advantage of end-use vulnerabilities,” he said.

The company was founded by Hong, Sadeh and Lorrie Cranor, who are all three CMU professors from the School of Computer Science.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times


Monday, October 11, 2010

World's First Robot Census

When a Carnegie Mellon student decided to count all the robots on campus, she had no idea it was the spark that would start a conflagration.

According to the best estimate of Heather "Marilyn Monrobot" Knight, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, there are almost certainly more robots on campus than there are people working in the university's robotics program.

"Which is insanity," says Knight, referring not to the number of robots--CMU is the only university in the U.S. to specifically offer a degree, rather than a specialization, in robotics--but to the number of people on campus whose entire working existence is devoted to creating them. "There are 599 people [in the robotics program], including 100 or 120 people working in a government lab that's off campus," she adds. "I'm not sure if they're allowed to tell me about their robots--the estimate I've heard is between 100 and 300."

In total, Knight can officially confirm the existence of 547 robots on campus (that number doesn't include the population in the secret government lab) and that's just the beginning: as word spreads through the Maker community and the effort's Twitter feed, she plans to take the world's first robot census as far as it will go, eventually canvassing as wide a swath of the home-brew and university robotics efforts as possible.

Just by asking the keepers of the world's automatons to submit their research subjects, Knight is posing a challenging question: What is a robot?

"Everyone agrees there are 3 minimum requirements." says Knight. "These are the minimum, but not sufficient requirements: They must act in the world, sense the world, and they need to have computation."

The problem with this traditional definition of a robot is that it encompasses almost all forms of automation, including thermostats and washing machines. This has led some thinkers to add to the list of characteristics things like agency, autonomy and embodiment.

The robot census doesn't answer these questions, but it does force its participants to engage with them.

"It's kind of like, [what constitutes a robot] is not really an argument that's worth having--but it is a discussion that's worth having," says Knight.

Knight's inspiration for initiating the census is her own work in integrating robots into people's everyday lives. Westerners, especially, tend to harbor negative associations with robots. "It's hard to compete with the Terminator movie," says Knight.

By showcasing the incredible variety and utility of the robots at Carnegie Mellon and elsewhere, Knight thinks she might be able to punch through people's preconceived notions and pave the way to getting robots into the home, where they can do the most damage once they're activated by SkyNet's central hive mind.

"Every time I give a talk I have people from age 8 to 50 that say they or their child wants to know how to get into robotics," says Knight. "There's so much interest and it's about figuring out where those applications are, not just in theory but in real life."

Here's a selection of the robots indexed in the Robot Census:

Ballbot

Boss, the robotic car

GigaPan

Nao Robots at the Robot World Cup

Scarab

SnackBot

Tractor with perception pod

Article Courtesy of MIT Technology Review


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Project Olympus a show-and-tell of tech talent

Simple nametags were not enough for the crowd filling this week's Project Olympus show-and-tell. Instead of just writing a given name -- how boring -- some attendees included a Twitter handle.

The 10th demonstration of Carnegie Mellon University's early-stage, high-tech companies featured innovators who aspire to mimic Twitter's enormous success, even if the explanations of their concepts quickly exceeded 140 characters.

Headed by CMU computer science professor Lenore Blum, Project Olympus has been credited with helping form more than 38 faculty and student spinoff companies since 2007. The latest gathering featured projects hoping to use computer science to solve some of the world's greatest mysteries -- and make some money off work done in the lab.

The show-and-tell focused on works-in-progress.

Computer science professor Carlos Guestrin demonstrated a search function that connects the dots between events.

He showed how a string of New York Times articles can explain the connection between "Monica Lewinsky" and "Florida recount."

Another duo collectively represented both sides of the brain.

English professor David Kaufer joined computer science professor Ananda Gunawardena in presenting Salon, a social network they designed for interactive reading.

Salon turns classroom reading assignments into living documents, allowing students to add annotations and insights on the Web display that are then visible to the entire group.

The interface mimics a Facebook news feed, though instead of commenting on the drama of your college roommate's love life, you may be discussing Madame Bovary's affairs.

The system is already being used in places such as South Fayette School District and Grove City College.

A rundown of the work being done by Ezugo Nwosu's Antecea firm offered a glimpse into managing a paperless future. Mr. Nwosu's iPhone and iPad applications help transfer files from desktop computers to mobile devices.

Project Olympus provides office space just blocks from campus where entrepreneurs can work.

Two presenters, Mona Abdel-Halim and Ayan Kishore, left their work -- and sleeping bags -- at the office for a demonstration on their company, Careerimp.

A former Olympus project that has since graduated to the Alpha Lab incubation program on the South Side, Careerimp calls itself an online dating service for job-seekers.

A Careerimp program called Resumate allows users to paste a job posting into the program and see their uploaded resume automatically tailored to that position.

But it was computer science professor Jeannette Wing who offered the most encouragement to attendees shopping their own resumes around.

Fresh off a three-year stint at the National Science Foundation, Dr. Wing offered a macro perspective on national trends in computing and said innovation is a top priority of President Barack Obama's administration.

The insatiable demand for constant connectivity has crossed class and gender lines around the world, she said, and provides opportunities to tackle worldwide calamities like hunger and environmental destruction.

The skyrocketing use of computers and mobile technology in the past few years has created a population with impossible expectations for their devices, she said.

"The more we give, the more they want," said Dr. Wing. "So we will always be in business."

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Future is Now at Intel

Intel labs wheeled out it's newest and coolest inventions last Tuesday at their Open House.

Scratch that—the inventions wheeled themselves out for presentation.

Intel labs, located within the Carnegie Mellon University campus, showcased more than twenty different projects currently in the works.

Imagine the house of the future, with everything controlled by your smart phone and with robots expediently carrying out orders, and you'll be close to the vision that Intel is pursuing.

With the rapid evolution of smart phones, Intel has most recently developed the X-House. This invention allows users with Android-based phones to control almost every aspect of their house from lamps, locks, TVs, speakers and even cameras. The device is tailored to work with only the user's home through a secure login.

Lost in Space?

The first robot on the scene was Cobot2, which looks like something out of the show 'Lost in Space.' Its thin frame supports the computer mounted on top that serves a variety of different purposes. Newly developed this summer, it had already hopped on the Steeler bandwagon with it's terrible towel attached.

"The CoBot2 is a longtime experiment to see what we can get working with humans in an indoor environment," says Joydeep Biswas, a PhD student at CMU and one of its developers.

An example of this would be remotely attending an event through the eyes of the robot, or Telepresence as Biswas aptly called it. With a guided camera sending out 2,700 rays it can detect almost everything surrounding it. What it can't detect, it picks up with the help of clustered dots spread intermittently throughout the ceiling, which serve as a map for it.

Sometimes the CoBot2 roamed freely while other times users directed it elsewhere to peruse the other exhibits.

The bow tie adorning it is appropriate, as it will poliitley offer up phrases such as 'excuse me,' to awed--and charmed--spectators in its way.

The main attraction Tuesday, though, was HERB, the Home Exploring Robot Butler. A much bulkier robot sporting two arms, a Segway frame and small spinning laser head, HERB stopped traffic by delivering drinks to passersby and even recycling the empty bottles. At one point, HERB reacted when someone handed him back a bottle with fluid still in it. Herb informed the befuddled person of the problem, but thankfully HERB was in good spirits, as any good butler should be, and set it back on the table for later consumption. Robots, HERB demonstrates, can be quite cooperative.

Dmitry Berenson, one of HERB's developers, explains its mission. "We created HERB to help people do simple tasks, manipulate objects, open doors and clean up. It does this all automatically, not with someone sitting and pushing a button."

Motivated by their work with the Quality of Life Technology Center for elderly people, Berenson stated that the goal of HERB was to help senior citizens be more independent in their households.

Berenson, a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon, said it took four years to get to this point. They started with just a robot arm on a table. Eventually HERB gained a stylish Segway, another arm and a spiraling laser for guidance. The laser detects and maps out everything around it, similar to a dolpin's sonar. With one swivel, the laser picked up everyone standing around it, as their frames and surroundings were projected onto a screen.

Other projects included the automatic digital enhancement of photos (coming soon to a computer near you!), Connected Home 2020 (better linking the digital items together within the wireless household), and a machine that performs some ophthalmology tasks "comparable to experts.

Intel Labs Pittsburgh, which opened in 2002, is a national model for industry-university research at Carnegie Mellon University. It's pioneered by Intel to accelerate long-term, cutting-edge research to better benefit everyday life.

"Intel Labs Pittsburgh was proud to host over 700 people at our annual showcase," says Priya Narasimhan, the fourth Director of Intel Labs, a position that rotates among faculty every three years. "We displayed our breakthroughts in computational agriculture, brain-computer interfaces, cloud computing, robotics, computational healthcare, machine learning and more."

Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon are very fortunate to have it.

 

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

CMU highlights faculty start-up ideas

A mix of academics, investors, economic development and emerging technology fans got a glimpse Tuesday night of some of the work going on outside the classroom by the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University during the latest installment of the Project Olympus Show & Tell.

Project Olympus, a three-year-old initiative aimed at bridging the gap between university research and commercialization, helps students and faculty explore the commercial viability of their research.

The project is housed in the School of Computer Science but works with students and faculty from across campus, Director Lenore Blum told the crowd of more than 250 people gathered at the Hillman Center.

When it first began, there were four or five faculty projects in the portfolio, said Katharine Needham, executive in residence for Project Olympus. This year, the group was approached by a dozen faculty interested in looking at start-up potential.

Three faculty ideas were presented and all explored the idea of harnessing the power and popularity of social networks:

  • Duolingo is the latest project by computer science professor Luis von Ahn, whose previous Project Olympus endeavour, reCAPTCHA, was acquired by Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) in 2009. Like reCAPTCHA, which uses everyday Internet activity of typing in a CAPTCHA to help digitize books — on word at a time — Duolingo aims to use the time and energy people spend learning a language to translate the web. Through the Duolingo model, von Ahn said he sees a way to help people learn a language for free while translating the web in a more cost-effective manner.
  • GGIdeaLab, presented by Seth Goldstein and Carlos Guestrin, professors in the School of Computer Science, are looking at how to tame information overload while at the same time monetizing social networks. Their research suggests bringing intention to the space of social networking in order to make money off of the information those networks gather. The idea being, when someone searches for a Nikon on the Internet, they have the Internet to buy a camera so it's easier to make money off of that person’s activity, whereas when someone logs into a social network, there is no clear intent. The company is working on creating an incentive and a new interface to “connect people around products and services they want when they want them.” They expect to go after funding early next year.
  • Salon, a project by David Kaufer, a professor in the English department, and Ananda Gunawardena, a professor in the computer science department, is creating a meeting place that allows users to annotate and discuss texts. The project allows a teacher or discussion leader to see what areas of the text are getting the most focus from readers, which can help with class preparation. Users can also see what areas of text others are interested in. Everyone can ask questions and comment, and the discussion can begin before class. The program can also filter users by demographic information, so users can see annotations depending on perspective.

A fourth presentation was a follow-up on a student-led company, CareerImp, that moved from Project Olympus into the Innovation Works incubator AlphaLab.

CareerImp, which stands for career improvement, is aimed at matching job seekers to a compatible job opening. The company launched its first product, Résunate, earlier this summer, and it will create a résume from scratch or by importing information from LinkedIn. Once a resume is in the system, a job seeker can enter a job description into the service and the product, using a semantic algorithm, will automatically generate a résume with the formatting and relevant information for that specific job. Company CEO Ayan Kishore said the idea was to help job seekers, who may be sending hundreds of applications, save time while also customizing a résume.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Carnegie Mellon Spinoff YinzCam to Help Steelers Football Nation Stay Connected

Carnegie Mellon University's Priya Narasimhan is leading the technology game when it comes to creating new smart phone experiences for major sports teams.

Beginning Sunday, Oct. 3, the Pittsburgh Steelers will launch a mobile application for the iPhone, Android and Blackberry smart phone platforms developed by Narasimhan's spinoff company YinzCam, Inc. This groundbreaking mobile application will cater to Steelers fans both inside and outside the stadium.

"The technology provides instant action and real-time action replays from any of four unique camera angles at Heinz Field during a Steelers game, including the NFL's Red Zone Channel," said Narasimhan, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon and YinzCam, Inc's founder.

Narasimhan, who developed the idea of YinzCam after teaching a novel sports technology class at Carnegie Mellon, predicted that the NFL's use of technology will continue to benefit the game and its fans. For more than two years, YinzCam, Inc. has focused on mobile live streaming and experiential technologies for live events.

"Because football is a game of inches, it is extremely important that fans get instant visualization of the entire game, and can stay in touch with the real-time game action, anytime, anywhere," said Narasimhan, an avid Steelers fan. "The new technology also gives Steelers fans access to player bios, a depth chart and real-time stats, player by player, drive by drive," she said.

Essentially, YinzCam enables fans at a Steelers home game to experience live video streams from novel camera angles using their Wi-Fi enabled smartphones. Fans also can obtain instant replays for all the game highlights on their smart phones.

YinzCam is being launched for other NFL teams, including the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers, and also for NHL teams, including the Pittsburgh Penguins.

CMU faculty member Rajeev Gandhi is involved with YinzCam, along with CMU alumni Justin Beaver, Nathan Mickulicz, Jeremy Kanter, Max Salley, Brian Finamore, Hao Su, Paul Rubritz and Lou Biancaniello.

Article Courtesy of AScribe


Monday, October 4, 2010

Aiming to Learn as We Do, a Machine Teaches Itself

Give a computer a task that can be crisply defined — win at chess, predict the weather — and the machine bests humans nearly every time. Yet when problems are nuanced or ambiguous, or require combining varied sources of information, computers are no match for human intelligence.

Few challenges in computing loom larger than unraveling semantics, understanding the meaning of language. One reason is that the meaning of words and phrases hinges not only on their context, but also on background knowledge that humans learn over years, day after day.

Since the start of the year, a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University — supported by grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Google, and tapping into a research supercomputing cluster provided by Yahoo — has been fine-tuning a computer system that is trying to master semantics by learning more like a human. Its beating hardware heart is a sleek, silver-gray computer — calculating 24 hours a day, seven days a week — that resides in a basement computer center at the university, in Pittsburgh. The computer was primed by the researchers with some basic knowledge in various categories and set loose on the Web with a mission to teach itself.

“For all the advances in computer science, we still don’t have a computer that can learn as humans do, cumulatively, over the long term,” said the team’s leader, Tom M. Mitchell, a computer scientist and chairman of the machine learning department.

The Never-Ending Language Learning system, or NELL, has made an impressive showing so far. NELL scans hundreds of millions of Web pages for text patterns that it uses to learn facts, 390,000 to date, with an estimated accuracy of 87 percent. These facts are grouped into semantic categories — cities, companies, sports teams, actors, universities, plants and 274 others. The category facts are things like “San Francisco is a city” and “sunflower is a plant.”

NELL also learns facts that are relations between members of two categories. For example, Peyton Manning is a football player (category). The Indianapolis Colts is a football team (category). By scanning text patterns, NELL can infer with a high probability that Peyton Manning plays for the Indianapolis Colts — even if it has never read that Mr. Manning plays for the Colts. “Plays for” is a relation, and there are 280 kinds of relations. The number of categories and relations has more than doubled since earlier this year, and will steadily expand.

The learned facts are continuously added to NELL’s growing database, which the researchers call a “knowledge base.” A larger pool of facts, Dr. Mitchell says, will help refine NELL’s learning algorithms so that it finds facts on the Web more accurately and more efficiently over time.

NELL is one project in a widening field of research and investment aimed at enabling computers to better understand the meaning of language. Many of these efforts tap the Web as a rich trove of text to assemble structured ontologies — formal descriptions of concepts and relationships — to help computers mimic human understanding. The ideal has been discussed for years, and more than a decade ago Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the underlying software for the World Wide Web, sketched his vision of a “semantic Web.”

Today, ever-faster computers, an explosion of Web data and improved software techniques are opening the door to rapid progress. Scientists at universities, government labs, Google, Microsoft, I.B.M. and elsewhere are pursuing breakthroughs, along somewhat different paths.

For example, I.B.M.’s “question answering” machine, Watson, shows remarkable semantic understanding in fields like history, literature and sports as it plays the quiz show “Jeopardy!” Google Squared, a research project at the Internet search giant, demonstrates ample grasp of semantic categories as it finds and presents information from around the Web on search topics like “U.S. presidents” and “cheeses.”

Still, artificial intelligence experts agree that the Carnegie Mellon approach is innovative. Many semantic learning systems, they note, are more passive learners, largely hand-crafted by human programmers, while NELL is highly automated. “What’s exciting and significant about it is the continuous learning, as if NELL is exercising curiosity on its own, with little human help,” said Oren Etzioni, a computer scientist at the University of Washington, who leads a project called TextRunner, which reads the Web to extract facts.

Computers that understand language, experts say, promise a big payoff someday. The potential applications range from smarter search (supplying natural-language answers to search queries, not just links to Web pages) to virtual personal assistants that can reply to questions in specific disciplines or activities like health, education, travel and shopping.

“The technology is really maturing, and will increasingly be used to gain understanding,” said Alfred Spector, vice president of research for Google. “We’re on the verge now in this semantic world.”

With NELL, the researchers built a base of knowledge, seeding each kind of category or relation with 10 to 15 examples that are true. In the category for emotions, for example: “Anger is an emotion.” “Bliss is an emotion.” And about a dozen more.

Then NELL gets to work. Its tools include programs that extract and classify text phrases from the Web, programs that look for patterns and correlations, and programs that learn rules. For example, when the computer system reads the phrase “Pikes Peak,” it studies the structure — two words, each beginning with a capital letter, and the last word is Peak. That structure alone might make it probable that Pikes Peak is a mountain. But NELL also reads in several ways. It will mine for text phrases that surround Pikes Peak and similar noun phrases repeatedly. For example, “I climbed XXX.”

NELL, Dr. Mitchell explains, is designed to be able to grapple with words in different contexts, by deploying a hierarchy of rules to resolve ambiguity. This kind of nuanced judgment tends to flummox computers. “But as it turns out, a system like this works much better if you force it to learn many things, hundreds at once,” he said.

For example, the text-phrase structure “I climbed XXX” very often occurs with a mountain. But when NELL reads, “I climbed stairs,” it has previously learned with great certainty that “stairs” belongs to the category “building part.” “It self-corrects when it has more information, as it learns more,” Dr. Mitchell explained.

NELL, he says, is just getting under way, and its growing knowledge base of facts and relations is intended as a foundation for improving machine intelligence. Dr. Mitchell offers an example of the kind of knowledge NELL cannot manage today, but may someday. Take two similar sentences, he said. “The girl caught the butterfly with the spots.” And, “The girl caught the butterfly with the net.”

A human reader, he noted, inherently understands that girls hold nets, and girls are not usually spotted. So, in the first sentence, “spots” is associated with “butterfly,” and in the second, “net” with “girl.”

“That’s obvious to a person, but it’s not obvious to a computer,” Dr. Mitchell said. “So much of human language is background knowledge, knowledge accumulated over time. That’s where NELL is headed, and the challenge is how to get that knowledge.”

A helping hand from humans, occasionally, will be part of the answer. For the first six months, NELL ran unassisted. But the research team noticed that while it did well with most categories and relations, its accuracy on about one-fourth of them trailed well behind. Starting in June, the researchers began scanning each category and relation for about five minutes every two weeks. When they find blatant errors, they label and correct them, putting NELL’s learning engine back on track.

When Dr. Mitchell scanned the “baked goods” category recently, he noticed a clear pattern. NELL was at first quite accurate, easily identifying all kinds of pies, breads, cakes and cookies as baked goods. But things went awry after NELL’s noun-phrase classifier decided “Internet cookies” was a baked good. (Its database related to baked goods or the Internet apparently lacked the knowledge to correct the mistake.)

NELL had read the sentence “I deleted my Internet cookies.” So when it read “I deleted my files,” it decided “files” was probably a baked good, too. “It started this whole avalanche of mistakes,” Dr. Mitchell said. He corrected the Internet cookies error and restarted NELL’s bakery education.

His ideal, Dr. Mitchell said, was a computer system that could learn continuously with no need for human assistance. “We’re not there yet,” he said. “But you and I don’t learn in isolation either.”

Article Courtesy of NYTimes


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Regional Insights: Jump-start job creation through startup businesses

After some very positive signs of recovery in the spring, job growth in the Pittsburgh region has been stagnant during the summer. In August, we still had more than 31,000 fewer jobs than we did in 2008 and 14,000 fewer jobs than we did in 1999. That's bad news for the nearly 100,000 workers in the region who are unemployed.

Where should we look to jump-start job growth here?

Although conventional wisdom has held that small businesses are the principal engine of job growth in the U.S. economy, a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research indicates the biggest contributor to net job growth isn't small businesses, but new businesses, i.e., entrepreneurial startup firms. Business startups accounted for all of the net new jobs created in the U.S. between 1980 and 2005.

That doesn't mean that older and larger firms don't create new jobs -- they do, but they also eliminate jobs through layoffs, plant closings, bankruptcies, etc. The study says that in the absence of startup firms, job creation and job destruction by other firms would result in no net job growth.

Although Pittsburgh was once one of the most entrepreneurial places in the country, in recent years it has become one of the least.

Data from PittsburghToday (www.PittsburghToday.org) show that the Pittsburgh region has one of the lowest rates of startup businesses compared to other regions, and a smaller percentage of our jobs are in young firms than other comparable regions. This may explain why, as reported in last month's column ("Regional Insights: Tech Businesses Important To Region's Economy," Sept. 5), Pittsburgh has fewer jobs in key technology sectors than most regions in the country.

Pittsburgh also has a weak reputation as a home for entrepreneurs. The region ranked 60th in Fortune Small Business magazine's 2008 "Best Places to Live and Launch a Business" and ranked 48th out of 50 large cities on Entrepreneur magazine's "2006 Hot Cities for Entrepreneurs" list.

What is needed to make Pittsburgh one of the top regions in the country for startup companies, and how can you help?

First, we need to encourage cutting-edge research and development, since every successful startup starts with a good idea. We already have a wealth of innovative ideas being generated at our universities, thanks to nearly a billion dollars in research each year. But the universities need help to build their endowments so they have adequate facilities and personnel to support that research.

Second, we need to encourage talented university students and faculty to turn that research into commercializable products. For example, Project Olympus at Carnegie Mellon (www.olympus.cs.cmu.edu) helps students and faculty explore the commercial potential of their research.

However, this innovative and valuable program has no long-term source of funding and could have a much bigger impact with more resources. You could help by making a contribution to support it.

Third, we need to provide technical assistance and seed funding to entrepreneurs, particularly those with products and services in high-growth sectors like advanced materials, energy, information technology, and medical devices. Thanks to Innovation Works (www.innovationworks.org), we already have one of the best overall programs in the country for supporting technology-based startups. But it is overly dependent on state government funding and it's currently facing significant cutbacks due to the state budget deficit. You could help sustain it by making a tax-deductible contribution to its operating budget.

Fourth, we need to invest in the startup firms themselves so they have adequate capital to grow. The most critical need is "angel investors" -- high net-worth individuals making investments of $25,000 to $250,000 early in a startup company's growth. The Pittsburgh region is fortunate to have BlueTree Allied Angels (www.bluetreealliedangels.com), a professionally-managed angel network but BlueTree needs more angel investors to join its ranks. The next governor could help by creating a tax credit program for angel investors in Pennsylvania similar to what Ohio and a number of other states have.

Finally, we need to buy the products and services those startup firms produce. A company can't be successful without customers, and many local startups have been forced to go outside the region to find their first customer. You can help by looking at the BlueTree and Innovation Works websites to identify startup companies with products or services you could use.

We have a good foundation to be one of the most startup-friendly regions in the country. But current programs need to be significantly expanded, and we need a more aggressive effort by public officials and regional economic development agencies to tell prospective entrepreneurs that Pittsburgh is committed to helping their companies be successful here.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Thursday, September 30, 2010

NSF funds computer systems research center at New Mexico consortium in Los Alamos

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced a $10 million award to the New Mexico Consortium (NMC) at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Utah to build and operate the Parallel Reconfigurable Observational Environment (PRObE), a one-of-a-kind computer systems research center.

This innovative concept utilizes decommissioned supercomputing systems from the Department of Energy (DOE) facilities to provide a very large-scale systems research capability. Targeted at both high-performance and data-intensive, or cloud, computing, the center will allow systems software researchers to have dedicated access to 1,000 computer clusters and control all application and operating system software down to and including the lowest-level hardware control systems. The PRObE center is the only one of its kind in the United States, and possibly the world.

"The need to expand research and educational opportunities for the systems research community is critical," said Garth Gibson, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon and respected thought leader in data storage and in data-intensive computing. "No sooner have computer systems such as LANL's Roadrunner achieved sustained petascale performance, capable of a trillion or more floating-point calculations per second, than we have recognized the need for exascale systems, which will be a thousand times faster," he said. "Designing exascale systems will be a tremendous challenge and one that will be difficult for the computer science community to meet without a resource such as PRObE."

"Computing researchers need to be able to test system-level innovations at scale," said Ed Lazowska, chair of the Computing Community Consortium and professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington. "This is the big gap. Nothing currently available fills it."

Academic researchers across the field recognize this need. Michael Dahlin, professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Austin, said, "Computer systems researchers need large-scale clusters to have any hope of doing much of the work we should be doing."

"About three years ago, we began to work on a way to re-utilize open/unclassified decommissioned supercomputers," said Gary Grider, co-PI and deputy division leader from LANL's High Performance Computing (HPC) Division. "We noticed that when new supercomputers are installed, there is a mad rush to get them into production with a focus on getting science applications to run quickly and well."

In the early phase of commissioning a new supercomputer a significant amount of work goes into software development. The people that develop software at the systems level only get a chance to try new things out for a relatively short period of time while new large computers are brought online. "This presents an issue," Grider said, "as there is no large-scale resource for these systems-level people to utilize for long periods of time to develop new concepts and functions."

The DOE continually decommissions large supercomputers, some of which are open/unclassified resources. These systems can be used for high-performance and data-intensive computing systems research, however funding is needed to house, power and air condition the systems and to provide systems support people.

"NSF seemed like the natural government sponsor for such a concept," Grider said. "Also, to be flexible enough to be able to support this kind of research, it seemed appropriate to have universities involved."

PRObE builds on an existing partnership between the LANL and the NMC to support educational and research collaborations with universities. Carnegie Mellon provides expertise as a leader in computer systems research. The University of Utah will adapt software developed for its network emulation testbed — Emulab — to PRObE.

The Emulab software has been developed over the past decade by the Flux Research Group, part of the School of Computing at the University of Utah. It is widely used in the systems research community: it powers over three dozen testbeds used around the world by thousands of researchers and educators.

PRObE will be the largest-scale Emulab installation to date. "We are excited to be part of the PRObE effort," said Robert Ricci of the University of Utah, "because we believe it addresses and important gap in the public research infrastructure."

"PRObE may be built from recycled supercomputers, but because the hardware is not exotic, the same hardware will support data-intensive computing," said CMU's Gibson, who led the DOE's Petascale Data Storage Institute. "In CMU's experience this hardware will be excellent at running data analytics for eScience or Internet service applications using open source software such as Hadoop. This will allow PRObE to serve both styles of large-scale computing, high-performance computing and data-intensive computing."

"It's good to see the NSF outsource the construction and support of a flexible large-scale experimental data center to an organization designed to do just that," said Margo Seltzer, a professor of engineering and applied sciences at Harvard University. "Let's not spend university research resources replicating engineering that is better done by others."

In addition to providing the large-scale systems research environment, PRObE will conduct an innovative summer school to train university students in how to build and manage very large high-performance computing environments. Selected top students from the summer school will be invited to intern at the PRObE Center and the LANL.

Article Courtesy of EurekAlert


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lunar Landing backed by British Investor

Julian Ranger, a British entrepreneur, has given his backing to Astrobotic Technology, one of 22 teams competing to put a robot on the moon and win the Google Lunar X PRIZE. All 22 teams meet on 4 & 5 October on the Isle of Man to reveal their progress.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a $30 million international competition to land a robot on the surface of the Moon safely, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth.

As the lead investor in Astrobotic, and the only British investor involved in the whole competition, Julian Ranger is keeping the UK firmly on the map for privately funded space travel. Julian runs iBundle, an innovation hub in Surrey, and feels very strongly about backing technology, innovation and engineering:

“This project demonstrates what can be done when great ideas are given the opportunity to flourish. I feel very strongly that Britain should back exciting projects, good ideas and entrepreneurial spirit, which is why we started iBundle.co.uk. Astrobotic sums up the collaborative working practices that make businesses successful, and we can learn a lot from this mission. All power to the Astrobotic team!”

Astrobotic will, as part of the moon landings planned:
offer children that win a competition to control the robot for a short time period from Earth
broadcast music from space
offer the opportunity for ‘cremains’ to be taken up by the robot (for scattering on the Moon)

David Gump, President of Astrobotic, said that “Julian’s investment has meant the difference between entering this project or admitting defeat. We have a good deal more investment to find, but we are very confident in our mission and our robots, not least thanks to Julian’s foresight and backing. We hope and believe we can win the Prize!”

All 22 teams are giving progress reports on 4 and 5 October, during the United Nations World Space Week, on the Isle of Man, which has become a centre for space science.

Article Courtesy of PRLog


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

GigaPan for iPad

GigaPans are digital images with billions of pixels. They are record-setting panoramas with fascinating detail, ready to be actively explored in real time. Phenomenally large, yet remarkably crisp and vivid, over 40,000 high resolution panoramas from around the world are hosted at gigapan.org, many taken by the world’s leading scientists, journalists and photographers.

GigaPan for iPad brings the best images from gigapan.org to your iPad for the most natural gigapixel browsing experience available.

- Browse the collection of 40,000+ panoramas hosted at gigapan.org
- Learn! See more information about each gigapan
- Explore! Pan and zoom using multitouch gestures
- Share! Send your friends links to your favorite panoramas

Note: this app requires an active Wi-fi connection

Article Courtesy of Mobile App News


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dynamics' credit card technology wins $1M at DEMOgod

Dynamics is on the frontier of the future of credit cards and has won a major award to prove it.

Jeff Mullen, CEO, and his team won $1 million on his three year old brainchild last week at DEMOgod for their Card 2.0 invention. Dynamics was competing with 70 other teams at the conference for new technologies.

A thinner version of a credit card, the Card 2.0 serves many different purposes. The "MultiAccount" allows just what the name implies, two different accounts on the same card. For instance, one account could be used for business expenses and another for personal use. The "Hidden" card conceals a part of the cardholder's account number when not in use and helps protect users from fraud. This is achieved by essentially having the user enter a code to unlock their card.

The card may also feature "the world's first fully card-programmable magnetic stripe," says Mullen, which would allow the card to change information on the fly and provide greater security.

"We have the largest and oldest card acceptance infrastructure in the world and it operates on magnetic stripes. Accordingly, a dynamic stripe would allow issuers to innovate in order to differentiate their products and attract users that gain value from that differentiating functionality," says Mullen.

It was at Tepper School of Business of Carnegie Mellon University where Mullen first presented the idea at Project Olympus. He graduated from CMU in 2001 with a degree in electrical computer engineering.

Dynamics is giving card issuers the option of releasing the new cards on their own schedule, so it is unclear when they will be made available, says Mullen.

Dynamics has won several other major awards including the Rice Business Plan Competition, Carnegie Mellon McGinnis Venture Competition and the University of San Francisco Business Plan Competition.

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Innovation Works, CMU receive $1M grant for tech commercialization program

A partnership between Carnegie Mellon University's Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Works has been awarded a $1 million grant through the federal Economic Development Administration to establish a new technology commercialization program.

The award is part of the i6 Challenge and taps a pot of $12 million offered by the U.S. Commerce Department in partnership with the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Six winners were announced, and each will receive $1 million.

Innovation Works and the Donald H. Jones Center are creating an “Agile Innovation System” that would take the commercialization abilities of the university and Innovation Works to create an integrated system to build new companies, said Matt Harbaugh, chief investment officer of Innovation Works, a nonprofit seed-stage investment group.

“It shouldn’t matter if you enter (the program) through the university, or AlphaLab or Innovation Works, it all should be working together to make the companies here in Pittsburgh and to make them as strong and as competitive as they can be,” Harbaugh said.

The system will look a lot like the Innovation Works’ technology accelerator and incubator AlphaLab, which has helped to create 23 companies since starting in 2008. The new program will vet new technology and bring in resources from both organizations to help with market research, intellectual property and prototyping.

When working with universities in the past, Innovation Works has given grants, typically of $25,000.

“The reason the federal EDA was interested in this is our goal at IW and CMU through this project is to create a model for the nation,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a way for regions to pull together all their resources at universities and nonprofits, like IW, as well as industry to be able to take advantage of their intellectual assets in a more efficient manner.”

Where AlphaLab is geared toward software and Web-based development, this program is aimed at all types of technology. Interested entrepreneurs or small businesses looking to spin-out their technology can access the program through the Don Jones Center, AlphaLab applications or Innovation Works.

Art Boni, director of the Don Jones Center, sees the program as an important way to get the collaboration of the center and Innovation Works early in the commercialization process so that a company can get to market quickly. Currently there is a gap in time where the university identifies an opportunity and Innovation Works gets involved. He noted that the CMU accelerator and AlphaLab programs are embodiements of what this new program can do on a broader scale.

“(There are) two parts to the program, one part is targeted at the university. Someone still in the university that is developing something that looks like it has potential. Our challenge is to identify markets first that those technologies could be applied to, then go through this agile innovation process,” Boni said. “(The) other side is the community, look at existing organizations that have received SBIR funding who are trying to do the same thing and may have gone further but they need help figuring out a comprehensive strategy for this opportunity.”

The grant was announced by U.S. Commerce Sec. Gary Locke during a speech at The Brookings Institute. Six regional winners were named. The region represented by Innovation Works and CMU stretches from Maine to Virginia.

“Each of the winners exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit that drives innovation and will help move America forward by increasing our competitiveness around the world,” Locke said in a written statement. “The i6 Challenge represents a key component of President Obama’s innovation strategy — to move great ideas from the lab to the marketplace to create jobs and economic growth.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Terry Collins wins $100,000 Heinz Award for groundbreaking green research

Green chemistry pioneer Terry Collins of Carnegie Mellon University has received a prestigious Heinz Award, placing him in the company of rock stars from around the world recognized for their work in addressing serious threats to the environment.

A scientist, professor and researcher, Collins was thinking green long before it was fashionable. He was the first educator in the country to teach "green chemistry" in the early 1990s and went on to develop a sustainable chemistry curriculum through the Institute for Green Science (IGS), training scientists to think holistically in the development of compounds that detoxify hazardous chemicals.

An outspoken critic of industrial practices that cycle endocrine disruptors into the environment, Collins is creating catalysts that will destroy everyday pollutants that disrupt normal cellular development. The CMU startup company, GreenOx Catalysts, Inc. is working to commercialize the catalysts, called TAML activators, developed at IGS.

"Dr. Collins has pioneered efforts to detoxify extremely hazardous substances, like anthrax and widely used pesticides," says Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. "His efforts to eliminate pollution and train the next generation of scientists will leave a lasting impact on the planet for years to come."

The honor comes with a $100,000 award for unrestricted use. Collins joins nine others who will be honored in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 15 including James Balog, whose Extreme Ice Survey has documented through photographs the devastation of global warming, and Frederick vom Saal, the man who uncovered health problems linked to the chemical BPA.

"The Heinz Award for the Environment is the most wonderful acknowledgement that I could imagine of my work in developing new ways to purify water and to advance green chemistry," says Collins. "I will treasure this honor for the rest of my life."

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Monday, September 20, 2010

YinzCam Steelers app hits Android marketplace

YinzCam launched its latest NFL apps Sunday with the Pittsburgh Steelers Gameday Plus and 49ers Gameday Live mobile apps for Android smartphones. The Steelers app is listed for $1.99, and the Niners app is free.

The apps are the latest offering from Carnegie Mellon University spin-out YinzCam Inc., which started in the sports mobile app space with a Pittsburgh Penguins app last year as a pilot project when the team was looking to bring technology to the team’s new home.

YinzCam’s foray into the NFL, with its work with the Steelers, 49ers and also the New England patriots, is just the beginning, according to founder Priya Narasimhan, who says the company is in talks with three other NFL teams and two other NHL teams for apps.

The NFL apps feature drive-by-drive stats, real-time scores, video-on-demand for those inside the stadiums and access to the NFL RedZone channel. The company’s technology features the ability for fans to have their own instant replays at games using all the camera angles the teams have at their disposal. Prices for the app vary team by team, the company said.

Narasimhan, a die-hard Pittsburgh sports fan, was especially pleased to launch the Steelers app. “For me, whenever I am traveling I want to see drive-by-drive, I want to see the third down,” she said. “Just think of the Steeler Nation with the ability to get an app to watch drive-by-drive anywhere in the world, in real-time.”

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times


Monday, September 20, 2010

Dynamics Inc. named DEMOgod and People's Choice

Next generation payment card start-up Dynamics Inc. was named the People’s Choice and DEMOgod at the DEMO Fall 2010 awards held last week in Palm Desert, Calif.

The DEMO conference, where many technology company’s launch, is coproduced by the blog VentureBeat and IDG Enterprises. Previous DEMO companies include TiVo, E-Trade and Salesforce.com.

Dynamics, started in 2007 by CEO Jeff Mullen, launched Dynamics Card 2.0 a thin, flexible computing platform that can be used in payment cards. The technology allows the magnetic stripe on a card to be programmable and used with any existing point-of-sale stripe reader.

By winning the People’s Choice Award, the company receives $1 million in advertising from IDG, with international publications including PC World, MacWorld and ComputerWorld.

“It was no surprise to me that Dynamics swept the People’s Choice Award and won the DEMOgod title,” said Matt Marshall, producer of DEMO and editor-in-chief of VentureBeat, in a written statement. “What they brought to the DEMO audience this year is game-changing and has raised the bar for all future innovators.

The company beat out 70 other firms to take the People’s Choice Award as voted by the 800 attendees. The DEMOgod is selected by the conference producers.

“This is just the beginning,” Mullen said in a written statement. “We will continue to deliver innovative and exciting functionality to the consumer.”

In September 2009, the company raised $5.7 million in series A funding led by Pittsburgh-based Adams Capital Management. The company is headquartered in Wexford but has offices in New York City and Silicon Valley.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times


Monday, September 13, 2010

CMU researchers work on Web security, access

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they're working to make surfing the Web safer.

A three-year, $7.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation is helping Peter Steenkiste, a professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering, direct more than 10 researchers who will develop an Internet framework to accommodate as-yet-unknown technologies. Scientists from Boston University and the University of Wisconsin are involved.

"This is probably the most exciting project I've worked on," Steenkiste said.

Steenkiste and his colleagues are examining vital components of the Internet, such as security and communication procedures and information-technology infrastructure.

Their effort is one of four the National Science Foundation is funding, involving 30 institutions nationwide, said Victor Frost, a program director in the foundation's computer network systems division.

It's possible that ideas from each could be combined into a trustworthy network, said Ty Znati, director of the foundation's computer network systems division.

A project based at the University of California in Los Angeles concentrates on securing data no matter where it exists, rather than on securing host computers. Another, based at Rutgers University, examines improving the security and reliability of information delivered from mobile points of communication such as smart phones, rather than stationary points such as desktop computers.

The fourth, based at the University of Pennsylvania, analyzes options that increase speed, availability and security of "cloud computing" -- technology used every day to store e-mails and other data on remote servers hosted by Google and Yahoo!, for example.

"We hope to have a collaboration among the project researchers," said Darleen Fisher, a National Science Foundation project manager.

"Each of the projects will be doing prototyping: Can these ideas be implemented?" Frost said. "The projects may lay the research foundation for the development of future networks."

Steenkiste said he and his colleagues "want to find out how much trust users have in our ideas."

For example, a prototype Internet-security protocol could enable customers to confirm for themselves that a bank's website is not fraudulent, said Adrian Perrig, a Carnegie Mellon professor in electrical and computer engineering.

Such tweaks would let "a person who does not have a Ph.D. in information security to use the Internet confidentially," Perrig said. "Whatever site she visits, she will be able to know that somebody didn't tamper with the connection."

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Sunday, September 12, 2010

CMU Engineering Professor Christopher Bettinger Develops New Biomaterials To Improve Drug Delivery for Patients

“We are working with biodegradable polymers because they are non-toxic and capable of a controlled rate of degradation,” said Bettinger, assistant professor of materials science and biomedical engineering at CMU. “In the case of drug delivery, we find that the polymer slowly degrades into smaller fragments, releasing a natural product in a controlled environment.”

One of the challenges Bettinger and his team face is controlling the rate at which water can get into the polymers. “We’ve found that the environment surrounding the polymer is different depending on the location in the body,” he said.

To help make these biomedical devices more efficient, Bettinger’s research team is investigating materials and fabrication strategy for the use of organic thin film transistors to assist in biomedical applications. Organic thin film transistor technology involves the use of organic semiconducting compounds in biomedical components.

What Bettinger’s team has discovered is that the integration of electronic devices in aqueous environments provides numerous opportunities and challenges — something that may be familiar to anyone who has ever dropped a cell phone in a bathtub or toilet.

“We found that by combining small-molecular semiconductors and biodegradable polymers it allows for potential electronic functionality in biodegradable medical implants that has previously been unattainable,” Bettinger said.

Bettinger received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 2003, a master’s degree in biomedical engineering in 2004, and a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering in 2008 as a Charles Stark Draper Fellow, all from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He completed his post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University in the Department of Chemical Engineering as an NIH Ruth Kirschstein Fellow in 2010. He has also received many career accolades, including the American Chemical Society’s AkzoNobel Award for Polymer Chemistry and the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Society Young Investigator Award. He also is a co-inventor on several patents and a finalist in the MIT $100,000 Entrepreneurship Competition.

Article Courtesy of Health Canal


Friday, September 10, 2010

Accelerator: Black Locus readies product

Rodrigo Carvalho spent the summer working on his company and now he’s back at school — his final year at Tepper.

Carvalho is CEO of Black Locus, a startup that helps online retailers with pricing, marketing and managing inventory. Like the other students participating in the Accelerator program, he spent his summer developing a prototype product for demonstration to customers, and his company reached the level of alpha testing.

What’s next?

“All of the student teams are enrolled in our MBA Entrepreneurship Track, where they will spend the fall engaged in advancing the alpha and beta testing to refine their products offering, and to develop commercialization and market entry strategies,” said Art Boni, Jones Center executive director. “Beyond that, we will work with them to develop and launch their companies in the spring term – further team development, financing, market development and testing."

Black Locus was launched by Carvalho and Lukas Bouvrie, also beginning his second year at Tepper, and Francisco Uribe, who graduated from CMU’s e-business graduate program last month. Carvalho, a former IBM consultant, gave an update on Black Locus in the following Q&A:

What sort of progress did Black Locus make over the summer?

“Black Locus is a Web-based decision support platform tailored to small and medium online retailers. We help our clients by analyzing their data through proprietary algorithms and giving them real-time recommendations. We had 12 people helping the company over the summer, and a lot was accomplished. Our pricing module was re-built for scalability and its closed beta version deployed, the alpha version of our marketing module was developed, and a provisional patent was filed to protect the sophisticated algorithms behind this module. In addition, we now have 10 local beta clients using our pricing tool.”

What is the status of your company?

“Our internal development team is refining our marketing module. Lukas and I have been working with several CMU student-project teams to enhance our platform. We started working with an HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) team to refine our user interface, with a Machine Learning graduate student to improve one of our algorithms, with a MIMS (Masters of Information Science Management) team to develop our Inventory Module, and with a MIMS student, who is an SEO expert, to create an SEO add-on to our marketing tool. Those students are extremely bright and motivated, so I believe that a lot will be accomplished this fall semester. We are also working closely with our beta clients so we do not have any surprises when we open our pricing module to the public.”

How does your financing shape up?

“So far, we have received funding from Alpha Lab, the Tepper Accelerator Program, and from business plan competitions that we won. We are currently talking with local programs that support start-up companies, as well as with angel investors.”

You’re also part of Alpha Labs and Project Olympus. What benefits does your company receive through those and what did the Accelerator add?

“The Tepper Accelerator helped us to continue what we started at Alpha Lab without disruption. The summer program that Art Boni put in place makes a lot of sense for the students that want to pursue entrepreneurship — you cannot get more hands-on than that. It surprises me that not more MBA schools are doing the same. Project Olympus, Alpha Lab and the Accelerator program are complimentary to one another. Those programs are great, if not essential, for an early stage start up. They give you structure, help you to stay focused, and pressure you so you move faster. From my perspective, they are similar to a difficult class. For instance, you could learn JAVA on your own, but if you are taking a JAVA class at CMU, you have complicated homework assignments, projects and exams. The structure guides you in the right direction, keeps you focused, and pressures you to learn at the class pace. Without the structure, you could easily shift your focus somewhere else before achieving significant results. The same goes for an early stage start-up.”

Are there other components missing or that would help your company’s development?

“A device that turns 24-hour days into 30-hour days would greatly aid our business. Additional funding may do just that.”

Your company changed its original name, which was Lama Lab. Why?

“Our original name was the one used to incorporate our company when we started Alpha Lab. At the time, our value proposition was somewhat vague, so we decided to go with a more generic name. After talking with many potential clients and identifying the major pain points in the industry, our business model solidified and that’s when we came up with Black Locus. Locus comes from ‘internal locus of control,’ which means that the actions that you take today will determine your future tomorrow. Black comes from profitable, like Black Friday. Black Locus helps online stores to take data-driven actions today so they become highly profitable in the future. Plus, it’s a pretty cool name.”

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Carnegie Mellon researchers develop method to help computer vision systems decipher outdoor scenes

Computer vision systems can struggle to make sense of a single image, but a new method devised by computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University enables computers to gain a deeper understanding of an image by reasoning about the physical constraints of the scene.

In much the same way that a child might use a set of toy building blocks to assemble something that looks like a building depicted on the cover of the toy set, the computer would analyze an outdoor scene by using virtual blocks to build a three-dimensional approximation of the image that makes sense based on volume and mass.

"When people look at a photo, they understand that the scene is geometrically constrained," said Abhinav Gupta, a post-doctoral fellow in CMU's Robotics Institute. "We know that buildings aren't infinitely thin, that most towers do not lean, and that heavy objects require support. It might not be possible to know the three-dimensional size and shape of all the objects in the photo, but we can narrow the possibilities. In the same way, if a computer can replicate an image, block by block, it can better understand the scene."

This novel approach to automated scene analysis could eventually be used to understand not only the objects in a scene, but the spaces in between them and what might lie behind areas obscured by objects in the foreground, said Alexei A. Efros, associate professor of robotics and computer science at CMU. That level of detail would be important, for instance, if a robot needed to plan a route where it might walk, he noted.

Gupta presented the research, which he conducted with Efros and Robotics Professor Martial Hebert, at the European Conference on Computer Vision, Sept. 5-11 in Crete, Greece.

Understanding outdoor scenes remains one of the great challenges of artificial intelligence. One approach has been to identify features of a scene, such as buildings, roads and cars, but this provides no understanding of the geometry of the scene, such as the location of walkable surfaces. Another approach, which Hebert and Efros pioneered with former student Derek Hoiem, now of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has been to map the planar surfaces of an image to create a rough 3-D depiction of an image, similar to a pop-up book. But that approach can lead to depictions that are highly unlikely and sometimes physically impossible.

In the new method devised by Gupta, Efros and Hebert, the image is first broken into various segments corresponding to objects in the image. Once the ground and sky are identified, other segments are assigned potential geometric shapes. The shapes also are categorized as light or heavy, depending on appearance; a surface that appears to be a brick wall, for instance, would be classified as heavy.

The computer then attempts to reconstruct the image using the virtual blocks. If a heavy block appears unsupported, the computer must substitute an appropriately shaped block, or make assumptions that the original block was obscured in the original image.

Gupta said because this qualitative volumetric approach to scene understanding is so new, no established datasets or evaluation methodologies exist for it. He said in estimating the layout of surfaces, other than sky and ground, the method is better than 70 percent accurate, and its performance is almost as good when comparing its segmentation to ground truth. Overall, Gupta assesses the analysis as very good for 30 to 40 percent of the images and adequate for another 20 to 30 percent.

Article Courtesy of Science Codex


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Houston ISD and Carnegie Learning Partner to Prepare Middle School Students for Algebra Success

Houston Independent School District (ISD) is using funds from a $1.9 million grant from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to purchase Cognitive Tutor® Bridge to Algebra software for 4500 middle school students to build a strong conceptual foundation in preparation for Algebra I. The program objectives are to increase teachers’ math content knowledge, equip school leaders to facilitate more effective math instruction, and provide targeted intervention to prepare all students for success on state-level Algebra I End-of-Course assessments.

Middle schools in 33 districts across the state received the three-year TEA Algebra Readiness Cycle 1 grants to fund programs that prepare middle-school students to meet state academic standards and pass Algebra I assessments. In addition to Houston ISD, Carnegie Learning will be implemented in several other Texas districts with funding from the Algebra Readiness Cycle 1 grants.

“Math skills are crucial to reaching graduation and achieving success in college and the 21st century job market,” said Monica Kendall M. Ed., secondary curriculum and instruction math for Houston ISD. “We chose the Carnegie Learning Math program because it focuses on differentiated instruction, extends students’ thinking into higher levels, and provides strong professional development resources that enable teachers to prepare all students for success with algebra.”

Carnegie Learning® Math programs integrate adaptive learning technologies, ongoing assessment, and rich problem-solving activities into a comprehensive solution to strengthen conceptual understanding of mathematics. Carnegie Learning® Professional Services support teachers with a standards-based, student-centered curriculum. Throughout the professional development cycle, teachers, coaches and school leaders learn to integrate technology effectively into the classroom and use performance data to measure student progress and inform instructional strategies.

The seven Houston ISD middle schools implementing Cognitive Tutor® Bridge to Algebra are Cullen, Deady, Edison, Hogg, Holland, Long, and Williams middle schools.


Article Courtesy of Centre Daily Times


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cardiorobotics collects $500K of planned $5M round

Less than one year after raising a $5 million funding round, Cardiorobotics Inc. has started another $5 million round with a $500,000 tranche, according to federal documents.

In the document filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Cardiorobotics lists its headquarters as Raynham, the site of the new facility it established in January. The company was previously based in Newport, R.I., which is where it established its headquarters after being founded in Pittsburgh as a spinoff from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. No one was available to comment on the story this morning.

Cardiorobotics, which makes the cardioARM, a snake-like robotic probe controlled remotely that is designed to enable surgeries to be done with minimal or no incisions, initially raised $11.6 million in a Series A round in August of 2009. Backers in the Series A round included lead investor Eagle Ventures of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse and the R.I.-focused Slater Technology Fund. The company followed that up with $5 million in January.

Founded in 2005 as Innovention Technologies, Cardiorobotics moved to R.I. in 2007.

Article Courtesy of Mass High Tech


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

CMU Professor Uses Robotics to Help the Poor

Bernardine Dias has a big goal - she wants to connect the people of the world using technology - all of the people of the world, especially the poor and the underserved. As a result, this Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Robotics professor, a woman of action, created a research group called, appropriately, "TechBridgeWorld," to help communities in some of the most underserved locations in the world.

Professor Dias has good reasons for wanting to bridge the world. She grew up inSri Lanka, where her family started at the base of the economic pyramid, and saw, first-hand, the devastation and division wrought by misunderstanding, prejudice and war. Dias remembers July 23, 1983, when she was eight years old, as a day that changed her. That day civil riots broke out in Colombo, beginning a period of violence that affected her family and friends. "My life definitely shifted from that moment; I began to think about what I might do to change things."

Dias applied herself to her studies and earned the highest distinctions in high school. Her parents encouraged her to apply to universities outside of Sri Lanka to avoid the political violence and hazing that was ongoing at local universities. Dias applied to small schools in the United States, choosing Hamilton College in upstate New York.

While at Hamilton, Dias excelled in her studies and became the only woman in her class to major in computer science and physics. When it came time for her senior research project, she chose robotics. Dias graduated second in her class of 400.

"Upon graduation I had graduate school offers in physics and computer science, as well as robotics," she said. "I chose CMU because I realized that they played a big role in changing the future, and that's what I desperately wanted to do."

After earning her Ph.D. degree in robotics, she took a research faculty position at CMU and negotiated the opportunity to create TechBridgeWorld as a way to connect her research with her passion to change the world. "At TechBridgeWorld, we look at how computing technology can be applied innovatively to address needs that are most meaningful to the communities we work with."

Dias elaborated, "Partnerships are crucial. We go into a community with exploratory technology and nothing else. We don't try to tell people, 'here's what your vision should be.' The goal is to help them to achieve their vision by creating relevant technology solutions that address their needs and challenges."

TechBridgeWorld's research efforts are driven by students at CMU. Graduate and undergraduate students from across the university participate and come from departments as diverse as business, engineering, information systems, and public policy. Unlike other organizations of its kind, TechBridgeWorld offers courses, a summer internship program, seminars and other opportunities for students to learn about the growing field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development.

"I want to have true impact in 20 years, to change the relevance and accessibility of computing technology. The best way I can do that is to get students involved, because they are the future," Dias said.

TechBridgeWorld has been innovating computing technologies since 2004, with projects in literacy, social work, education, and assistive technology. One form of technology involves the blind.

"More than 87% of the world's 314 million blind and visually impaired people live in developing communities, according to the World Health Organization," Dias said. "Despite the importance of literacy to employment, social well-being, and health, experts from the United Nations Development Programme estimate 97% to be illiterate."

In 2006, TechBridgeWorld partnered with a blind school in India to learn about their challenges. What resulted was a low-cost, low-power Braille writing tutor that helps visually impaired students write Braille. As the student writes each letter, the tutor provides immediate audio feedback by repeating the written letters and words. It also guides writing and corrects mistakes through audio cues. Students can learn how to write, practice writing and be quizzed on letters and words through the tutor's many modes.

Since then, many researchers at CMU have worked on the project and the tutor has been introduced and expanded to blind schools and institutions in the U.S., Bangladesh, China, Qatar, Tanzania and Zambia. It is now available in several Braille languages and educational games.

"This research takes time and money," Dias said. And, she spends time trying to educate people about TechBridgeWorld and to find funding support.

Additional funding will take TechBridgeWorld to an entirely different level," she said. "We would be able to impact so many more students and communities around the world. Right now, we get emails and calls from around the world asking for partnerships that we simply don't have the resources to explore."

Article Courtesy of PRNewswire


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Carnegie Mellon receives funding to create new program studying environmental impact of nanotechnology

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Howard University in Washington, D.C., have received a five-year, $3.15 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to launch a new interdisciplinary program in the environmental affects and policy implications of nanotechnology.

Funding comes from a new NSF program called the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT), which enables the creation of interdisciplinary programs educating U.S. Ph.D.s in science and engineering.

"The IGERT program at Carnegie Mellon and Howard will operate at the interface of science and environmental policy to produce an environmentally and policy literate generation of nanoscience professionals with the skills needed to create novel nanotechnologies and to assess and manage environmental risks associated with nanomaterials," said Jeanne M. VanBriesen, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon who will lead the program.

Graduate students from multiple disciplines will participate in a two-year training program to learn the fundamentals of their core disciplines and gain proficiency in the analysis of environmental issues pertaining to nanotechnology, decision science and policy analysis in new nanotechnology-themed courses. Following this foundation, students will conduct research at the interface of policy and nanotechnology. Students also will participate in international laboratory exchange projects as well as internships at corporations active in nanotechnology.

VanBriesen will be joined in the program development and implementation by a cadre of professors including: Gregory Lowry, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon and associate director of the Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology CEINT; Elizabeth Casman, associate research professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon; and Kimberly L. Jones and Lorraine Fleming, both professors in civil and environmental engineering at Howard University.

Additional Carnegie Mellon faculty participants in this NSF-funded project include: Allen Robinson, professor of mechanical engineering; Kelvin Gregory, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; Kris Dahl, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering; Michael Bockstaller, associate professor of materials science; Mohammad Islam, assistant professor of materials science and chemical engineering; and Paul Fischbeck, professor of social and decision sciences and engineering and public policy. Additional Howard faculty participants include Gary Harris, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Article Courtesy of EurekAlert


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

CMU lands $7.1M to develop the future of the Internet

The creation of a safer, more reliable Internet is the focus of a three-year, $7.1 million study lead by Carnegie Mellon University with funding from the National Science Foundation.

The eXpressive Internet Architecture (XIA) Project is one of four projects funded through the NSF's Future Internet Architecture Program. The awards will help researchers develop a more trustworthy and robust Internet, resolving many of the issues surrounding security that threaten the Internet today such as phishing attacks and security breaches.

"Today's Internet is vital to the functioning of our economy and society, yet it is under enormous pressure as security attacks become more sophisticated and as new uses continue to multiply," says Peter Steenkiste, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon. "Obviously, a lot of wisdom is embedded in the current Internet and we'll retain that. But parts of it are clearly broken and can't be fixed with incremental steps."

The project will also consider features that will speed up information retrieval and ease network traffic by giving users access to content where it is most easily found rather than going all the way to host sites.

The XIA project will draw upon the expertise of researchers across CMU's School of Computer Science and the College of Engineering, as well as colleagues from other universities. Other projects will be led by UCLA, Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania. Each explores different aspects of a comprehensive network design and emphasizes a different vision of the Internet's future.

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

And for the kids, here come the Cubelets by Modular Robotics

Modular Robotics hopes to hit the stores this December with limited editions of a new robotic toy, colorful "Cubelets" that help kids connect with the scientific thinking and STEM concepts behind robotics.

"It's Lego on steroids," laughs Mark Gross, co-founder and research director of Modular Robotics, describing the blocks that encourage kids, ages seven and up, to wrap their heads around computation thinking. "We're in the creativity business. With our Cubelet toys, kids learn to create things that think."

The company, a Carnegie Mellon spinoff, was founded in 2008 by Gross and a former doctorate student, Eric Schweikardt, based on Schweikardt's doctoral work. The toy will be sold in kits of 20 cubelets that contains an assortment of sensor, action and operator blocks. There is no central brain the controls the robot, Gross explains. When connected, larger robots are technically being created out of the smaller robots. The behaviors emerge based on the way they are constructed.

Parents will, thankfully, find it takes kids less than a minute to figure out how to make the blocks work, he adds. No parental assembly required.

As a 21st century micro-global company, Modular Robotics has five employees and locations in Pittsburgh, China, Port Louis, Mauritius and Boulder, Colo. "We hire wherever we find like-minded talent," Gross says.

The company launched with funding assistance from the National Science Foundation, private foundations and seed funds from CMU's Office of Technology Transfer. Initial beta testing of the toys will take place through science centers and children's museums such as the Carnegie Science Center and the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.


Article Courtesy of Pop City


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Carnegie Robotics opens manufacturing center in Pittsburgh

A new robotic firm has opened shop, Carnegie Robotics, with plans to manufacture products and service components with an assist from the latest research developed by the National Robotics Engineering Center in Lawrenceville at Carnegie Mellon University.

As a spinoff of the NREC, the firm will ultimately turn robotic innovations into commercial products, further strengthening the NREC while expanding the robotics industry in western Pennsylvania, says Mark Kamlet, executive vice president and provost of Carnegie Mellon.

John Bares will step down as director of the NREC to direct the company, which will start out with four people and concentrate on producing components for other manufacturers in the mining agriculture, petroleum production and defense industries. Anthony Stentz, NREC's associate director since 1997, will take over as NREC director.

"We'll focus initially on components, building blocks used in a variety of robotic systems," says Bares. "Over time we can aggregate specific (full) systems and sell them ourselves. It's exciting that it's happening in Pittsburgh and with people who've been growing NREC and want to keep it here."

Carnegie Robotics is leasing space initially in NREC's renovated foundry in Lawrenceville with plans to expand in two years.

Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute opened its doors 30 years ago with the dream of ushering in a new age of thinking robots. Under the leadership of Red Whittaker, the Fredkin Professor of Robotics and director of the Field Robotics Center, the NREC has developed commercial applications of mobile robots for companies such as Caterpillar and Consol Energy and successfully created intelligent autonomous vehicles, space-related robots and medical robotics, to name but a few.


Article Courtesy of Pop City


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

UPMC HTI Grant Program to advance new areas of research in healthcare information technology

The objective of the UPMC Healthcare Technology Innovation Grant program is to advance new areas of research in healthcare information technology. Underway as of September 1, 2010, the HTI Grant program is a strategic collaboration between UPMC and Carnegie Mellon University. The HTI program is funded by UPMC and is managed by UPMC‟s Technology Development Center. It is the goal of the HTI Grant program to support research and create pathways to solutions that will attract further investment in related research and commercialization.

Purpose of Request
The purpose of this request for proposals is to elicit definitive expressions of interest from CMU faculty in pursuing projects requiring funding from the UPMC Healthcare Technology Innovation Grant Program.

Pre-proposal project submissions will be evaluated and the HTI project team will work with select applicants to prepare and submit a proposal for HTI funding by UPMC (for Phase 1). Pre-proposal submissions are due by October 6, 2010. Early submissions are welcomed. Awards will be announced by October 15, 2010.
This RFP is for Phase 1 funding only. Candidates for Phase 2 funding will be selected primarily from Phase 1 participants.

Summary of HTI Program Phases
• Phase 1 (Proof of Concept) is a feasibility study that determines the scientific, technical, and commercial merit of a selected concept. Phase 1 projects are competitively selected from proposals submitted against this general RFP. The Phase 1 proposal selection process will consist of two parts. First, proposals submitted against this RFP will be considered and tentatively accepted (by October 15). Second, the HTI team will work with those selected to further define the project as well as identify any resources necessary from within UPMC. Average Funding: $50,000-$125,000
• Phase 2 (Prototype) represents a significant research and development effort, culminating in a well defined deliverable (i.e., a technology, product, or service). The Phase 2 selection process is also highly competitive. Successful Phase 1 projects are invited to submit Phase 2 proposals as there will be no separate Phase 2 solicitations. Average Funding: $125,000-$325,000
• Phase 3 (Commercialization), it is expected that the research and development effort will be ready for licensing consideration and transition to commercial development. Funding for this phase will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Average Funding: TBD

Evaluation of Pre-Proposal Submissions
Phase 1 proposal submissions will be evaluated by the HTI program team. In doing so, consideration will be given to the factors below.
Project concepts must be responsive to these characteristics:
1. The project will utilize UPMC for deployment and/or has the potential to positively impact the operation of UPMC and/or other healthcare systems in a meaningful way.
2. The project responds to one or more of the types of problems and challenges listed in the HTI description (see Appendix A).

In addition, project concepts responsive to one or more of the following characteristics will be viewed more favorably:
1. The project outcome has the potential to be applied or deployed in UPMC within the next two to three years.
2. An interdisciplinary faculty team will be involved in the project.
3. Students will be involved in the project.
4. The project is likely to lay the groundwork for Phase 2 HTI funding.

An additional consideration necessary for HTI research projects to be considered a success is the need to make new technologies work with the way medicine is practiced. That means that the researched technology needs to be consistent with the stakeholder„s workflow, to be easy to use right from the start, and, where applicable, to not get in the way of the relationship with the patient.
The HTI team will be doing substantial outreach to establish interest and support on the part of potential collaborators within UPMC and/or other healthcare industry partners.

Feel free to contact the HTI Program Director, Henry Clement (clementhl@upmc.edu), if you wish to know more about the findings of this outreach or to discuss potential collaborators.


Contents of Pre-Proposal Submissions
While the format may be customized, a pre-proposal should have the following contents in no more than five pages (though appendices, web links and references should be utilized as desired):
1. Provide a project summary.
2. Define the problem(s) that will be addressed and the desired results.
3. Outline the major tasks and rough timetable.
4. Identify the likely CMU project team.
5. Discuss actual need for or potential for involvement of UPMC resources (including access to data, people, infrastructure, and places).
6. Provide a cost estimate.
7. Identify any potential sources of financial support other than HTI funding.
8. Speculate as to how the project could lay the groundwork for Phase 2 HTI funding.

Method of Submission
Phase 1 proposals following the guidelines above should be submitted electronically to Henry Clement at clementhl@upmc.edu by October 6, 2010. Earlier submissions are welcome.

Contact for Questions/Issues
Informational Workshop: An informational workshop will be held on or about Thursday, September 23, 2010 (specific details will be announced). The purpose of the workshop is to meet CMU faculty and students interested in healthcare technology, further introduce the UPMC Healthcare Innovation Grant Program, and answer questions about it.
Contact: Inquiries regarding the process, guidelines or other matters should be directed to Henry Clement at clementhl@upmc.edu.

Article Courtesy of UPMC Technology Development Center


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

CMU robotics spinoff to create products

Carnegie Mellon University plans to turn its research prototypes into marketplace products with the creation of Carnegie Robotics LLC, a spinoff of the university's National Robotics Engineering Center in Lawrenceville.

Carnegie Robotics is the latest example of a university initiative turning professors into entrepreneurs and nonprofit university research into for-profit products.

John Bares, who oversaw growth at the robotics engineering center from 20 to 120 employees in the past 13 years, will head the four-employee startup.

Anthony Stentz, the robotics engineering center's associate director since 1997, will take over as director.

Dr. Bares said on Monday that the new venture was a departure from the isolation of the research lab - this effort requires a crash course in entrepreneurial skills such as marketing and customer care.

The new venture is "exercising in a different direction" for him, although some of it may feel like deja vu from the early days of building the robotics engineering center.

He said the robotics engineering center and Carnegie Robotics partnership could offer a "part one, part two" package to prospective clients: the National Robotics Engineering Center researches and builds a prototype, which Carnegie Robotics turns into a saleable product.

Carnegie Robotics will also pursue independent contracts with outside clients, said Dr. Bares, and assemble robots at the Lawrenceville site.

Dr. Stentz sees the partnership working better with commercial contracts than with governmental work, which is usually completed without an eye on the marketplace.

"Typically [the National Robotics Engineering Center] will go as far as develop a prototype," he said. "But the question immediately rises: 'Who's going to make it?' "

One such National Robotics Engineering Center project that could work well with the new firm, he said, is a robotics system that sorts young strawberry plants based on quality.

Dr. Bares is now working to expand his payroll from four workers. "The company is a brand-new legal entity," he said. "It attracts a different brand of person."

Carnegie Robotics plans to move out of the Lawrenceville facility in about two years, he said.

In fiscal 2010, the robotics engineering center saw $24.8 million in sponsored research, with $8.7 million coming from commercial industry work.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Miami-Dade Adopts Carnegie Learning(R) Math Programs for All 42 High Schools $2.3 Million in Curricula and Professional Development to Deliver Comprehensive Math Intervention

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is investing in improved math achievement for all high school students with the purchase of Carnegie Learning(R) Math programs for the district's 42 high schools. The $2.3 million implementation provides comprehensive math intervention, software as supplemental curricula, and initial training and ongoing job-embedded support for teachers.

The implementation delivers two models of instruction: Carnegie Learning(R) Bridge to Algebra Textbooks and Cognitive Tutor(R) software as an algebra readiness intervention; and, unlimited access by all high school students to the Cognitive Tutor(R) Bridge to Algebra and Algebra I software as a supplement to the district's existing textbooks.

"We are committed to a vital partnership with Miami-Dade to meet the individual learning needs of a highly diverse group of students," said Dennis Ciccone, chief executive officer of Carnegie Learning, Inc. "We will work closely with teachers and administrators to provide math content and innovative technology to provide differentiated instruction that engages and inspires both students and teachers to achieve more." Carnegie Learning(R) Math programs are adopted in 15 states including Florida where Carnegie Learning(R) Florida Edition Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II Textbooks and ancillary software are adopted as core mathematics instructional materials through June 2016. Carnegie Learning(R) Florida Edition Textbooks feature customized content designed to support the goals of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.

Miami-Dade first purchased Carnegie Learning(R) Math programs in 2002 and implemented the programs in nine schools in the secondary school-reform initiative and three corrective action schools. During the 2002-03 school year, the district commissioned an independent research study examining the effectiveness of Cognitive Tutor(R) software compared with conventional curricula. The Cognitive Tutor students scored significantly better than conventional curricula students on the FCAT and the improvement was pronounced for Exceptional Student Education (ESE) participants, including those with learning and behavioral difficulties, and for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest district in the United States, is among the most diverse with 62% of its students of Hispanic origin, 26% African American, 9% Non-Hispanic White, and 1% Asian or Pacific Islander.

About Carnegie Learning, Inc. (www.carnegielearning.com) Carnegie Learning, Inc. is a leading publisher of innovative, research-based math curricula for middle school, high school, and post-secondary students.

Providing differentiated instruction to schools across the United States, Carnegie Learning is helping students to succeed in math, creating a gateway to graduation and preparing them for the 21st century. Founded by cognitive and computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University in conjunction with veteran mathematics teachers, Carnegie Learning is helping to re-invent the way we teach math, empowering students to produce significantly improved math scores in a diverse spectrum of school districts across the nation. By constantly innovating and developing new ways for students to learn, Carnegie Learning is ensuring schools, teachers and students achieve greater success.

Article Courtesy of CNBC Business Wire


Monday, August 23, 2010

Astrobotic Technology Announces Caterpillar Inc. Sponsorship of Robotic Mission to the Moon

Astrobotic Technology, a Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) spin-off company has announced that Caterpillar Inc. will be a sponsor its first robotic expedition to the lunar surface. The initial Astrobotic mission will revisit the Apollo 11 site in April 2013 with a five-foot tall, 160-lb. robot broadcasting 3D high-definition video. The mission will carry payloads to the Moon and convey the experience to the world via Internet video access.

The expedition also will claim a financial trifecta: up to $24 million in the Google Lunar X Prize, a $10 million data sale to NASA, and Florida’s $2 million bonus for launching from that state.

In 2007 Caterpillar sponsored Carnegie Mellon’s winning machine in the Urban Challenge, a competition for autonomous vehicles conducted by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The sensors and code base developed for this race of driverless cars through city traffic are evolving into the guidance and control for the spacecraft that will take Astrobotic’s robot to the lunar surface.

“Caterpillar has enjoyed a successful relationship with Carnegie Mellon University over the last two decades. Our sponsorship of CMU’s winning machine in the 2007 Urban Challenge has served as a technology foundation for further work to automate our large mining trucks,” said Eric Reiners, Caterpillar Automation Systems Manager. “Our customers are moving to more remote and harsh environments. This drives the need for further development of autonomous and remote operation of equipment. We look forward to applying the technology developed and lessons learned from the Astrobotic expedition toward our own Cat equipment.”

Carnegie Mellon and Astrobotic have expended more than $3 million creating mission designs and prototype Moon robots engineered to operate during extreme heat -- soil temperatures at the lunar equator hit 224 degrees F at noon.

“Operating during the Moon’s daytime heat is the central engineering challenge for lunar robots, and we will take advantage of Caterpillar’s experience with rugged electronics for harsh environments,” said Dr. Red Whittaker, director of CMU’s Field Robotics Center and founder of Astrobotic Technology.

Caterpillar’s experience in autonomous mining and construction machinery also will assist with learning how to “live off the land” using lunar resources. For example, polar ice deposits can be transformed into propellant to refuel spacecraft for their return to Earth, doubling their productivity. New NASA research shows that some of the polar ice (a mix of water, methane and other compounds) is covered by an insulating layer of dry soil that robotic excavators can remove to access the volatiles.

“Caterpillar makes sustainable progress possible by enabling infrastructure development and resource utilization on every continent on Earth. It only makes sense we would be involved expanding our efforts to the 8th continent, the Moon,” said Reiners.

Astrobotic has just completed the first phase of a NASA contract to design lightweight robotic excavators for this task (see http://astrobotic.net/activities/lunar-construction-research-completed).

Article Courtesy of PR Web


Monday, August 23, 2010

CMU master's degree to blend robotics, business

A Carnegie Mellon University master's degree program set to start in fall 2011 has the potential to churn out Pittsburgh-based robotics companies at an unprecedented rate, said Todd Jochem, CEO of SkEyes Unlimited Corp. in Harmony in Butler County.

The program is designed to teach students how to bring a robotic product to market, lead a team at a robotics company or found or lead a company. Two semesters of classes, plus a seven-month internship with a robotics- or autonomous systems-related company, are involved.

"Most roboticists don't know how to run a business," said Jochem, who earned a doctorate in robotics from CMU in 1996. His firm specializes in aerial robotic systems such as unmanned helicopters.

"This program will help graduates take companies to the next level," said Jochem, 42, of Pine. "So, instead of generating one or two legitimate ventures every decade, we could get one or two every year."

That's the general idea, said Hagen Schempf, a principal systems scientist at CMU's Robotics Institute who will direct the new robotic systems development degree program.

"Our goal is to give students the skills to run a team and a project, to become the CEO or (chief technology officer) of an existing company -- or found and oversee a new one," Schempf said.

"We're basically giving them booster rockets to become candidates I'd immediately want to hire," said Schempf, who founded the robot research, development and production firm Automatika Inc., now owned by Virginia-based QinetiQ.

Graduates will build on the technical knowledge of mechanical, electrical and software systems they gained during their undergraduate years, he said. The curriculum will include robotic sciences and technologies, hands-on project classes and seminar-style business and management courses.

"I want to make sure they learn how to think about the market for their products, how much it will cost to manufacture, whether they'll be able to sell them for a profit and what the customer wants," he said. "You're always going to have a boss, and that boss has to be won over by those kinds of numbers."

What's different about CMU's program is that it will require students to complete a seven-month internship before they can earn the master's degree, said Dan Kara, president of Robotics Trends, a media company based in Framingham, Mass., that covers the robotics industry.

"Essentially what this program will offer is applied robotics vs. theoretical robotics," Kara said. "It will help the robotics industry as a whole because it offers hands-on training."

Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts is the only other school in the country with a comparable program, Kara said. But at WPI, an internship is an option, not mandatory.

CMU will accept applications for the program this fall, said Byron Spice, spokesman for the university's School of Computer Science. Candidates must have an undergraduate degree in engineering, computer science, physical science or applied mathematics, and one to three years of practical experience in industry or in a research laboratory is preferred, Spice said.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Carnegie Mellon joins NSF research consortium to develop tools for analyzing autism, other behaviors

Researchers in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University will join a five-year, $10 million initiative funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create novel tools for evaluating social interactions and other behaviors that can be used in diagnosing or treating behavioral disorders such as autism.

The Computational Behavioral Science Project, part of the Expeditions in Computing Program of the NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), includes collaborators from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), the University of Southern California and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the Georgia Institute of Technology serving as the lead institution.

"Using technologies such as computer vision and machine learning programs, we will develop new methods for gathering clues about a child's behavior that could lead to a diagnosis of autism at an early age, when therapy is most effective," said Anind Dey, associate professor in Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute. "Some of this information can be collected in clinics, but we hope some can be gleaned from as-yet untapped sources, such as the home videos that parents make all the time."

Takeo Kanade, the U.A. and Helen Whitaker University Professor of Robotics and Computer Science, will lead an effort at Carnegie Mellon using computer vision to automatically analyze videos, amateur or otherwise, for early signs of autistic behavior, such as the rocking, clapping and other repetitive stereotypical behaviors known collectively as stimming. Eye gaze, facial expressions and body posture are additional visual aspects of social engagement that could be analyzed.

"We aim at developing a new suite of technologies for imaging and understanding human behaviors, or behavior imaging," Kanade said. "Just as medical imaging revolutionalized medicine and science for the body and its actions, behavior imaging will revolutionalize medicine and science for the mind and its activities."

Other collaborators in the project will develop methods for analyzing speech and will develop wearable sensors and toys-as-sensors that can further enhance data gathering.

Meanwhile, Dey will work with colleagues in human-computer interaction at Georgia Tech and UIUC to develop methods for making sense of the data being generated by these new tools. "Educators, family members and clinicians all have different needs and interests and will want to have this data interpreted in a way that makes sense to them," Dey said.

Outreach activities will include ongoing collaborations with the Center for Excellence in Autism Research at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as major autism research centers in Atlanta, Boston, Urbana-Champaign, Ill., and Los Angeles.

Autism, which affects one out of every 110 children in the United States, represents a particularly compelling need for new methods of gathering behavioral data. But the long-term goal of the NSF-sponsored project is to develop a new discipline of computational behavioral science, which will draw equally from computer science and psychology to transform the study of human behavior.

The technologies being developed for the project will make it possible to automatically measure behavior over a long period of time for large numbers of individuals in a wide range of settings. Many disciplines, such as education, advertising and customer relations, could benefit from a more objective data-driven approach to behavioral assessment.

"There is a great deal of creativity in the computer science research community," said Deborah Crawford, acting assistant director for CISE at the NSF. "Our intentions with the Expeditions in Computing Program is to stimulate and use that creativity to expand the possibilities of computing," she said. "The researchers and collaborators we're supporting with these awards will also be exploring new computational approaches to some of the most vexing problems we face in science and the broader world."

The Expeditions in Computing Program include some of the largest single investments made by the directorate and the NSF in basic computer science research. Carnegie Mellon is the lead institution in an Expedition grant issued last year on Computational Modeling and Analysis of Complex Systems, made possible with stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Article Courtesy of EurekAlert


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

SensaBot debuts in Kashagan field

Carnegie Mellon has yet another cool robot in the making.

This time it's SensaBot, a human-sized robot that will inspect oil and gas facilities. Remotely controlled, the robot will contain audio, visual, temperature and gas detection sensors. A human operator can direct SensaBot to perform inspection tasks without compromising his own safety.

Carnegie Mellon's National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) and Shell Development Kashagan B.V. agreed to collaborate on the SensaBot project in July. The robot is being developed for use in the Kashagan field, a high pressure oil and gas reservoir in the Kazakhstani sector of the Caspian Sea.

"This is an exciting opportunity for us to get some of our research into real commercial use," Bill Ross, project manager at NREC, said. SensaBot is currently in the planning stage, Ross added. Only about two months into the design stage, they are hoping to start real testing this coming spring.

"We hope that this is part of Carnegie Mellon setting up successful commercial ventures and in the future companies in Pittsburgh are manufacturing robots like this," Ross said.

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Aquion Energy Inc. in Lawrenceville has built the better battery

With a $5 million grant from the Department of Energy, Lawrenceville's Aquion Energy Inc. will begin commercialization of a cheaper, longer-lasting, and more environmentally friendly battery this month.

Carnegie Mellon University engineer, and Aquion co-founder, Jay Whitacre developed the technology for a sodium powered alternative to traditional lithium ion batteries in 2008. The technology offers a slew of large-scale applications, such as mitigating the overload of power grids and providing a safer and cheaper alternative to the lead acid batteries often used in developing countries.

"The power grid is not stable," explains Whitacre. "This is an issue when we talk about putting many sources of renewable energy on the grid, like wind or solar. They're not constant or steady, and you need something to buffer that out. You're better off hybridizing your solar energy with some kind of energy storage solution."

In layman's terms, that means Aquion's sodium battery could potentially provide a cheap alternative to large gas powered plants, help institute broader use of sustainable energy sources, and better protect cities and municipalities from power loss.

Whitacre and his Harvard MBA co-founder, Jay Wiley, are working out of a 42,500 square foot warehouse space on 39th Street, where they will soon add 15 new employees to their roster of 17 full-time employees and four interns. Aquion plans to develop a prototype manufacturing facility in the space, and begin producing batteries the size of a refrigerator within the next year. Those units will then be sent to a third party tester, AES Corp, in Virginia for validation.

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Racing to the moon turning lucrative for Oakland's Astrobotic Technologies

Carnegie Mellon spinoff Astrobotic Technology plans to get to the moon first, capture the $24 million Google Lunar X Prize and generate revenues though a moon shuttle enterprise. Now NASA has stepped in to help make the enterprise more lucrative.

NASA has announced that it will buy up to $10 million in data from a commercial lunar lander mission through its Innovation Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program, with a budget of $30 million. If it all goes according to plan, earnings could translate to $36 million; that's $10 million from NASA, $24 million for the prize and another $2 million for launching in the state of Florida.

That's good news for Astrobotics, a top contender in the Google Lunar X pursuit. NASA would deposit $2 million in the company's bank account before the launch, which is planned for December 2012.The company and Carnegie Mellon have spent about $3 million to date building prototypes and designing the mission. The plan is to raise about $37 million from investors; the rest of the $90 million cost will come from progress payments from customers, which should be equal to about 50% of the final price, says Gump.

"This means that NASA has declared that private sector moon missions are a good idea and they want to buy our data," says David Gump, president. "We think we're among the top companies to succeed in selling this data to NASA."

The company's first expedition will revisit the Apollo 11 landing site, a mission that will connect the Internet to the Moon, deliver HD video in 3D, carry payloads and transmit the story to the world. The mission would mark the realization of a longtime dream for Dr. William "Red" Whittaker, Astrobotic founder and director of CMU's Field Robotics Center.

"The sensing devices and software needed for an automated lunar landing are evolving from our technologies for driving autonomous cars," says Whittaker. "Much of the technology for winning DARPA's Urban Challenge car race applies directly to lunar landing."

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Friday, August 13, 2010

Robots to Help Children With Autism

Interbots, Inc., a high-tech spin-off company associated with the Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center has teamed up with the Autism Center of Pittsburgh to provide innovative robot-based therapy for children with autism.

The program, "Character Therapy," through the use of the Interbot robot "Popchilla" will test the ability of children with autism with limited or no verbal skills.

According to Seema Patel, CEO and co-founder of Interbots, "We've had numerous individuals tell us our robots could be tremendous tools for Autism therapy. We're excited to be working with the Autism Center of Pittsburgh and the Sprout Foundation to take this first step. We're going to learn a lot from the next few months."

"The premise behind the program is that children with autism are sometimes more likely to communicate with a non-human entity," said Cindy Waeltermann, Founder and Director of the Autism Centers of Pittsburgh. "When you have a child with autism, you use whatever interests them to gain access into their world. The idea is to bridge the gap between their word and ours.

Popchilla will be used in the first phase of the program with a trained therapist. Programmers and developers at Interbots have created an iPad application that will allow the therapist to direct sessions, which will eventually be transitioned to allow the child to control the robot through an iPad application to identify emotions.

According to Waeltermann, "By using Popchilla as an intermediary, we hope to increase the understanding of the child's internal feelings, thus reducing behavioral frustrations. If they are able to identify that they are 'angry' and what 'angry' means, it can significantly help them understand what they are feeling, reducing behavioral ramifications."

The program is funded by Spark. Spark is an initiative of The Sprout Fund catalyzing projects and programs that engage children ages birth to eight through the creative use of technology and media. Spark challenges individuals, organizations, and communities to generate inventive technology-based solutions to the issues and opportunities facing today's young child. Through its funding opportunities and extensive network of support, Spark is unleashing the innovative potential of Southwestern Pennsylvania and transforming our region into one of the best places on earth to be a kid.

"Our emphasis has always been making the use and control of our robots as simple and flexible as possible. You don't need to have a technical background to control our characters. You can control them with a variety of other familiar devices. So that opens a lot of interesting applications - like having a therapist or a parent use our robots as a tool to interact with children - even the possibility of kids using the robot to express themselves and explore emotions on their own," according to Sabrina Haskell, Interbots, Designer & Co-Founder.

The iPad application is currently in production and the program is slated to begin this fall.

"Nobody is more excited than the parents of the children with autism who have the potential to gain great strides from this program," said Cindy Waeltermann. "That's what this is all about -- thinking outside the box to reach these kids."

Article Courtesy of PRNewswire


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Keep showing us the money - Avere, ASSET, Ciespace and PSC rake in $46.1M

Good news in funding for the region for four: Avere, Asset, Ciespace and the Pittsburgh Computer Center.

Avere Systems picked up some additional funds this month, a windfall of $17 million that will fuel the production and expansion of its "game changing" network-attached solution (NAS) that will accelerate the performance and reduce the costs of data storage.

The Series B round was led by a new investor, Tenaya Capital of Menlo Park, Calif. and Boston, Mass, along with Menlo Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners. The company has grown to 40 employees.

"While we were not actively looking for additional funding in the company, we jumped at the opportunity to bring on a partner like Tenaya Capital," said Ron Bianchini, co-founder and CEO of Avere Systems in a statement. "We're very pleased that we can continue to expand our efforts to introduce dynamic tiering to enterprise storage customers."

In other funding news, Pittsburgh-based ASSET Inc. has received $22.3 million in federal funds to improve STEM education and learning across the state. The non-profit was among 49 school districts, universities and non-profits to be selected for the grant for science, technology, engineering and mathematics teaching.

Carnegie Mellon startup Ciespace Corp. has raised $4 million with the help of a Chicago firm, ARCH Venture Partners, a group that funds university and government research, and University of Tokyo-Edge Capital. Founded in 2004 by Dr. Kenji Shimada, director of the Computer-Integrated Engineering Lab at Carnegie Mellon, Ciespace, with 10 employees, will continue development of its software technology in Pittsburgh.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the Pittsburgh Supercomputer Center $2.8 million toward the purchase of the world's largest coherent shared-memory computing system. PSC will integrate the system into the cyberinfrastructure of the NSF, giving scientists and engineers across the country a major tool for research.

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Digital modeling firm Ciespace Corp. lands $4 million in funding

Carnegie Mellon University spinoff Ciespace Corp. has secured $4 million that will be used to hire workers and expand the company into more commercial sectors, the company announced Monday.

Founded by CMU engineering professor Kenji Shimada, the digital modeling firm in Oakland markets technology that helps companies build virtual prototypes. Chicago-based Arch Venture Partners and Tokyo-based University of Tokyo Edge Capital led the Series A funding round.

Ciespace plans to use the money for work on the company's 3-D digital modeling platform. It also will push the technology into additional commercial marketplaces such as computer animation, medical imaging and metrology, or the study of measurement.

Ciespace already works with the automotive, aerospace and computer-aided design sectors. Its BubbleMesh simulation technology has been used by companies such as IBM and NASA.

Kevin Kerns, a former consultant and entrepreneur-in-residence at Arch Venture Partners, replaces Dr. Shimada as Ciespace's CEO. He was CEO of communications software firm Apropos Technology Inc. of Chicago from 1996 to 2004.

Dr. Shimada will stay on with Ciespace as the chief science officer while teaching at CMU. Company research and development will remain in Pittsburgh while a finance and marketing site opens in Chicago. Mr. Kerns said a headquarters location had not been decided.

Ciespace's roster of 10 employees is expected to grow by about 25 workers per year over the next several years.

"We hope to bring our first end-user product to market within 12 months," Mr. Kerns said.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ball Tracking Technology Headed for the NFL

It's been said that football is a game of inches. If that is the case, then pretty soon technology will help determine those inches exactly.

The idea behind ball tracking technology is not new. It's been commonly used in golf and tennis. Recent controversies at the World Cup caused an outcry for a goal line technology to be implemented for all future soccer events. Football could be the next logical step.

Dr. Priya Narasimhan is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and founder of YinzCam, a mobile live streaming technology for sporting events. Along with a team of 15 researchers, Narasimhan designed a ball-tracking technology.

Narasimhan, who is a rapid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, said she and her team use sensors in the form of a small circuit board, which weighs approximately a half of an ounce and is placed inside the ball. On the board is a microprocessor, an antenna and a magnetic coil that allows it to be charged wirelessly.

The result is a ball that can be tracked no matter where it is on the field -- even under a scrum. With 22 large football players on the field and a small ball, it's easy to see why this could come in handy. Narasimhan said three to four years of hard testing and research work went into the ball tracking technology.

"We've readied this ball to withstand the impact of an NFL game, especially with people beating up on it," Narasimhan said. "We have mechanical engineers in place to figure out the impact. We've had designers whose job was to design the technology to withstand the impact. Electrical engineers were put in place to make sure the technology did not circuit out."

The group also designed the technology for wide receiver gloves and football cleats. Despite their progress, Narasimhan said there is still more work to be done.

"We want to test it for various situations. Because you are dealing with wireless frequencies, we'd like to figure out the difference between closed dome and open air stadiums. What about snow vs. no snow? We want to answer all those questions," Narasimhan said.

Still, the very idea ball tracking technology could be on its way gets Narasimhan excited. Along with allowing officials to locate the ball's exact location rather than the standard guessing, the technology could be used as a training tool.

"I think there is tremendous value for coaches to use it for scouting and training purposes. Every single time you use it, it gives you hard data on ball location. So you can tell if you're throwing the ball in the right place or catching it the correct way. You use it and then tweak your throw, kick or catching style off the data," Narasimhan said.

Munich-based Cairos Technologies, is in talks with the National Football League to implement a microchip ball tracking technology, according to reports from Reuters. The technology would allow refs to locate the ball exactly, eliminating the need to make controversial calls. Cairos, which specializes in the 3-D localization of dynamic objects, has already developed a technology to track soccer balls. The company designed the soccer ball with Adidas.

"In American Football you have the same situation, you need to cross a line and the ball needs to be over the line 100 percent and they (the players) are always above the ball (covering it)," Hanus said. Hanus and the company declined to further comment on potentially bringing their ball tracking technology to the gridiron.

The NFL did not respond to requests for comment.

Article Courtesy of International Business Times


Friday, August 6, 2010

CMU's accelerator program preps student-led startups

A pilot program at Carnegie Mellon University aims to spin out companies faster by linking academics to the marketplace.

CMU's Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship debuted The Accelerator in June with five companies led by students who finished their first year at Tepper Graduate School of Business and expect to graduate in 2011. CMU also has a financial stake in the companies: It is paying the students a small stipend, which will convert to equity.

Will this three-month boot camp give them a leg up to launch? The Business Times aims to find out in a monthly series by following the five companies until their student-led entrepreneurs graduate in 2011.

To learn about how the program is designed and what CMU hopes to accomplish with it, click here for an interview with Jones Center's executive director Art Boni.

Rodrigo Carvalho, founder of Black Locus, one of the startups, said the summer program “was definitely worth it.” He came to Tepper with the goal of starting a business, so he didn’t spend time looking for a job.

“The Accelerator gave us the resources that we needed to develop the core blocks of our e-commerce optimization platform,” Carvalho said. “We are currently in beta testing, and things are starting to pick up.”

Here's an introduction to each of the companies and their student entrepreneurs (for more details on the entrepreneurs, click on the slideshow to the right). Check back each month to follow their progress.

  • Black Locus — Founders Rodrigo Carvalho and Lukas Bouvrie are working to develop a cloud-based platform to help small and medium online retailers in real time. The platform uses proprietary algorithms to optimize retailers’ efforts in the three major areas of e-commerce: Pricing, inventory management and SEM marketing. For each of these areas, Black Locus provides actionable recommendations, allows users to implement the recommendations with one click, and tracks the effects of the implemented recommendations over time.
  • LearnBop — Founders Bharanidharan Rajakumar and Arthur Tu are developing education technology from the bottom up by leveraging social networks, subject matter experts and optimization models. This technology will allow educators to create content online that adapts to what students don’t understand about a particular subject so that they can target student needs faster.
  • REBIScan - Founder Justin Shaka is developing a hand-held vision scanner that will work toward erasing amblyopia and strabismus, the leading causes of preventable blindness in children. REBIScan scans the health of the eye through fixation and binocular alignment. Custom software controls the device, interprets the data and instantaneously reports the results.
  • CommunityVibe Inc: Founders Kariithi Kilemi, Tajinder Gadh, Chong Xie, Yogesh Chhabra and Jarrett Dwight Adam are developing an affordable, centralized online tenant management portal. With a combination of administrative and marketing functionality, in addition to enhanced communication with social networking, CommunityVibe’s Web portal aims to be every property manager’s dream. Property managers will be able to provide features such as online rental applications, online rent payments, trackable maintenance requests, apartment listings, local community retail and restaurant recommendations, and private building social networks.
  • RhoMania: Founders Kevin McEachern and Darren Olson are developing a Web-based application that predicts how much consumers will enjoy a bottle of wine prior to purchase based on an individualized taste profile. This will allow consumers to make more informed decisions to improve the value efficiency of their purchases. RhoMania uses an individualized taste profile based on individual consumer’s specific likes and dislikes to build a predictive multivariate algorithm. This algorithm will produce a list of wine recommendations suited to the consumers’ preferences.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times


Thursday, August 5, 2010

CMU lands $1.26M for biothermal research

With $1.26 million in National Science Foundation grant money, a Carnegie Mellon University professor is working to develop technology that can be used in applications such as cryopreservation and cryosurgery.

Yoed Rabin, a mechanical engineering professor, received three grants for his work with low temperature applications of technology. Part of his research looks at the problems associated with cryopreservation, which is the preservation of tissue at very low temperatures and could be used in transplants and regenerative medicine, and cryosurgery, which is used to destroy tissue, such as cancerous tumors, by freezing it.

Rabin’s work will look at how to control the formation of ice crystals that occur when tissue is subjected to such low temperatures. One project explores how to prevent ice formation during cryopreservation in a way that does not also harm the tissue and another is developing a device to visualize the effects of cryopreservation.

The third project is developing sensors for temperature control and monitoring during cryosurgery.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Geckos Provide Pittsburgh Tech Company with Marketable Idea Beyond Car Insurance

An early stage spinout from Carnegie Mellon University has taken a good, long close-up look at the humble gecko, of which there are, more than 800 species worldwide, and discovered that it has something to offer us beyond competitive car insurance rates.

In late summer of 2009, the Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center awarded $200,000 in Air Force Research Laboratories (AFRL) funding to nanoGriptech, LLC for the commercialization of a fibrous adhesive material, inspired by the foot hairs of the popular reptile made famous in television commercials.

Dr. Metin Sitti, a professor and director of Carnegie Mellon’s nanorobotics laboratory, founded nanoGriptech after 10 years of research on adhesives. As a result of observing the natural climbing ability of the gecko, he plans to mass produce repeatable polymer-based micro fiber adhesives for a wide range of product applications.

The material mimics the millions of nano- and micro-fibers on the toes of geckos, insects and other animals that provide them with their ability to grip strongly and repeatedly to smooth and rough vertical surfaces, even in wet and dirty outdoors conditions. The scientific principle that allows geckos to stick to surfaces are known as van der Waals forces, and in theory a boot made of synthetic gecko fibers could adhere just as easily to the surface of a living room wall. Sitti’s technology uses polymers and microscopic manufacturing techniques to recreate the gecko’s fibers. Not technically glue, Sitti calls this sticky phenomenon the “one-sided Velcro” effect.

Funding from the Center has assisted the company in the design, manufacturing and testing of first-generation materials for new commercial sportswear applications. Other targeted applications for this technology will include those in the robotics, medical and personal protective equipment industries. The U.S. Department of Defense, for instance, is working with nanoGriptech to develop a sealant for the army’s protective face masks.

The company plans to design, develop prototypes, customize and fabricate its products cost effectively and in high volumes in their own local facility. With about five employees, the company’s current operations are two blocks from CMU’s campus, but they will need an additional 5,000 square feet, once full-scale manufacturing begins in about two years.

Beyond the funding award, Sitti said that the Center also provided a number of other valuable services that were instrumental in building the company.

“The Center helped nanoGriptech to formalize a closer collaboration with our current corporate partner, Bayer MaterialScience, which will supply us with the polymer used to manufacture our adhesive fibers,” said Sitti. “In addition, the Center assisted by helping us to define specific product goals for our initial customer, a major sportswear manufacturer, and by providing valuable feedback for improving relationships with them.” “Beyond that,” said Sitti, “the Center also introduced us to a very robust network of other nanomaterials companies in the region, and through these forged relationships we ultimately were able to find the space where we currently operate.”

The Center’s AFRL grant also cemented a closer relationship with the Air Force labs, which put nanoGriptech on the short list for a phase two grant or other additional funding possibilities in the future.

The Center’s total package of assistance also has enabled nanoGriptech to hire and retain two of their current employees.

“We view this project as a key example of the vision for the Center,” said its Executive Director Dr. Alan Brown. “This project perfectly illustrates that through key partnerships between university researchers, entrepreneurs and large companies, we can accelerate the transition of new nano-based products to market and grow start-up companies more quickly.”

As a result of the expertise and deep networks that have been established by the Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center, Sitti plans to design, manufacture and market nanoGriptech products from the Pittsburgh region. He wants to stick close to where the critical mass is, not unlike a gecko that will stick to a pane of window glass on a sunny day.

Article Courtesy of PA Nanomaterials Commercialization Center


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

CMU Start-up mSpoke Acquired by LinkedIn

Major social networking site LinkedIn announced Wednesday morning it had purchased mSpoke, a Carnegie Mellon startup that works with recommendation technology designed to hold users on certain sites for longer periods of time.

This is the Mountain View, Calif-based company's first acquisition since rising to become a leading website for users looking to network and land jobs through posting resumes and recommendations online.

MSpoke technology analyzes a person's site history to recommend other pages or links.

More than 75 million users are registered on LinkedIn since its founding in 2003. The details of the acquisition were not disclosed.

MSpoke is based Downtown and was founded by chief executive officer Sean Ammirati, chairman of the board Dave Mawhinney and chief technology officer Dean Thompson. The company counts several CMU professors as advisors, and received seed funding from Pittsburgh venture capitalist Ed Engler.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Monday, August 2, 2010

Carnegie Learning Math Curricula Align with Common Core State Standards

Carnegie Learning announced today that the publisher’s Bridge to Algebra, Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II textbooks, Cognitive Tutor® Software, and professional development are aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics.

Since the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced the new standards last month, 29 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the CCSS, which provide a consistent understanding of what K-12 students are expected to learn in English/language arts and mathematics. The CCSS are designed to address disparate standards across states, student mobility, global competition, and the changing skills required in the 21st century workplace.

"At the core of Carnegie Learning is 20 years of research to develop a rigorous math curriculum that sets high expectation for students and teachers that are consistent with the key objectives of the Core Common State Standards,” said Dennis Ciccone, chief executive officer of Carnegie Learning, Inc. “Our programs require that students apply knowledge through high-order thinking skills and emphasize the value of collaborative problem-solving in a real-world context. We welcome the new standards as an option for states re-evaluating the rigor and effectiveness of their math teaching and learning.”

Carnegie Learning math courses for middle and high school provide instruction to meet the Standards for Mathematical Content and the Standards for Mathematical Practice, and meet 100% of the established Common Core State Standards for High School mathematics.

Alignment to the Standards for Mathematical Content and Standards for Mathematical Practice are available at www.carnegielearning.com/commoncore. Once the CCSS model high school pathways for mathematics are released, further information on specific Carnegie Learning course correlation will be available.

“We believe the majority of states that have indicated support for Common Core State Standards will adopt the common standards giving impetus to the drive for more rigorous standards in reading and math,” said Kathy Mickey, senior analyst/managing editor, Simba Information Education Group. “Coupled with a nation-wide emphasis on strengthening STEM education, the market landscape offers robust opportunities for rigorous instructional materials and tools that promote individual learning and growth in student achievement.”

Article Courtesy of Centre Daily Times


Thursday, July 29, 2010

CMU lab refines infrastructure

Knowing where energy is being wasted inside a building, where a pipe leak is developing or where a crack is forming underneath a bridge would help government officials save taxpayer money, say Carnegie Mellon University researchers and IBM executives.

"The guy on the street is paying for those kinds of things with his taxes and utility bills," said Matthew Sanfilippo, executive director of CMU's new Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator. "Policymakers are trying to spend that money more wisely."

CMU and IBM officials announced Wednesday the founding of the IBM Smarter Infrastructure Lab. It is one component of the incubator, along with the Bombardier Collaborative Center announced last month.

Incubator research will focus on developing more efficient civil infrastructure and transit operations.

IBM Corp. and Bombardier Inc. are the primary founding partners of the incubator, said James H. Garrett Jr., the CMU Thomas Lord professor and chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

"Research activities have already begun," he said.

Garrett cited a collaboration between CMU and a local water authority. He and his colleagues signed nondisclosure agreements, so he could not name the authority. But the entity is sharing data on the condition of its infrastructure, so CMU researchers may analyze it and show what they find.

"At CMU, we'll be finding more efficient ways to manage and more efficient ways of doing business," said Wayne Balta, an IBM vice president in Somers, N.Y.

That means collecting data from sensors placed in locations that can monitor such things as how much chlorine exists at a water-supply intake valve, he said.

"If we can take the data we get and apply software analysis to it, we can then at blazing speeds detect patterns and see trends we wouldn't be able to otherwise process," Balta said.

Construction of the $2.2 million incubator offices began last month, Sanfilippo said. The state Department of Community and Economic Development awarded a grant of about $1 million for the project. Building should be completed by the end of the year.

Balta declined to specify how much IBM is contributing, but he said the company is supporting the effort with computer hardware, software and personnel.

Bombardier Transportation in West Mifflin originally considered building a testing facility on a 178-acre site in Hazelwood, but the company decided to let CMU take the lead on the project, said Bombardier spokeswoman Maryanne Roberts last month.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Carnegie Mellon researchers create fluorescent biosensor to aid in drug development

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a new fluorescent biosensor that could aid in the development of an important class of drugs that target a crucial class of proteins called G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs).

“Drugs that target GPCRs make up approximately 30 percent of all pharmaceuticals currently on the market, including some of the most prescribed drugs,” said Jonathan Jarvik, the Carnegie Mellon professor who led the effort to develop the GPCR biosensor. “This prevalence makes assays for the receptors a billion dollar industry.”

GPCRs are popular drug targets because of the pivotal role they play in cells’ chemical communication circuits that are responsible for regulating functions critical to health, including circuits involved in heart and lung function, mood, cognition and memory, digestion and the inflammatory response. Found in the cell membrane, GPCRs interact with molecules responsible for cellular communication such as neurotransmitters and hormones. When one of the receptors encounters such a molecule, it relays a signal across the cell membrane that, in turn, initiates a response. After the response is triggered, the receptor retreats from the membrane into the cell’s interior.

To create the GPCR biosensor, the research team used a new technology called fluoromodules. Invented by Carnegie Mellon’s Molecular and Biosensor Imaging Center (MBIC), fluoromodules are probes that allow scientists to monitor the activities of individual proteins found in living cells in real-time. The probes are made up of two components: a fluorogen-activating protein (FAP) and a non-fluorescent dye called a fluorogen. The FAP is attached to the protein that is being studied, and the fluorogen is engineered to bind to the FAP. When the two meet, they cast off a glow that can be detected using a variety of methods, alerting researchers to the protein’s location and activity. The FAP’s fluorescence can be turned on and off by adding or removing the fluorogen, a characteristic that makes the fluoromodules more useful than other fluorescent proteins.

In the current study, which is published in the July issue of the Journal of Biomolecular Screening, Jarvik and colleagues engineered a fluoromodule that would readily determine when GPCR retreats from the cell membrane. The researchers genetically expressed a FAP fused to the beta2 adrenergic receptor (β2AR), a well-studied GPCR that is present in brain, heart, lung and other tissues. When the researchers introduced its associated membrane-impermeant fluorogen, it bound to the FAP-tagged GPCR on the cell surface, emitting a bright fluorescent glow. When the receptor was activated and had retreated into the cell, the fluorescence dimmed.

The new biosensor is notable, Jarvik said, because it looks directly at the receptor and provides what is known as a homogeneous, or mix-and-read, assay that can be scaled to screen large numbers of molecules to identify new drug leads.

The researchers are hopeful that this technology can be generalized across other receptors and cell-surface proteins, and are currently researching its broader applications.

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). MBIC is one of the NIH’s National Technology Centers for Networks and Pathways. For more information, visit: http://www.mbic.cmu.edu/.

Article Courtesy of Science Blog


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Michigan Department of Education Names Carnegie Learning External Service Provider for School Improvement

The Michigan Department of Education announced that Carnegie Learning has been granted approval status to be an external service provider under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act School Improvement Grants (SIG).

All eligible Michigan school districts or public school academies applying for SIG funding may contract with Carnegie Learning as an approved external service provider to assist in meeting the goals and objectives of their selected intervention model. Six Michigan school districts have already committed to supporting their School Improvement programs with Carnegie Learning® Math Curricula and Professional Development.

Carnegie Learning® Math Curricula align to the High School Content Expectations, and the Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations, as well as to the newly adopted Common Core State Standards.

Michigan received $119 million in SIG funds for local schools to improve teaching and learning for all students. Each eligible school can apply for up to $2 million each year, over a three-year period.

Carnegie Learning is also an approved SIG partner in the states of West Virginia and Hawaii, and the company’s curricula and professional development programs are implemented in school improvement models in districts in Indiana, North Carolina, and Washington State.

The Carnegie Learning® School Improvement Plan creates a partnership with districts that places evidence-based math instruction and job-embedded professional development at the center of transformational efforts. Information can be found at www.carnegielearning.com/guarantee or by calling 888.851.7094.

Article Courtesy of Business Wire


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Deeplocal streams messages across a skyscraper at the World Cup, expanding and hiring

Beyond the soccer itself, one of the most dramatic displays during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa was the LEDs that streamed across Johannesburg's tallest building in 16 different languages, part of Nike's "Write the Future" campaign.

Meanwhile, in Leicester Square, London, and Los Angeles, fans trash talked between continents by inputting taunting messages on an electronic soccer ball as part of the launch of EA's new video game, "2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa."

Deeplocal in East Liberty did it all, developing the software system, Handlr, which managed the messages for the Nike campaign and assisted an ad agency in Oregon on the soccer ball. It's just a sampling of the recent projects that have been keeping the interactive media company busy on a global scale. Watch it in action!

"When you think about it, not many people did ad campaigns for the World Cup," reflects Tim White, vice president of sales. "(Write the Future) created quite a presence for Nike, exceeding their expectations."

From heartfelt messages from cancer survivors printed by Chalkbot--which recently won just about every award in the Advertising industry including recognition at Cannes--to highly-charged jabs from soccer fans, Deeplocal is going where few advertising companies have gone before, way outside of the box. Even Adam Samberg weighed in on the ball with the message, "Spank the Yanks."

"It's not just about being online in the digital world," White says. "We bring it into your daily life, give it more significance."

It's all good news for Deeplocal, which recently expanded its team, hiring a senior engineer and web designer, and adding space on the fourth floor of the Liberty Bank Building. "Pittsburgh is the ideal location to access talent to launch our projects," says White. "We are very committed to Pittsburgh."

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Friday, July 23, 2010

ATRP Solutions, raising money and preparing product

Based on technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University, ATRP Solutions Inc. is gearing up for commercialization of its first major product with a new CEO, a $1.2 million funding round and market testing with potential customers.

ATRP Solutions uses atom transfer radical polymerization, a complex process used to produce engineered polymers with specific qualities, to develop products.

The company’s first product, Advantomer, is a thickening agent used in personal care products and cosmetics such as lotion or shampoo, said CEO Randy Eager. The product is in the hands of potential customer companies, Eager said, so those end-users can see how it can be added as an ingredient to other products.

“The ATRP process itself has enabled us to build ingredients that have multiple features and, in this case, a molecule that can thicken and deliver small molecules like fragrance or UV inhibitors,” Eager said. “Thickeners today don’t do both.”

ATRP Solutions, which has five full-time employees, is still housed on CMU’s campus, but Eager expects the company to find its own space elsewhere in the area in 2011.

The company has strong ties to CMU: It’s based on a process developed by Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, a professor at the university whose work landed him on many short lists for the Nobel Prize in chemistry, and students coming out of Matyjaszewski’s program are experts in the process.

Eager started full-time in March after working with co-founder and President Patrick McCarthy as an executive in residence at Innovation Works, a nonprofit that supports Pittsburgh start-up companies.

While an executive in residence, Eager helped the company start its latest funding round, which includes $65,000 from Innovation Works as well as other investors. According to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company has raised $375,000 since April toward its goal of $1.2 million. The firm is generating revenue but is not yet making a profit.

Eager joined the company based on the huge potential he saw for the ATRP process as a platform technology.

“You can choose any vertical industry where speciality polymers are involved, and (ATRP) products perform better than what is in existence today,” Eager said. “It enables new product categories to be invented. It’s all very exciting.”

The novelty of the technology also drew investor Sean Sebastian, who, as a result, is on the company’s board. Sebastian is a partner with Birchemere Ventures but invested in ATRP Solutions as an individual.

“I am particularly interested in companies that are platform technology that have high intellectual property barriers,” he said.

“These guys really are the best at what they do. Any number of customers and a whole host of industries can provide a performance spec, and they can provide a unique way to address the market.”

Several large, multinational companies are testing the product and any one of those companies could produce significant growth if ATRP Solutions’ product is added to a formula, said Rich Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works. Lunak’s organization has invested a total of $265,000.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pittsburgh venture capital makes a comeback in 2Q with $84.5M

Pittsburgh received $84.5 million in venture dollars in the second quarter of 2010, the best showing for the region since 2006 when companies pulled in $114 million.

Of the 19 companies that reported funding, eight were life sciences and the remaining a mix of software and technology companies. The figures are provided quarterly by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association and are based on figures from Thomson Reuters.

Precision Therapeutics, the South Side developers of cell-based diagnostics for cancer therapy, topped the list with $35 million. The Cranberry-based computer chip company, Netronome Systems, raised $23 million in a round that is fueling the growth of company, which expects to double this year.

ModCloth pulled in $19.82 million just before announcing that it is relocating its headquarters to San Francisco. Company investors were First Round Capital of San Francisco and Floodgate Fund LP of Menlo Park, Calif.

Innovation Works was one of the more active investors during the quarter with 12 deals ranging from $30,000 to $380,000. The companies included: ATRP Solutions ($380,000), Appalachian Lighting Systems ($300,000), Industry Weapon ($290,000), All Facilities Energy Group ($200,000), Deeplocal ($170,000), American Roadprinting ($150,000), NeuroInterventional Therapies ($100,000), Health Monitoring Systems ($100,000), Bueda ($100,000), Foola ($50,000), Synesi ($30,000) and FastTAC (30,000).

"I think what we're seeing nationally is that venture capital is on the rebound," says Rich Lunak of IW. "Locally we saw much of the same trend. What was good is there was a balance of first time deals and smaller investments as well as larger follow on investments. Pittsburgh is generating high quality deals valued by the investment community both locally and out of town. "

While Pittsburgh venture capital firms all played a role in the latest round, the list included several notable, new investors from outside the region. Boston-based Bain Capital made its first investment in a Pittsburgh company with Precision Therapeutics. Netronome also attracted several outside investors including first-time investor DFJ Esprit of London.

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Google's growth in city puts Pittsburgh in top tier of regional sites

Google's influence can affect everything from a congressional bill to a restaurant decision. So imagine working across the street from a Google office.

"They're all over the place," said Howard Anderson, a business professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

He sees representatives of the company, which has a major operation in Cambridge, out there recruiting students and professors, inspiring competitors to compete for real estate and energizing a city ecosystem with talk of spinoffs and acquisitions.

It's a scene that could play out in Pittsburgh as the Mountain View, Calif.-based search company prepares for a summer expansion into a 40,000-square-foot office in Larimer's Bakery Square development.

The expansion elevates the Pittsburgh region to a top tier of satellites that includes Boston, New York City and Waterloo, Ontario, in Canada. Google has said the Pittsburgh site will be comparable in size to its Boston counterpart, but the offices mirror each other in more ways than just a tendency to label themselves the City of Champions.

As in Pittsburgh, the Cambridge site began as a small operation near a major university that soon outgrew its space, turning into a name-brand presence designed to retain bright graduates who might have set their sights on Silicon Valley.

The Google Boston site -- sometimes referred to as Google Cambridge, with its address in Boston's brainy neighbor -- relies on a proximity to MIT. The school is a powerhouse supplier of Google candidates and plays the role that many experts say Carnegie Mellon will take here as graduates jockey to get an interview with one of the country's most distinctive employers.

The Google aesthetic knows no borders: Regional offices are colored in the vibrant hues that mark its signature website and the perks combine fraternity (foosball! free food!) with functional (401(k)s, stock options).

Months after Google announced plans to expand its Boston presence to a 60,000-square-foot space along the Charles River, competitor Microsoft said it would lease 136,000 square feet in a building that shares a subway stop with the Google office.

"One comes and then the other comes," said Mr. Anderson, who as a venture capitalist backed Pittsburgh-based ForeSystems, a tech business later acquired by Marconi.

But Google welcomed the new neighbor, said Steve Vinter, engineering director at Google Boston.

"I'm not worried about losing a candidate to Microsoft," he said. "I'm worried about the three candidates who leave for Silicon Valley."

It's a similar quandary in Pittsburgh -- a 2009 survey of electrical and computer engineering graduates of CMU found that while 49 percent of graduates found work in the Mid-Atlantic region, 24 percent moved to California, Hawaii or Nevada.

As a burgeoning tech presence, Pittsburgh still allows affordable real estate and traffic accessibility, said Mark Muro, a fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Muro said the city has reason to be optimistic about the stepped-up Google presence.

"For quite a long time, Pittsburgh will be overwhelmed by the positive benefit of being in this milieu of talent," he said.

About half of the current Google employees in Pittsburgh are graduates of local schools. The company plans to maintain a similar ratio as it expands. Job openings in software engineering and engineering operations are posted at www.google.com/jobs/.

But Google's applicant pool has widened to include students who specialize in subjects such as biology, artificial intelligence and business.

"Students might have looked at Goldman Sachs in the past years, but they now see Google as being first tier," Mr. Muro said.

The search engine operator's name recognition has forced lesser-known firms to revamp their recruiting pitch, said Laura Wilkinson, assistant director of employer relations at MIT's Career Office.

"You've got Google and Microsoft coming in and recruiting," she said. "It made it very difficult for the smaller boutique firms. They started concentrating on how you could climb the ranks more quickly at their firm than at a place like Google."

Google Boston started as a small sales office in 2003, had a stint at the Cambridge Innovation Center in 2007 and expanded to more than 200 employees at its current location. It's a trajectory shared by the Pittsburgh office.

Kamul Nigam was working at a Pittsburgh company called Intelliseek Inc. in 2006 when he got "The Call": Google wanted him to help lead a Pittsburgh office. He would compose 50 percent of the staff. His partner-in-crime, former CMU professor Andrew Moore, is now set to head the Bakery Square office.

The duo moved into CMU's Collaborative Innovation Center in 2006, expanding as Google grew to control 65 percent of the search market. The Boston and Pittsburgh sites currently have about 100 engineers, and though the local office will double in size, Google has not set a quota on the number of employees expected to join the site.

The Pittsburgh site has focused on three areas of work: the Google Product Search, which presents items available for online purchase; work that determines which ads to display based on a search query; and search infrastructure, which handles the computer systems fueling every result page.

The regional hubs have a level of autonomy that displays a "very healthy balance of bottom-up innovation and top-down strategy," said Dr. Nigam.

At the CMU location, Google is a roommate with the Apple Pittsburgh office and the local Intel Research Lab, among others. The space left vacant when Google moves on will be filled by a tech company expected to move in September, said Donald Smith Jr., president of real estate operator RIDC.

The Boston move was treated with the same fanfare seen in Pittsburgh and the ripple effect of Google's move -- things such as new restaurants around the new office -- were immediately seen, said Erin Murphy, a vice president at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Surrounding businesses are breathless in their enthusiasm for Google, she said, calling the company "wildly successful, wildly innovative" and a "great corporate citizen" who, they hope, could be a "potential co-collaborator."

The Google Boston office hosts events for special interest groups, serves as a tour stop on conference itineraries and dedicates a work week to volunteerism in the community. Google also is getting them young: The Boston office is now running a computer science program for high school freshmen.

Today's tech companies treat brain power as the commodity and internal projects follow a Socratic-circle, coffeehouse model: "Team development that can easily lead to the spin out of new products or new ideas," said Mr. Muro.

When, instead of developing an idea internally, Google buys a company based elsewhere, the search company has been known to let the acquired business stay where it is.

Google bought the CMU startup Recaptcha last year and maintained the smaller company's city office, an anomaly in a year that has seen Pittsburgh companies that have received funding move closer to West Coast investors.

When Google chief executive Eric Schmidt announced in Pittsburgh last November that his company had begun acquiring companies again, many saw the shift as a signal the overall economy was recovering.

But the search engine operator's actions serve as more than an arbiter -- they're an accelerator, said Mr. Anderson.

"When Google makes acquisitions, there is a leverage effect," he said. "Other people say, 'I'm just as bright as that guy. Why don't I start a company?'"

An expanded Google presence here could help prevent the "intellectual erosion" of students leaving after graduation for positions on the West Coast, said Mr. Anderson.

He has words for students who find the postcard-pretty weather of California a better alternative to Boston winters.

"Are you a professional volleyball player?" he asked. If not, then: "Who cares? Go invent something."

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Carnegie Mellon University launches $7 million initiative to boost computer science majors

PITTSBURGH—A new four-year, $7 million educational initiative by Carnegie Mellon University will leverage students' innate interest in robots and other forms of "hard fun" to increase U.S. enrollments in computer science and steer more young people into scientific and technological careers.

The initiative, called Fostering Innovation through Robotics Exploration (FIRE), is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and designed to reverse a significant national decline in the number of college students majoring in computer science, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (CS-STEM).

FIRE will develop new tools that enable middle and high school students to expand upon their interest in robots, leading them from one CS-STEM activity to the next. Examples are programming tools that create game-like virtual worlds where robot programs can be tested, as well as computerized tutors that teach mathematics and computer science in the context of robotics.

The initiative will target robotic competitions such as FIRST, VEX and Robofest that already are popular among secondary school students, but also will create new competitions for autonomous, multi-robot teams and for computer animations that will attract a broader array of students and offer new challenges.

"The idea is that these programs must be rigorous, but fun — what we call 'hard fun,'" said Robin Shoop, director of FIRE and of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Academy, an international leader in the development of K-12 robotic education curriculum. "Robots provide a great teaching tool. Kids like robots and are innately curious about how they work and how they make decisions. Finding answers to their questions is fun, but technically challenging, and that makes robotics uniquely suited to teaching students computer science, engineering and mathematics."

For more information and to register to receive updates for this project visit www.fire.cs.cmu.edu.

The number of U.S. college graduates with CS-STEM degrees is declining, raising concerns about national competitiveness. The trend is particularly pronounced in computer science, where the number of graduates dropped 43 percent from 2004 to 2007 and where women and minorities remain underrepresented.

"We have a significant decline in the number of students signing up for computer science, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors at the college level," said Melanie Dumas, DARPA's program manager for its CS-STEM Education Program. "The CS-STEM Education Program will help fill the talent pipeline and enable our nation to compete on the international stage."

Since 2000, the Robotics Academy, part of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, has developed techniques and tools to help K-12 teachers use robots to teach science and mathematics and has trained thousands of teachers on how to incorporate robotics into their lessons. The academy will play a central role in FIRE, but the project also will draw on expertise from across Carnegie Mellon's renowned School of Computer Science.

Ken Koedinger, Albert Corbett and their colleagues in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII), for instance, will develop automated tutoring systems for teaching Robotics Academy courses. "Cognitive tutors" developed at Carnegie Mellon already are used by hundreds of thousands of students each year to learn algebra and other traditional subjects. The computerized tutors present lessons and problem sets, provide step-by-step guidance with complex problem-solving and adjust the lessons to each student's comprehension level. FIRE's cognitive tutors will assist teachers and mentors who coach in robot competitions but may lack the mathematics and programming background necessary to help students tackle increasingly harder challenges.

Likewise, Wanda Dann and her colleagues in HCII's Alice Project will work with FIRE to create an Alice Animation Competition designed to increase the number of girls engaged in computer science. Alice (www.alice.org) is a software environment that enables novices to create 3-D computer animations and, in the process, teaches basic programming principles. Animation contests that use Alice or other types of animation software can appeal to students of both sexes who might not be interested in robots.

The Alice team will collaborate with the Robotics Academy to add virtual worlds to ROBOTC, a programming language developed by the academy that works with many of the educational robotic platforms used in robot competitions. "This new ROBOTC capability will allow students to design and test robots in a virtual environment when it would be impractical to do so with a physical robot. We plan to add other programming languages as the project evolves," Shoop said.

Manuela Veloso, professor of computer science and president-elect of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, and Howie Choset, associate professor of robotics, will develop new teaching tools and a new competition for teams of robots working cooperatively. "In the future, robots will work in teams, not as single robots," Veloso said. "If we want to drive future innovation, then we need to begin to challenge students to solve multi-robot problems today."

To further expand the potential pool of CS-STEM students, Lori Levin, associate research professor in the Language Technologies Institute, will work with FIRE to increase participation in the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO), www.naclo.cs.cmu.edu/. The International Linguistics Olympiad is very popular in Europe; FIRE's goal is to make it accessible to thousands of students across the U.S.

In addition to creating new competitions, FIRE will reach out to national organizations such as the Girl and Boy Scouts, 4H, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to engage more students in activities that prepare them to be future innovators.

"Tens of thousands of students nationwide participate in robotic activities every year, but these activities do not always translate into increases in academic preparation or sustained engagement with CS-STEM," Shoop said. "FIRE will provide the infrastructure, the tools, and the resources to significantly engage students for the long term."

Christopher Schunn and his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center will provide a key component for the project, evaluating the educational effectiveness of FIRE's tools and methods and monitor outreach efforts to communities across the country.

Article Courtesy of EurekAlert


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

CMU to collaborate with Semiconductor Research Corporation to help bring more energy efficient technologies to the marketplace

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University will host a new Smart Grid Research Center as part of a $5 million industry-academic partnership with the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), the world's leading university-industry research consortium for semiconductors and related technologies.

The new partnership, dubbed the Energy Research Initiative (ERI), will team companies from across the energy-related spectrum with university researchers to address the world's need for smart alternative energy sources and prepare students with the technical skills required for the new burgeoning industry. The ERI, managed by SRC subsidiary The Energy Research Corp. (TERC), will initially address two critical areas for efficient generation and distribution of renewable energy resources: photovoltaics and systems engineering and technologies to enable and optimize smart grids. It is the latter, "Smart Grid Research Center,'' that will be housed at Carnegie Mellon.

Pradeep K. Khosla, university professor and dean of Carnegie Mellon's College of Engineering, said the new initiative is designed to develop reliable, affordable, secure, clean and efficient energy systems and help provide students with the expertise and skills needed to move these new technologies into the marketplace.

"The Smart Grid Research Center at Carnegie Mellon will support the incorporation of renewable energy resources and provide modeling, simulation and control tools needed to manage, optimize and secure the power grid,'' said Ed Schlesinger, head of Carnegie Mellon's top-ranked Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. Marija Ilic, a professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon and director of the university's Electric Energy Systems Group, will be the director of the Smart Grid Research Center.

Ilic said the Smart Grid Center is driven by the vision that it is critical to transform today's operating and planning industry practices to serve much more complex objectives than in the past.

"Smart Grids are needed to enhance sustainability, which is a careful tradeoff between reliability (lights staying on), short-and-long term efficiency (cost of electricity), greenhouse gas emissions reduction (clean world) , and financially sound innovation, and deployment of unconventional technologies that will help create employment opportunities,'' said Ilic. "For these objectives to co-exist, it is critical to engage in multidisciplinary engineering systems of smart grids.''

Instead of relying on worst- case designs, much can be achieved by transforming electricity service into just-in-time (JIT) and just-in-place (JIP) services, according to Ilic.

Ilic also reports that a smart grid could eliminate some of the widespread problems like blackouts that have plagued many of the nation's aging systems and caused economic hardship for users. "There's a lot of talk about upgrading equipment, but what we really need is to upgrade other things, like computer programs and communications that make it all work,'' said Ilic. "The timing is right since utilities are pursuing major pilot projects to deploy sensor and measurement technologies necessary to implement new types of electricity services."

Carnegie Mellon researchers are already working toward Dynamic Monitoring and Decision Systems (DYMONDS) as a means of embedding increased intelligence into different component groups and their interactions with system operators.

"The Smart Grid Research Center is dedicated to galvanizing the role of soft technologies for sustainable energy services and continued progress will require close collaboration between industry, government and academia,'' said Ilic.

Mark S. Kamlet, executive vice president and university provost, said the industry-university partnership is another outstanding example of Carnegie Mellon's innovative drive to help develop technologies and systems to improve industry sector operations and meet the demands of increasingly energy conscious consumers.

"The pervasive use of simulation in semiconductor process development, device design and system analysis has been called a critical factor in the success of the electronics industry,''said SRC Executive Vice President Steven Hillenius. "Similar capabilities do not exist for technologies in support of solar-powered systems. Likewise, today's smart grid simulation capabilities are also limited, and new transformational approaches are required to enable significant integration of renewable energy resources into the grid.''

Research will be undertaken by a global network of companies partnering with Carnegie Mellon's Smart Grid Research Center. Industry members will dedicate engineering and other resources and participate in the selection of appropriate research projects. Carnegie Mellon's Smart Grid Research Center founding members from industry include ABB, Bosch, IBM and Nexans.

Article Courtesy of EurekAlert


Thursday, July 1, 2010

CMU spin-out Bueda receives financing to create social media smart tags

A Google search of the word ‘Pittsburgh’ brings over 76 million results. But as anyone who has ever used a search engine knows, specificity is the only way to get anywhere. That’s why social media organizers writing about Pittsburgh include tags, or listings of complimentary words and phrases to tie the knot between the target audience and the content. But, as any publicist or marketing exec will tell you, word choice means everything when targeting your message. Bloggers and business owners can use online tools and the frustrations of trial and error. Or they can hire a forward-thinking PR agency to take over search engine optimization efforts.

For DIY-loving social media mavens, neither option is too appealing. So the computer scientists at Bueda have introduced a third option: a tag generator and arsenal of social media search tools for flummoxed online business owners to find their customers anywhere they may be. With its two products--one a tag-refining API and the other a social media lead generator adept at analyzing user-generated content--ready for distribution, Bueda recently received $100,000 in financing from Pittsburgh business incubator Innovation Works to expand their sales efforts.

“With traditional online advertising, you have the theme of standing on the side of the road hoping that the right car drives by or in social media, you can just talk about what you do, post and blog and hope eventually people will come,” says Buedo CEO Vasco Pedro. “We take a proactive stance by analyzing what people are saying and matching that with certain topics that the company would like to interact with.”

So if a Pittsburgh copy store wanted to target customers better, they could blog and utilize social media, hoping someone comes to them, or they could wait until someone on Twitter in the Pittsburgh area tweets a complaint about the terrible service at Kinkos. Suddenly, the Pittsburgh copy shop is there to join in the conversation. Better tags and search tools help businesses hit the target where they are.

But this concept is not what drew Innovation Works to believe in Bueda. When Bueda first formed as a spin-out from Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science, their social media tools had to be programmed into existing software. Before Bueda could introduce its product to the world, it had to do some re-targeting of their own, revamping their built-in business software to a user-friendly search solution that anyone can use. And Pedro believes this time, his company hit the bulls-eye.

“We started with a technological platform and this is really our first consumer-faced application that allows direct use of the platform without one line of code,” says Pedro. “Before, it was more targeted to businesses looking to enhance user-generated content but this is more the consumer-based version.”

Article Courtesy of Keystone Edge


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

DoD funding renewed for Software Engineering Institute

The Department of Defense has extended its contract with the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University through June 2015, in an agreement valued at $584 million.

The institute works to improve software development and the quality of systems that depend on software. Previous contract renewals were in 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005. The 2005 five-year contract was valued at $411 million.

In a public announcement on the extension, Paul Nielsen, SEI director and CEO, said, "We are pleased to have the opportunity to continue to carry out the SEI's mission. Our purpose is to advance the state of the art in software engineering and transition these advancements to the community so that organizations may develop and acquire software that is more reliable, more secure, and more dependable."

The SEI was established in 1984 at Carnegie Mellon University as a federally funded research and development center, with just over $100 million in Department of Defense funds. As of Oct. 1, the institute had about 700 employees, according to an institute spokeswoman.

In addition to the Department of Defense, the institute collaborates with the Department of Homeland Security, as well as industry organizations including Adobe, Oracle, Intuit, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Siemens, Bosch, Booz Allen, BAE Systems, and IBM.

The SEI also supports a group called SEI Partners, which are organizations and individuals that are trained and licensed by the SEI to deliver SEI products and services. For example, two new strategic partners for the SEI Team Software Process are the Next Process Institute, Kawasaki, Japan, and Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Mexico. They are authorized to conduct SEI courses and exams as well as train coaches and instructors.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Pozt-Gazette


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bombardier and CMU Join Forces to Launch the New Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator

Carnegie Mellon University and transportation giant Bombardier will open a new multidisciplinary $2.2 million research center this fall to explore joint research in a variety of critical technology areas to enable more efficient and sustainable civil infrastructure and transit operations.

Bombardier is one of the primary founding partners of the new Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator (PSII), and will be joined by other partners from a variety of industries in the near future. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is also providing a significant economic development grant through the Redevelopment Assistant Capital Program (RACP) to help establish the incubator.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for both industry and the state as we move forward to highlight this region as a hotbed for advanced infrastructure technology and the jobs these technologies will create," said State Senator Jay Costa, (D-43rd District) a primary sponsor of the RACP grant.

Matthew Sanfilippo, executive director of the PSII, said: "Tomorrow's infrastructure will blend traditional concrete-and-steel physical infrastructure systems with cyber-infrastructure systems such as computers, networks and sensors in ways that are just emerging. Pennsylvania has a wealth of companies, universities and institutions that are inventing many of these emerging technologies that will build or re-build the world's infrastructure. We intend to bring these organizations together to leverage and highlight this new resource to help make Pennsylvania a visible leader in these critical emerging technologies."

A key component of the PSII will be the new Bombardier Collaborative Center that will be housed at the University's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) where it will bring together international industry, economic development organizations, government and academic players in smart infrastructure to make western Pennsylvania a major hub for this infrastructure revolution.

"The development of Smart Infrastructure is an example of how, today, application domains cut across disciplinary boundaries. At Carnegie Mellon University, we have always embraced this approach to advancing technology and we look forward to working with our partners to put Pennsylvania at the forefront of Smart Infrastructure research, development and education," said Ed Schlesinger, head of ECE.

The PSII also will include a soon-to-be-announced corporate sponsored smarter infrastructure analytics laboratory in the ECE, as well as projects and resources in several other research departments and locations.

"Creation of the Bombardier Collaboration Center at Carnegie Mellon will enable joint research in fields such as smart guidance systems, rail control solutions, sensing robotics and so much more," said Romuald Ponte, vice president of engineering at Bombardier's Systems Division and the Centre of Competence. "We will also work with the university to explore creation of a master's level degree program in transportation systems," said Ponte, who pointed out that the new collaboration will enable Bombardier's global workforce to feed real-time information to researchers about operating conditions and performance dynamics from various parts of the world.

A world-leading manufacturer of innovative transportation solutions from commercial aircraft and business jets to rail transportation systems and equipment, this new collaboration with Carnegie Mellon also will help us to provide a path for students to enter the rail industry with skill sets and collaborative experience geared toward the future, according to Ponte.

The world's trillion-dollar network of rails, roads, bridges, water distribution systems and power networks have varying amounts of automated management and monitoring, but the new Carnegie Mellon/Bombardier collaboration will improve these critical emerging technologies and train a new generation of employees to design and operate them.

Article Courtesy of PR Newswire


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Here Come the Toybots! Bossa Nova Launches in Pittsburgh

Bossa Nova's cute robotic penguin will hit local stores this month and Pittsburgh is the first in line.

The region was selected as the test market for the official U.S. sale of Penbo, the cute dewy-eyed robot that waddles, sings, has a magic heart and lays an egg. Penbo is available at select Toys R Us locations for $59.99 from now through June 27 as long as supplies last.

It will be available at major retail and consumer electronic outlets in August and anyone can sign up on the i-loverobots website to win one or find more information.

"Our goal is to increase the awareness of Penbo and have a good showing in this test market," says David Palmer, co-founder and COO. "We'll also be running ads on TV so we can see how parents and children respond to it."

A Carnegie Mellon spinout, Bossa Nova launched two intelligent, interactive robotic toys in Europe last year, Penbo and Prime-8, a fast-moving gorilla with swinging arms; both were sellouts overseas. A third toy, a speedy dinosaur named Blazor, will also be released this year at a lower price point, Palmer says.

Both bots were sold on QVC for a brief spell last year. The toymakers hope the battery-operated bots will generate an interest in science and technology at a young age.

"Pittsburgh was viewed as a representative middle market city," says Palmer. "Plus it's our homebase and we can work with local groups to promote it. We always felt we had something unique and different, but the real test is the market."

This Saturday Penbo will be at the Carnegie Science Center where children can see it firsthand and play with it.

Article Courtesy of Pop City


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

ChargeCar - Steel City Project Puts Electric Cars in Charge of the Commute

For the team at Carnegie Mellon University, which is designing cars to get residents to work without burning a pint of gas or even wasting an electron, the future of electric cars is Pittsburgh.

Designers of the ChargeCar project say that instead of selling pricey new vehicles, they want to create a kit that makes it easy for local auto shops like Wichrowski's to convert a gasoline car to run on electricity.

"There's a bunch of machine shops running idle in Pittsburgh," said Illah Nourbakhsh, a robotics professor at CMU and a co-director of ChargeCar. "There's a ton of shops that can do that kind of thing. There's mechanical know-how in this town like no other that I've seen."

Electric-car conversions have been available for decades, whether through small, independent companies or engineers tinkering in their garages. But ChargeCar is likely the first effort to gut a gasoline car and redesign it for a single purpose: the perfect commute.

When Nourbakhsh and his colleagues looked at how Pittsburghers drive, they found that most trips are about half a dozen miles. Some zoom along the highway, while others plod past stop signs and red lights. Some drive on flat roads; others climb or coast down the city's hilly terrain.

The team reckoned a battery, combined with a gadget called a supercapacitor and controlled by software, could make most of these miles electric-powered, at a price Pittsburghers could afford.

Fiddling and fact-finding

ChargeCar's latest projects sit in a former gas station across the street from Carnegie Mellon. One is a 2006 Honda Civic: Over the next month, the team will convert it into a short-range, all-electric car. Wichrowski's mechanic will lend a hand and advise on how to make such conversions as simple as possible for other auto repairers in Pittsburgh.

The other car in the garage feels more like an airplane. From the outside, it looks like a common Scion xB; surrounding the cockpit, though, are scores of dials and gauges.

The car is an experiment.

As Nourbakhsh pulls onto the road, he points to wobbling needles and flashing numbers on the computer screen. This car is powered by a battery and a supercapacitor, and these gauges are constantly crunching numbers: how much juice is left, how much power is flowing, how hot the battery is.

He switches between using the supercapacitor and the battery. He tries each one on hills, up and down. When he slows at a red light, he can choose which device he wants to charge up.

As the professor fiddles, the team is learning important facts about the most efficient way to power an electric car.

The reason has to do with how batteries work -- and a major technical challenge for automakers.

Custom-designed batteries?

Batteries are good at storing energy, but they degrade if they have to take on, or release, too much power too quickly. To deal with that degradation, automakers stuff cars with larger batteries, but that adds cost and weight.

Unlike batteries, supercapacitors are built for abuse: They can take a huge charge and discharge, thousands of times, without losing a step.

They're not so good at holding a charge, Nourbakhsh says, so the team decided to pair one with a battery.

Those Pittsburgh hills and traffic lights? They become energy savers.

"When you're stopping, all the current gets dumped into the capacitor, therefore saving the energy so that you can reuse it, rather than going into the battery, because putting it into the battery costs battery life," he says.

As the argument goes, if one knows exactly how someone drives, it's possible to come up with the perfect-size battery and supercapacitor for that driver.

A $10,000 price tag

Nourbakhsh and his team are at work on a computer program that can predict where a driver speeds up, hits traffic and pauses for doughnuts -- all to make a battery system that's the perfect size.

Over time, this program could even learn more about the driver, firing up the capacitor or battery at precisely the right times to get her to work.

Nourbakhsh says a regular battery may cost $8,000, but adding a $1,000 capacitor to handle the sudden charges means the battery doesn't need to be as big, so the combo may cost only $2,000.

The total price of conversion? ChargeCar is targeting a $10,000 tag.

Article Courtesy of NYTimes


Monday, May 24, 2010

State of Florida Adopts Carnegie Learning Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II

The Florida Department of Education has adopted Carnegie Learning® Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II Textbooks and ancillary software as core mathematics instructional materials for use in Florida school districts through June 2016.

Carnegie Learning® Florida Edition Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II textbooks provide content customized to support the rigorous Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. The pedagogy of Carnegie Learning’s research-based textbooks focuses on structuring a collaborative environment, engaging students, fostering communication, and promoting critical thinking and problem solving.

“Carnegie Learning has a long history of strong results in Florida, including the Miami-Dade County Public Schools and various charter schools,” said Dennis Ciccone, chief executive officer of Carnegie Learning, Inc. “It is gratifying to receive the Florida Department of Education’s assessment that our programs are appropriate and desirable for use in districts throughout the state.”

In 2008, data from four Miami-Dade charter high schools implementing three years of Carnegie Learning solutions as their exclusive math curriculum indicated that students in schools using Carnegie Learning programs scored higher on the math portion of the FCAT than students in schools in the County with comparable demographics. Schools implementing Carnegie Learning® Math Curricula for three consecutive years showed more pronounced improvement, indicating that implementations improve over time.

Carnegie Learning® Math Curricula are aligned to all state and most district standards and to the five content strands of the standards set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Carnegie Learning® Math Curricula are adopted in 15 states: Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.

Carnegie Learning® Florida Edition Textbooks and software are available for immediate purchase. For information, contactedsales@carnegielearning.comor 888-851-7094 X116.

Article Courtesy of Carnegie Learning


Monday, May 10, 2010

New Training Game Makes Anti-Phishing Education Fun and Effective

Today, Wombat Security Technologies announced the release of Anti-Phishing Phyllis, a fun and effective training game to teach employees and customers how to spot fraudulent emails. Phyllis builds on the success of Wombat’s Anti-Phishing Phil game, which trains people to recognize fraudulent URLs. Wombat’s unique approach to cyber security training in the form of engaging games builds on learning science principles and has been featured inScientific Americanfor its novelty and effectiveness. With its training solutions now licensed for use by millions of users around the world, Wombat security has established itself as a global leader in the fight against online scams.

With Anti-Phishing Phyllis, we now have a complete line of products to help government and private sector organizations combat phishing attacks,” said Dr. Norman Sadeh, co-founder and CEO of Wombat Security Technologies. “With these attacks on the rise, Anti-Phishing Phil and Anti-Phishing Phyllis are training games that every employee and customer should play.”

In the Anti-Phishing Phyllis training game, users help a fun fish character named Phyllis teach her school of fish how to avoid phishing traps in fraudulent emails. Traps covered in the game include fake links, malicious attachments, cash prizes, “respond-to” emails asking for sensitive information and much more. Users are given a limited amount of time to analyze each email and spot traps. As they play the game, they are given feedback on the phishing traps they miss and learn to better protect themselves. The game comes with an extensive collection of randomized legitimate and fraudulent emails, so users can play the game multiple times without seeing the same messages. In just a little over 10 minutes, users proceed through a succession of three rounds, with each round introducing new tips and teaching them how to fend off dangerous email attacks.

Phyllis has been built to support easy deployment and customization. Training emails can also be customized to reflect the types of phishing attacks an organization’s employees or customers are most likely to receive.These emails may pretend to be from the IT department asking for verification of employees’ passwords, a co-worker tempting them to download a picture of an animated singing hamster, or perhaps the IRS asking for their account information to issue a tax refund.

With Anti-Phishing Phyllis, users learn to verify the information presented to them, rather than trust easily forged email features such as logos or URLs to decide if the message is fraudulent or not,” said Dr. Jason Hong, Wombat’s co-founder and CTO. “Our games are not just effective, but also have a minimal impact on an employee’s productivity.Just like Anti-Phishing Phil, the Phyllis game can be played as often as you like from the convenience of a laptop or desktop computer,” said Hong.

Article Courtesy of Wombat Security Technologies


Friday, May 7, 2010

Startup Zipano sells privacy software to control who can find you

Ziv Baum often uses the term "space" as a synonym for "market"; he says that mobile technology is "the space that I live in."

The space you're in - and who knows you're there - has been Mr. Baum's specialty since he co-founded Zipano Technologies one year ago as a project looking to make on-the-go Internet users more comfortable with sharing their location.

Now, the South Side company is on the verge of securing major contracts as location-based social media networks grow in popularity - and privacy concerns rise with them.

Location-based networks such as FourSquare or Google Latitude allow users to "check in" and let friends know when they're at a certain place, sort of like Facebook with GPS.

Zipano specializes in privacy software that customizes who can find your location and when they can see it. For example: Maybe some friends can find you only when you're at Point State Park, or colleagues can see your location only during work hours on a Wednesday afternoon.

Zipano software also lets you check to see who has looked up your location and whether the request was denied. When such customizing is offered, user activity doubles - a major selling point for this company as location-based networks see clientele expand from easygoing early adopters to a more skeptical general public.

Already, the FourSquare site has seen opposition in the form of PleaseRobMe.com, a website that publishes when a user "checks in" somewhere and presumably leaves his home susceptible to thieves.

Mr. Baum's response to that site?

"Great," he said.

After serving a stint in the Israeli army and earning a degree in computer science, Mr. Baum headed to Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business three years ago, choosing a prestigious program in an unknown city.

"It's not the America you want to find when you come to America," he said.

Pittsburgh didn't offer the famous landmarks of New York or the cinematic glamour of Los Angeles, and Mr. Baum thought he'd leave after school and "get a job at the Googles or the Microsofts of the world."

But at Carnegie Mellon, Mr. Baum took a class with Norman Sadeh, a professor in the school of computer science. As a research tool, they developed a Facebook application called Locaccino.

The Locaccino app is added to Facebook profiles and allows users to locate friends using a computer or cell phone's internal GPS system - but only after completing a personalized survey that establishes strict user preferences.

Dr. Sadeh said the Zipano technology was designed for everyday, harmless scenarios - like the mother checking to see if her son has left school, or the student trying to find a study group.

"People tend to get many phone calls, and many of these calls are just 'Where are you?'" said Dr. Sadeh.

Locaccino has been downloaded by more than 10,000 users, and a Google Android phone version had more than 1,000 users in its first month.

But it wasn't making any money.

Following a trend becoming more common at Pittsburgh's incubating universities, the two decided to commercialize their research.

Zipano was formed in April 2009 with funding from Carnegie Mellon and Innovation Works, the South Side nonprofit venture capital firm.

Zipano specializes in software development, and Mr. Baum describes his product as "sitting" atop the location-based network as a self-regulated censor or guard - as though the cell phone company bought the house but Zipano installed the locks.

Regulating who can find your location keeps stalker concerns at bay but also helps manage the personas we create for different groups, said C. Matthew Curtin, co-author of "Developing Trust: Online Privacy and Security."

Mr. Curtin said the critical concern with online privacy was keeping your social circles - work, family, friends - separate.

Products like Zipano's "make a lot of sense for being able to try and assert some of that control over how you manage information about you," he said.

The Zipano software isn't a "one size fits all" model, which means the company can seek contracts with various industries - from popular websites to GPS manufacturers to cell phone carriers.

Mr. Baum heads the company full time, and Dr. Sadeh's official title is chairman and chief scientist.

He described himself as more of a consigliere to the young company, helping with business strategy and access to his Rolodex.

The company expects a contract to be secured with a major European carrier within two to three months, and also is in talks with a domestic GPS manufacturer.

Mr. Baum said Zipano could charge providers for every user who signs up, or charge every time a location request is processed through a Zipano server. The company also is considering licensing its technology and selling it to major carriers for further development.

As a young company, Zipano is preparing test runs with potential clients who want to make sure the technology scales well and can accommodate an audience that numbers in the millions.

"The proof is in the pudding," said Dr. Sadeh. "And we believe our pudding tastes pretty good."

It's too early to speculate on Zipano's long-term future, he said, such as whether the company will expand or seek acquisition from the Googles or Microsofts of the world.

But like for any young startup, it doesn't take much for Zipano to dream big.

Zipano wants to tailor its user settings to other location-tracking applications, such as a program that lets you choose when you see certain ads.

You could walk right by the Gap and - buzz - your phone lights up with a 20 percent off denim coupon.

Mr. Baum also sees possibilities in sharing your personal calendar with select people, or even customizing who can see your medical records as those move online.

Helping to prepare all of this are four part-time employees: three developers and a business manager. True to form, two are in Pittsburgh, one is in Boston and another works in Miami.

And you can check on that.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The First Gigapanorama of Pittsburgh

Behold! It's a vista that no one has ever seen, even though it has been here for 40 years.

Yes, that's the new ConSol Energy Center on both the right and left ends of the picture. In between is Pittsburgh's entire circle on Earth.

This first Pittsburgh Gigapanoramais an interactive, 360-degree portrait of southwest Pennsylvania as seen from the roof of the U. S. Steel Tower. Assembled from over 4000 individual pictures taken on the morning of October 19, 2009, this photograph contains 31.3 gigabytes (10.5 gigapixels) of information, ranking it among the largest digital images ever created. What you see online is a small window onto the overall image, just like the Gigabanner which measures 48 inches high by 23 feet long. Yes, that's feet. In truth, if this image could be displayed in its full glory, the dimensions would be 50 feet by 285 feet long, far bigger than any screen could accommodate.

What you see on-line is a much reduced version of the total image, as is the printed Gigabanner which is 48 inches high by 23 feet long. If this image could be displayed in its full glory, its dimensions would be 50 feet high by 285 feet long, far bigger than any screen could accommodate!

While only a fraction of the full image, this virtual version has some amazing advantages. Yes, that's The Point in the foreground, but try zooming in on any distant point, for example up the Monongahela to the horizon. We think that might be Laurel Ridge out there to the East, silhouetted by the rising sun.

As vast as its vistas and impressive its vital statistics are, how this image came to be is equally interesting.

The story starts with a standout structure.

Rising 841 above Grant Street, the one-acre rooftop of the U. S. Steel Tower is both the high center point in a broad circumference of southwestern Pennsylvania and the largest, highest space on top of any building on Earth!

Its flat rooftop is so large, that even though a few people have been up there for a variety of reasons since the building opened in August of 1970, no one has ever had this complete, 360-degree view that includes so much of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela River valleys in a single glance.

Nor have they been able to focus in on sights as detailed, distinct and distant as the airport and the Cathedral of Learning.

The High Point Park Investigation
The Pittsburgh Gigapanorama is one outgrowth of an idea that began three years ago, during my tenure as Post-Gazette travel editor.

Looking at a satellite image of downtown Pittsburgh, I noticed that the U. S. Steel Tower closely mimics the Point in both outline and orientation. Realizing the roof also measured an acre, I began to wonder what use could be made of that flat, empty area.

That question started a process that led me to The STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, a center for experimental enterprises across academic disciplines at Carnegie Mellon University. I was invited to explore realistic options for transforming this singular platform into a high-visibility, publicly accessible, sustainable facility we now call High Point Park.

Initial analysis indicates such a facility could become an important civic asset, a unique, downtown first-day attraction that could earn a regional, national, even international reputation for the Pittsburgh area as a leader in green innovation and foster a reevaluation of the uses of high rooftops everywhere.

The project has already received letters of support from VisitPittsburgh.com and The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and more recently, financial support from the Heinz Endowments and The Sprout Fund.

More importantly, the Investigation has engaged myriad creative minds in the Carnegie Mellon Universe. The past January, more than 350 CMU architecture and business students took part in competitions to imagine the creation of a publicly-accessible, sustainable facility on the U. S. Steel Tower's roof. On Earth Day, we will be previewing "The Roof of the World"an independently produced documentary video shot during those competitions.

Creating the Pittsburgh Gigapanorama
In a very real sense, this vista captures the essence of the Investigation, the incomparable view available from the rooftop that towers over any other point of perspective.

For the uninitiated, a Gigapan is a photographic system developed at CMU for NASA's Mars Rover program for the shooting, processing, and presentation of large composite digital images.

A camera is attached to a robotic mount that rotates horizontally and vertically, automatically snapping a picture at preset stops to create a matrix of images, which are then "stitched" by a computer into a single picture. As the inexpensive, easily available technology spreads, thousands of images are being archived on at www.gigapan.org. Numerous magnificent Gigapans of the Golden Triangle have already been produced from the usual vantage points, such as Mount Washington and the West End Overlook.

However, producing this 360-degree image involved special challenges presented by trying to capture such an encompassing sweep. While even greater Gigapixel photos have been created, all are single files. This is the only one that involved the melding and extensive photo-processing of four such large files.

In addition to getting access to the building's roof, it meant having to take separate Gigapans facing in different directions, then figuring out how to adjust the resulting files for differing illumination and angles, and finally how to photographically join them together. While these might be relatively simple manipulations in Photoshop, these huge files overwhelmed even the most powerful computers and the standard software they run. The vertical banding that is most evident in the sky is a consequence of having to cut the images into right byte-sized vertical strips so they could be processed.

Shooting and producing this first Pittsburgh Gigapanorama required nearly six months of involvement, expertise, dedication, and innovation from many talented volunteers. We all learned so much in the process.

The closer you get, the more you can see
What can you find in the Gigapanorama? In addition to familiar landmarks and personal places, close examination will reveal so many details it's easy to get lost in the landscape and sky. For example, can you find the plane approaching the airport?

If you do spot something special, it's easy and free to register on the site and take snapshots. You can even write a few lines about what it means to you. We'll be gathering suggestions into a YouTube video tour of the Gigapanorama that will be produced and posted in the coming months.

Yet inevitably, such a vast and complex image also contains myriad anomalies, mostly from processing limitations and the stretching and parallax distortions that result from trying to puzzle so many crazy pieces together again.
And as dramatic as this image is, it is only a first effort, replete with all its flaws. We have learned a lot and are already considering how both the process and the product can be improved for the second edition.

We believe urban portraits like this one have a bright future, and we hope to let everyone know when we go up to shoot the next Pittsburgh Gigapanorama. That way, anyone who can see the U. S. Steel Tower from where they are can stand outside and wave, "Hello, World."

For more about the Pittsburgh Gigapanorama and or purchasing a printed, more poster-sized version of the image, visitwww.highpointpark.org

Article Courtesy of Pop City Media


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Start your thrusters, Astrobotic Technology is delivering to the moon

Need to get a payload to the moon?Astrobotic Technology Inc.is delivering.

The Carnegie Mellon spinoff is on track to land the world's first privately-funded lunar robot on the moon, a feat that it hopes will capture the $20 millionGoogle Lunar X Prizein 2012. To get there, the company is purchasing the Falcon 9, a reliable, larger and less expensive launcher made by SpaceX, a company founded by Elon Musk, the Henry Ford of future space travel.

The Falcon 9 will give Astrobotic shipping space, says David Gump, president. "This is really a race for contracts and money. This is a great revenue source for us."

So far the company has raised $3 million of the $60 million cost of the venture. Astrobotic is offering the space to technologists, academic researchers and marketers for $700,000 per pound plus a $250,000 fee per payload. The first company to reserve space is Houston-based Celestis Inc., which operates a space burial service for cremated remains.

Astrobotic, with 20 to 25 full- and part-time employees, has also landed several contracts with NASA. The company hopes to continue charting robotic missions to the moon long after the "Tranquility Trek."

The lightweight excavation robots, currently in development, will play a key role in later missions, prospecting for water ice at the Moon's poles and seeking out volcanic caves as low-cost shelters for both robots and astronauts so future researchers can "live off the land" rather than haul supplies from the Earth, which is very expensive.

"We keep close tabs on our competitors. We're confident that we've got an approach that will turn into a long term business," says Gump.

Article Courtesy of Pop City Media


Monday, April 19, 2010

RE2, Inc. to Design a Modular Intelligent Manipulation System for the U.S. Army

RE2, Inc., a leading developer of modular manipulation systems, announced today that it has been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to research and design a Modular Intelligent Manipulation system with Intuitive Control (MIMIC) for the U.S. Army’s Tank and Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC).

RE2’s proposed innovative design is expected to significantly increase the effectiveness of robotic manipulators on unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) by giving the robot operator the sensation that his or her arm is actually manipulating an object. As the operator moves his or her hand, the robot arm will mimic the operator’s arm/hand movements. As resistance is experienced at the end-effector, the operator will “feel” that resistance on his or her own hand. MIMIC’s intuitive control system, coupled with RE2’s dexterous end-effector solutions, will enable more advanced manipulation capabilities, such as using common hand tools or cutting wires.

“The comprehensive approach that we’ve proposed for MIMIC is well-suited for integration onto next-generation robotic systems. Additionally, the modularity and interoperability of MIMIC allow it to be integrated onto currently fielded UGVs as an upgrade kit, providing a low-cost, improved teleoperation solution for the existing fleet of fielded robots,” stated Jorgen Pedersen, president and CEO of RE2, Inc.

During the six-month Phase I SBIR, RE2 will conduct research to determine viable and intuitive control methods and devices to manipulate robotic arms. RE2 will also design a dexterous end-effector with force feedback and conduct a camera study to ensure that the system will have improved visual feedback over existing manipulation systems.

Article Courtesy of Re2


Monday, April 19, 2010

Carnegie Learning® Geometry Second Edition Delivers Conceptual Understanding, Differentiated Instruction

The K12 education industry’s leading research-based math publisher introduces Carnegie Learning® Geometry Second Edition Textbooks and Cognitive Tutor® Software this week at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Annual Meeting in San Diego. Carnegie Learning® Geometry Second Edition is designed to strengthen students’ conceptual understanding of geometric concepts in preparation for higher-level math courses.

This revised edition of Carnegie Learning’s current Geometry program offers a new set of software enhancements including a proof tool and interactive diagrams, as well as content aligned with the van Hiele model of how children learn geometry. Consistent with the Carnegie Learning pedagogy of differentiated instruction and individualized learning, these tools help students visualize geometric concepts in both the textbook and software through hands-on activities. Cognitive Tutor® Geometry Software allows students to progress at their own pace and experience the math through multiple representations including symbolic, visual, and real-world contexts, all with immediate feedback and individualized tutored help as they learn and master critical skills.

“I am frequently asked whether geometry has changed enough to warrant writing a new book," said Jaclyn Baker Snyder, a member of the authoring team and an education researcher and frequent national speaker on closing the student achievement gap, cognitive science research, and artificial intelligence in education. “Over time, geometry hasn't changed but research and access to technology has. We know much more about how people think and make decisions, so we can better communicate the relevancy of math to our students. By asking high-level questions, offering stronger tools, and requiring students to do the math, concepts that were once abstract become meaningful, logical, intuitive, and less of a mystery."

Carnegie Learning Geometry solutions can be flexibly implemented to support a variety of key academic programs within and outside of the regular school day, including core and supplemental instruction plans. Carnegie Learning® Geometry Textbooks are adopted in eleven states: Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia.

Carnegie Learning® Geometry Second Edition Textbooks and Cognitive Tutor® Geometry Software are available to ship in June.

Article Courtesy of Carnegie Learning


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tech to put hockey fans in action at Consol Energy Center

Cheers echo through Mellon Arena as Sidney Crosby scores a backhander. But it takes nine seconds for the concourse video screens to catch up with the action.

The experience can leave fans buying a soft pretzel or scouring the halls for Iceburgh the mascot feeling detached from what's happening on the ice.

It won't happen in the new Consol Energy Center. Workers this week were installing the $321 million arena's technological backbone to support a high-speed video network, and 200 WiFi transmitters that will link 800 high-def screens and thousands of hockey fan smartphones.

"There's nowhere that you're going to walk in the arena and feel out of touch," said Chris DeVivo, director of media technology for the Penguins. "You're really connected to everyone in the building."

Locally based companies are equipping the arena with many of its high-tech marvels.

AEC Group of McKeesport won a $2.8 million contract to install the arena's Cisco Systems "data lifeline," which will be completed by August, said Marty Connelly, a managing partner at the 110-employee firm. It's installing the computer servers, routers, Ethernet cables, telephones and touch screens that will run ticket windows, instant replay systems and even the escalators and elevators. The company is setting up the systems for the Penguins executive office, which is relocating to Consol Center, Connelly said.

"It's the same system that's in the Dallas Cowboys stadium," he said. "It's the top of the line."

The WiFi transmitters will expand the number of fans who can use YinzCam, a free smart phone application that allows users to download live video, replays and player info. And an in-house cell phone signal transmitter will ensure strong reception for surfing the Web.

Priya Narasimhan, a Carnegie Mellon University computer engineering professor and creator of YinzCam, expects the new system to handle up to 30 percent of the 18,087-seat arena's capacity.

Narasimhan said there are plans to use the WiFi network in unique ways, including a beacon that could be attached to Iceburgh.

"I have a 3-year-old, and I spend half my life hunting the mascot down. A beacon could show you where he is," she said.

Hockey fans watching the games at home will notice differences as well, DeVivo said.

The Penguins are working on plans to cut two holes on either end of the boards, cover them in Plexiglas and install robotically controlled cameras to get more player close-ups. The Igloo's cameras are forced to almost always shoot down onto players against the white ice.

"The NFL can catch the expressions on the guys' faces on camera," DeVivo said. "That's what we want: to catch the emotion of the game, to put fans right there on the ice."

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Monday, April 12, 2010

Robotics Toy to Teach Computational Thinking about Complex Systems

Modular Robotics is pleased to announce the award of a $486,906 grant from the US National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR Phase II) program, for the project, “Learning About Complexity through Programming Modular Robots”.

Modular Robotics has developed Cubelets, a toy that fosters computational thinking about complex systems. Cubelets is a modular construction kit for learning how local behaviors can produce global effects. The kit is simple to use: Children design and build robots by snapping together blocks. No explicit programming is needed because the robot’s behavior is a direct result of the way the blocks are assembled. What’s unique about Cubelets is that no central “brain” controls the robot; rather, control is distributed throughout its blocks. As children gain sophistication designing robots they can reprogram individual block behaviors using a screen based programming environment on a personal computer or mobile phone. By designing and building complex systems children will experience a variety of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concepts.

Modular Robotics is a spin-off company founded in 2008 by Carnegie Mellon University professor Mark D Gross and his former PhD student Eric Schweikardt, based on Schweikardt’s doctoral work. The project began under an NSF grant to investigate construction kit toys and craft activities enabled by new computational technologies. The company received seed funding from CMU’s Office of Technology Transfer, as well as an earlier Phase I grant from the National Science Foundation. Modular Robotics intends to release Cubelets in three phases: first to science centers and children’s museums, then to a core community of tech-savvy enthusiasts, and finally to the public through retail channels. The first kits are scheduled to come to market later this year.

Article Courtesy of Modular Robotics


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Adobe Teams up with Conviva for Better Flash Delivery

Adobe is announcing a strategic partnership with Conviva today that aims to improve Flash video streaming through advanced analytics and CDN optimization.

Conviva’s technology works by offering a real-time view into how certain video streams are performing and adjusts those streams as necessary, enabling media companies to balance delivery across multiple CDNs based on cost and performance. As a result, its customers can provide a better user experience at a lower cost than if they just used a single CDN without Conviva’s help. By integrating Adobe’s Flash with the Conviva media control platform, media companies will better be able to support large, highly scalable live and on-demand online video deployments.

The announcement comes just a few months after Conviva named former NBC CTO Darren Feher as its new chief executive. Feher had extensive experience with Conviva during his time at NBC, as the broadcasterused Conviva’s media delivery platformto enhance live and on-demand streaming for a number of sporting events, including the2009 Masters Tournament,Wimbledon,NFL Sunday Night Footballand most recently, the2010 Vancouver Olympic games.

Importantly, however, those events all used Microsoft’s Flash rival Silverlight for video delivery. So improving Flash video could help increase market opportunities for both firms. By collaborating with Adobe, Conviva will be able to offer up an improved experience for Flash, which is used for delivery about about 75 percent of all online video. The integrated solution will work with Adobe’s proprietary RTMP streaming protocol, as well as its HTTP multibitrate streaming solution, and will also support Adobe’s Open Source Media Framework (OSMF) for building video players based on the Flash platform.

Conviva was founded in 2006 and has raised a total of $29 million, including a $20 million funding round in August 2008 that was led by UV Partners, New Enterprise Associates and Foundation Capital.

Article Courtesy of NewTeeVee


Friday, March 26, 2010

Imaging toolbox now filled with a rainbow of fluorescent probes

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University'sDepartment of ChemistryandMolecular Biosensor and Imaging Center(MBIC) are advancing the state-of-the-art in live cell fluorescent imaging by developing a new class of fluorescent probes that span the spectrum — from violet to the near-infrared. The new technology, called fluoromodules, can be used to monitor biological activities of individual proteins in living cells in real time. At the 239th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, Carnegie Mellon chemists and MBIC scientists will discuss recent advances in their fluoromodule technology that have produced diverse and photostable probes.

Fluoromodules, which consist of dye-protein complexes, provide alternatives to common fluorescent proteins, such as Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), but with a wider selection of colors and the potential for significantly greater photostability, which allows scientists to image the dye for longer periods of time. This is made possible by the fact that the dye is noncovalently bound to the protein, which allows fresh dye to replace bleached dye.

"We initially isolated and characterized fluoromodules that generate fluorescence from the fluorogenic dyes thiazole orange and malachite green. We are now expanding our repertoire by synthesizing new dyes that emit in the orange and violet regions of the spectrum, and engineering proteins that bind to the new dyes with great affinity," said Chemistry Professor Bruce Armitage, co-director of theCenter for Nucleic Acid Science and Technologyat Carnegie Mellon and a member of the MBIC team developing the fluoromodules.

Fluoromodules are made of a fluorogen-activating protein (FAP) and a non-fluorescent dye called a fluorogen. The FAP, which is genetically expressed in a cell and tagged to a protein of interest, does not become fluorescent until it binds with its fluorogen. With the novel FAPs and associated fluorogens created by the MBIC team, the researchers can control when a target protein lights up, allowing them to track proteins on the cell surface and within living cells in very simple and direct ways, eliminating cumbersome experimental steps.

Recent advances in the MBIC fluoromodule technology being presented at the ACS meeting include:

Working with a FAP that had a low affinity for the fluorogenic dye dimethlindole red (DIR), graduate student Hayriye Özhalici-Ünal used PCR mutagenesis to introduce mutations into the FAP's genetic sequence. A small number of mutations increased several-fold the protein's affinity for DIR, enabling very specific and selective binding of the FAP to its dye partner (DIR). Özhalici-Ünal will present this work at 9:50 a.m., Thursday, March 25 during the Follow-on Biologics: Protein Engineering session located in room 201 West Bldg. in the Moscone Center.

Graduate student Nathaniel Shank synthesized a modified DIR, making it eight-times more photostable. This significant improvement could have an impact on single molecule imaging. Additionally, the modified DIR emits in the orange range of the spectrum, adding another color to the fluoromodule toolkit being developed at MBIC. Shank will present this work at 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 23 during the Total Synthesis of Complex Molecules, Material Devices & Switches, Physical Organic Chemistry poster session located in Hall D of the Moscone Center.

By synthesizing a new dye and identifying FAPs that bind to it, research chemist Gloria Silva and graduate student Kim Zanotti developed a fluoromodule that emits fluorescence in the violet, which is a welcome addition to a very limited number of probes able to emit in the violet portion of the spectrum. Zanotti will present this work a 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 23 during the poster session located in room 3009/3011 West Bldg. in the Moscone Center.

Article Courtesy of R&D Magazine


Friday, March 26, 2010

CMU researchers aim for the moon by developing lunar roverprobes

The easy part may actually be getting to the moon.

Surviving there through a temperature swing of a scorching 120 degrees Celsius at high noon to a beyond frigid low of -185 degrees Celsius at night is another story.

But local researchers going after the Google Lunar X Prize think they have solved some key issues in their quest to win the $20 million purse and the prestige of being the first independent team to send a rover to the moon.

“The temperature extreme is a big drawback to the moon,” said David Gump, president ofAstrobotic Technology Inc., which, along withANSYS. That company also is the first sponsor on the project through its in-kind investment of $2.5 million in simulation software.

“With what they are doing with this project, it really demonstrates what our solution is all about,” said Barry Christenson, ANSYS director of product management. “Companies rely on our software to do things they just can’t test. This is a great example of it; you can’t just fly to the moon and do your test.”

The team expects to have six major sponsors that would each commit $1 million to $2 million and can then claim credit for various parts of the mission.

‘A whole new world’

The Google Lunar X Prize, which was announced in 2007, stipulates that the privately funded craft must land on the moon, travel 500 meters and broadcast a high definition transmission back to Earth. The grand prize, $20 million, goes to the first team to fulfill the mission by Dec. 31, 2012. The prize drops to $15 million until Dec. 31, 2014, when the competition ends. A bonus $5 million is offered if the winning team completes added tasks, such as roving farther than 500 meters or capturing images of artifacts left behind in earlier missions, such as the Apollo 11 landing, or survive the lunar night.

Astrobotic plans to do all of the above, plus one more important goal: bring the entrepreneurial spirit to space exploration.

Going Commercial

In anticipation of the growing space marketplace, the Department of Commerce has established the Office of Space Commercialization, which is designed to help develop space commerce policy and foster economic growth of the commercial space industry.

“You get a lot of innovation and a lot of buy-in from the private sector for a relatively small amount of an award,” said Michael Beavin, senior program analyst for the Office of Space Commercialization, about such prize programs.

In fact, Beavin noted that government agencies such as NASA are opening some of their specialized testing facilities to participants in this prize and others.

Only the First Mission

The Pittsburgh team sees the Google Lunar X Prize as merely the first mission. Others will follow and could include contracting with other space agencies for payload space.

To get the rover to the moon, the team is working with partners that will supply the rocket that will launch it and the propulsion module that will be needed to steer the lander. Most of the lander will be built by the Astrobotic and CMU team, but they are in talks with an outside company on the propulsion module, Gump said. The whole thing will purchase a ride on a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX that will launch sometime in late 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The team recently announced it expanded its payload to 240 pounds, which can be purchased by outside companies. A Houston-based company that provides space burial services has reserved 11 pounds already, Astrobotic says. The remaining space is available for $700,000 a pound plus a $250,000 fee.

The entire project is estimated to cost $60 million, Gump said. So far, through angel investors and research contracts, Astrobotic, the business arm of the enterprise, has raised $3 million, with an additional $48 million needed. CMU owns 5 percent of the company, Gump said.

Thornton, who passed up a lucrative job offer withBoeingto pursue this work with Astrobotic, said the project offers the opportunity for both the people involved and the businesses that invest early.

“I can be a part of this new market and open up a whole new market,” he said. “It really is a whole new world.”


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Penguins Launch Free Android Application

The Official Pittsburgh Penguins Android application is now available in the Android Marketplace for use on several Verizon Wireless smartphones. Developed by Pittsburgh-based YinzCam, Inc., a Carnegie Mellon University spin-off company, the free Penguins app offers a wide range of new features that allow fans to stay in touch with the team anytime, anywhere while also enjoying unprecedented in-arena interactive experiences.

Content that is accessible inside and outside of Mellon Arena includes real-time scores, stats, standings, news, live 24x7 Twitter feeds of fans and bloggers, roster and schedule information. Exclusive in-arena content, presented by Verizon Wireless, includes unique live video camera angles and instant replays from multiple views that are available only 2-5 seconds after a play.

No other NHL team offers fans the cutting-edge technology to experience the game live from various unique perspectives. Fans can also use the app to capture their personal moments and memories at the game through a digital game diary.

YinzCam, Inc. launched a platform-agnostic version of the mobile in-arena experience for Pittsburgh Penguins fans on the Blackberry, Android, Samsung, Nokia, iPhone, iTouch and other platforms last year. The mobile experience will also be available on touchscreens in the luxury boxes in the new Consol Energy Center, offering guests the ability to customize their game experience and watch the game in a richer, more interactive way.

With the recent free Verizon Wireless Android app, Pittsburgh Penguins fans can get both the outside-arena and unique, in-arena content in the 2009-10 season and beyond. The Blackberry and iPhone/iTouch apps will follow soon this year.

“We are pleased to partner with YinzCam, Inc. to offer such a unique and innovative product to our fans,” said Penguins senior vice president of sales Dave Soltesz. “The app will certainly help to enhance the experience fans will have at the state-of-the-art Consol Energy Center beginning this fall, giving them yet another way to get closer to the game.”

"As part of Verizon Wireless' efforts to provide our customers with the latest in innovative applications, we are excited to work with the Pittsburgh Penguins to enhance their fans' experience through this mobile application," said the regional president for Verizon Wireless Roger Tang.

“This is the ultimate game experience, built by fans, for fans. We really wanted fans to have the ability to customize their game experience to their liking on their own smartphones, while enjoying the excitement of the game with thousands of other people," said Priya Narasimhan, CEO of YinzCam, Inc. (Visit YinzCam Website)

Click herefor more information, or emailyinzcam@pittsburghpenguins.com.

Article Courtesy of The Pittsburgh Penguins


Monday, February 15, 2010

PediaFlow(TM) VAD Consortium Receives $5.6 Million NIH Contract to Ready Device for Clinical Trials

LaunchPoint Technologies, Inc. and its fellow Consortium members have been awarded a $5.6 million contract from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to pursue the continued development of the PediaFlowTM VAD, an implantable heart-assist device for infants and small children with congenital or acquired heart disease. The four-year program, known as 'Pumps for Kids, Infants, and Neonates (PumpKIN) Preclinical Program,' will enable the PediaFlow Consortium to complete preclinical testing and obtain FDA approval to begin clinical trials.

The PediaFlowTM VAD is one of four projects sponsored by the $23.6 million NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) PumpKIN Preclinical Program. The PediaFlow Consortium, under the direction of Dr. Harvey Borovetz, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, includes researchers and developers from the University of Pittsburgh; Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh; Carnegie Mellon University; World Heart Corporation (WorldHeart); and LaunchPoint Technologies, Inc. (LaunchPoint).

The PediaFlowTM VAD is a fully magnetically-levitated (maglev) blood pump, approximately the size of an AA battery. The pump design is an evolution of the award-winning maglev technology originally developed at LaunchPoint in collaboration with Dr. James Antaki and the University of Pittsburgh, and further refined during collaborations with WorldHeart on their LevacorTM VAD (currently in US bridge-to-transplant clinical trials). A recently completed five-year NIH contract allowed the Consortium to make significant progress in pump miniaturization and to successfully complete a multi-month in vivo implant in late 2009. The bearing-less blood pump is designed to offer excellent blood-compatibility with acceptably low energy consumption, and to ultimately provide up to six months of extended circulatory support for infants and children recovering from heart surgery or awaiting a heart transplant.

The three other PumpKIN awardees are Ension, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA; University of Maryland School of Medicine; and Jarvik Heart, Inc., New York, NY.

According to the NHLBI, nearly 1,800 infants die each year as a result of congenital heart defects and another 350 develop heart disease. Of those placed on the heart transplant list, approximately 60 infants and children under the age of 5 lose their lives each year while waiting for a donor heart.

"This research seeks to develop technologies to expand life-saving options for infants and children born with congenital heart defects or those who develop heart failure," noted Susan B. Shurin, M.D., pediatrician and Acting Director of the NHLBI. "Well-designed circulatory support devices are expected to substantially improve the outcomes of the infants and young children who need them as they seek to recover or wait to receive a heart transplant."

Article Courtesy of LaunchPoint Technologies


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Carnegie Learning Wins $2.4 Million Texas Education Agency Bid

Carnegie Learning, Inc. announced today that the Texas Education Agency(TEA) has awarded the company a $2.4 million contract to provide supplemental math instruction to more than 3,000 middle school students in the state. The two-year program launches in fall 2010 and includes an extensive professional development component to provide 170 hours of training per teacher per year in math content and instructional methods.

The TEA is the state organization that provides leadership and resources to nearly 1,200 Texas school districts and charter schools to support 4.7 million students in pre-kindergarten through high school.

The goal of the new Technology-Based Supplementary Math Instruction program is to prepare students in grades 5 through 8, who are identified as unlikely to meet end-of-course standards in Algebra I, to pass and move successfully to high school.

"Our partnership with TEA will provide an individualized learning path for each student and strengthen teacher capacity to help diverse groups of learners pass algebra," said Dennis Ciccone, chief executive officer of Carnegie Learning, Inc. "By giving middle school students improved math skills, better conceptual understanding, and greater confidence in their math abilities, we expect to see an increase in the numbers of students in these districts who advance to high school and graduation."

Students will use the company's Cognitive Tutor(r) Bridge to Algebra and Algebra I software evolved from more than two decades of cognitive science research at Carnegie Mellon University. The programs provide rigorous instructional resources, 24/7 online student support, ongoing formative assessments, and professional development programs for teachers and administrators.

The U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse identifies Carnegie Learning(r) Algebra I as one of very few curricula with studies that show substantial, positive effects on learning and student attitudes in a strong experimental design. Carnegie Learning(r) Math Curricula are reviewed extensively by third-party researchers, and the resulting data indicate that students who complete Carnegie Learning courses test 85% better in math problem-solving skills and are 70% more prepared for advanced math courses.

News Story Courtesy Carnegie Learning
Pictures Courtesy Carnegie Learning

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

MechanoBiology: New Protein Function Discovered

Carnegie Mellon University's Philip R. LeDuc and his collaborators in Massachusetts and Taiwan have discovered a new function of a protein that could ultimately unlock the mystery of how these workhorses of the body play a central role in the mechanics of biological processes in people.

"What we have done is find a new function of a protein that helps control cell behavior from a mechanics perspective," said LeDuc, an associate professor of mechanical engineering with courtesy appointments in the Biomedical Engineering, Biological Sciences and Computational Biology departments.

"For over 15 years, researchers have been mainly focusing on a protein called Integrin to study these cell functions, but our team found that another lesser known protein called Syndecan-4 is extremely important in cell behavior in a field called MechanoBiology (a field linking mechanics and biology). Syndecan-4 is known to play an essential role in a variety of diseases like cancer,"LeDuc said.

LeDuc's new findings appear in the Dec. 29 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences along with complementary work that is appearing in another journal, Nature Protocols.

Essentially what his research does is take a look at how a protein's shape and form determines how it functions in the human body from a mechanics perspective. Proteins are composed of long chains of amino acids than can form bonds with other molecules in a chain, kinking, twisting and folding into complicated, three-dimensional shapes, such as helices or densely furrowed globular structures.

"These folded shapes are immensely important because they can define a protein's function in the cell," said LeDuc, who is also developing novel biologically inspired diagnostic approaches and materials as well as computational methods to understand molecular behavior.

LeDuc said his research finds that some protein shapes fit perfectly into cell receptors, turning chemical processes on and off, like a key in a lock. With mechanics changing the shape of proteins, LeDuc says the key might no longer fit into the lock, and serious consequences in the body can occur when proteins fail to assume their preordained shapes or fail to connect properly.

"Misguided proteins have been linked to disease such as cancer, arthritis and wound healing, among others," LeDuc said. "Our research is looking at how protein shapes affect cells and how cell biomechanics impacts the entire process."

Article Courtesy of Science Daily 


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tel Aviv U Researchers Working To Harden Captcha

A research project at Tel Aviv University is tackling the problem of making Captcha more secure. Captcha is an open source program created by a team from Carnegie Mellon University. It consists of a component that shows wavy letters on Web sites and asks the visitor to type them into a box to prove he or she is human and not a bot trying to hack into a server or database.

Recently, Captcha has begun showing vulnerabilities. Spammers have begun hiring humans to sit in front of a screen to type in the letters from Captcha images thousands of times a day, thereby getting around the security mechanism. Likewise, other, more automated hacks have been developed to exploit insecure implementations of the component, such as re-using session IDs of known Captcha images on Web sites that allow multiple data entry attempts.

But a research project led by Danny Cohen-Or in Tel Aviv U's Blavatnik School of Computer Sciences is testing out a new kind of Captcha code using video, which may prove harder to crack.

"Humans have a very special skill that computer bots have not yet been able to master," said Cohen-Or. "We can see what's called an 'emergence image'--an object on a computer screen that becomes recognizable only when it's moving--and identify this image in a matter of seconds. While a person can't 'see' the image as a stationary object on a mottled background, it becomes part of our gestalt as it moves, allowing us to recognize and process it."

In a research paper co-authored with people in Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and India and presented at a recent Siggraph conference, Cohen-Or described a technique that generates pictures of 3D objects, like a running man or a flying airplane. This technique, he said, will allow developers to generate any number of moving images that will be virtually impossible for any computer algorithm to decode.

"Emergence" describes the ability of humans to collect bits of information, synthesize it, and perceive it as an identifiable whole. So far, computers don't have this skill. "Computer vision algorithms are completely incapable of effectively processing emergence images," explained Lior Wolf, a co-author of the study.

Article Courtesy of Campus Technology


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Speech firm plans public stock offering

South Side-based DynaVox Inc., a speech technology company, has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to begin selling shares to the public. The offering could raise as much as $125 million.

An initial offering price or time frame "hasn't been determined yet," said Jim Shea, vice president of marketing.

Part of the proceeds would go toward purchasing equity interests from existing owners and part for general corporate purposes and to pay down debt.

A Carnegie Mellon University spinoff founded in 1983, DynaVox would trade on NASDAQ under the ticker symbol, "DVOX."

Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray & Co. and New York-based Jefferies & Co. Inc. are joint book-running managers for the sale.

DynaVox specializes in technology designed to help people communicate who have cognitive or physical limitations.

The company has seen net income grow in the past three fiscal years, with last fiscal year's rising about $1.6 million to approximately $8.8 million.

DynaVox acquired Mayer-Johnson, a learning technology firm based in San Diego, in 2004 and is often referred to by both names. The company employs about 360 people worldwide.

DynaVox also said it had acquired Eye Response Technologies, a Charlottesville, Va., eye tracking technology firm. Financial details weren't disclosed.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post Gazette


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Future of Jobs in America

Innovation, R&D, and Education are Keys to Job Creation

Research and Development

That's the second part of the solution for job creation: research and development. But government spending on research and development actually fell by 3.8 percent in 2009. That's the worst drop in 30 years. Just when growing young industries like Printed Electronics are looking for money.

Andy Hannah's Pittsburgh company, Plextronics, which makes low cost solar panels, has quickly expanded to 70 employees. But the Europeans have pumped $1 billion into research, while the U.S. has done virtually nothing.

"We are behind," Hannah said. "This can bring a real manufacturing base back to the United States."

Intel just committed $7 billion to build new factories in Arizona, Oregon and New Mexico, to make the next generation of semiconductor devices. That will mean thousands of new jobs, but Justin Rattner said they may be hard to fill.

"Are you telling me that even if we innovate and create new products, we don't necessarily have the people to do the jobs," Mason asked.

"That's right," Rattner replied. "We're not graduating nearly the numbers of engineers that are coming out of universities in China and India and elsewhere."

Excerpt from CBS Reports/USA Today...

To watch the video and see the full article CBS Evening News.com

To learn more about Plextronics

By: Video with CMU Spin out Plextronics


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

IT service company ITSqc spins out from Carnegie Mellon

Information Technology Services Qualifications Center is spinning off from Carnegie Mellon University to become ITSqc LLC in order to extend research started at the university.

ITSqc started in 2000 as a consortium of information technology companies and university researchers to study best-practices within the information technology service provider industry. Since then, the organization has developed models and a certification process that can be used by clients and providers to ensure that the right expertise is brought on board and services meet client needs.

“The research was done and the models were created and focus shifted from creating and gathering, which universities are great at, we produced the models and now it’s a more commercial adoption issue,” said company director Jeff Perdue of the decision to spin-off.

The intellectual property was licensed in October and the new company started Jan. 1, Perdue said. The company has three employees: Perdue, an associate professor in the Institute for Software Research within the CMU School of Computer Science; Jane Siegel, senior systems scientist in the Institute for Software Research and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at CMU; and Bill Hefley, faculty at the Katz School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh.

Hefley was previously with the Institute for Software Research.

Some of the companies involved in the consortium include IBM and Accenture, Perdue said. ITSqc already has six organizations that have licensed the models and are working with clients, he said.

“The evolution of the Internet and the growth of the world’s telecommunications infrastructure now enables companies to seek out IT expertise from providers anywhere on the globe,” said Raj Reddy, chairman of the ITSqc Advisory Board in a written statement. “But without a set of commonly accepted best practices, many providers will routinely fail to deliver on their promises and potential clients will have no basis for comparing prospective providers. By establishing these best practices, the ITSqc has helped to bring order to the outsourcing marketplace.”

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Carnegie Mellon Students Devise RFID-enabled Mirror

Five graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University have designed a mirror system that includes an RFID interrogator and a touch-screen LCD monitor to provide consumers with information regarding clothing in a store as they shop. Since mid-December 2009, the system, known as the Smart.Mirror, has been trialed at Charles Spiegel for Men, a clothing boutique in Pittsburgh. Shoppers are using the system to learn more about a particular garment they have in hand, as well as which other items might go well with it. The system, says Charles Spiegel, the boutique's owner and president, has generated frequent wows from customers, though he does not yet know whether it will provide a significant increase in sales.

The concept of RFID-enabled mirrors came about several years ago, according to software developer Kevin Chia and his partner, project manager Vincent Sethiwan. There were already several solutions available to retailers allowing consumers to hold a garment next to a mirror with a built-in reader to capture ID number encoded to that item's RFID tag and then display information regarding that garment, along with other items that could accompany it (see Magicmirror Could Assist Retail Customers). However, Sethiwan says, they were relatively expensive and complex to establish. What the graduate students envisioned was a system comprising hardware that would be fairly inexpensive, as well as software that would provide the functions necessary to attract shoppers' attention, without being as complex.

Sethiwan, Chia and several colleagues developed the system for an entrepreneurship competition known as the Keith Block Entrepreneurship Fund. After presenting the technology concept to the fund's panel of judges, the group was awarded $3,000 in spring 2009 to further develop the idea. The team then began seeking a location at which they could try out the technology.

The graduate students visited a number of Pittsburgh stores, Sethiwan says, and gained the interest of Charles Spiegel, located in the city's Squirrel Hill section. The team installed the prototype at the men's store in December, requiring several days' labor of about seven students affixing adhesive RFID tags to the existing bar-coded hangtags attached to 1,500 garments. The tags—Alien Technology's Higgs-3 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 tags—can be read from approximately 10 to 15 feet, Spiegel says. The installation also includes an Alien reader cabled to a PC that runs software Chia developed to link each tag's unique ID number with information about complementary items that could be purchased to accompany that garment—such as a shirt that would go well with a specific jacket or sweater.

"We are focusing mainly on a simple solution that could be brought to market much faster" than other systems that utilize RFID technology to provide video content, Spiegel says.

"I know people have been saying the price of tags needs to be below five cents" in order to make a solution viable, Sethiwan notes, but he says he found that the tags the team purchased—priced at about 21 cents apiece—were, on average, approximately 13 cents more expensive than plain bar-coded hangtags. That extra 13-cent expense, he predicts, will be offset by the increased sales generated by the system.

The team expects that the primary customers for this system would be large retail chains, and plans to focus its next pilot project on that target market, in order to demonstrate that the system can work on a larger scale. The group also intends to develop two software packages, Chia says. One package would operate a simple smart mirror that would suggest other products that could complement a specific garment (similar to the PC system being tested at Charles Spiegel), while the other would operate a more expansive system that would be integrated with a store's inventory system, and would support purchasing and inventory control, as well as the smart mirror.

At Charles Spiegel's boutique, the RFID interrogator was installed at the end of an aisle toward the rear of the store. As customers come within 10 to 15 feet of it, the reader has been successfully capturing each garment's ID number and then providing media content that is catching shoppers' attention.

"At this point, it's been great," Spiegel says. "The RFID portion is working extremely well. I'd call it a resounding success." If used in a dressing room, the data could be displayed on or beside the mirror, with a reader prompting images to appear on a touch-screen LCD panel. According to the students, each interrogator would cost approximately $1,000.

Article Courtesy of RFID Journal

By: Pittsburgh men's clothing boutique Charles Spiegel is trialing the group's Smart.Mirror system, which includes EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and readers and a touch-screen LCD monitor.