Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Carnegie Mellon researchers use NMR to determine whether gold nanoparticles exhibit 'handedness'

Carnegie Mellon University's Roberto R. Gil and Rongchao Jin have successfully used NMR to analyze the structure of infinitesimal gold nanoparticles, which could advance the development and use of the tiny particles in drug development.

Their approach offers a significant advantage over routine methods for analyzing gold nanoparticles because it can determine whether the nanoparticles exist in a both right-handed and left-handed configuration, a phenomenon called chirality. Determining a nanoparticle's chirality is an important step toward developing them as chiral catalysts — tools that are highly sought-after by the pharmaceutical industry. Their results are published online at ACS Nano.

Many drugs on the market today contain at least one molecule that is chiral. Often only one of the configurations, or isomers, is effective in the body. In some cases, the other isomer may even be harmful. A striking example is the drug thalidomide, which consisted of two isomers: one of which helped pregnant women control nausea while the other caused damage to the developing fetus. In an effort to create safer, more effective drugs, drug manufacturers are looking for ways to produce purer substances that contain only the left- or right-handed isomer.

Huifeng Qian, a fourth-year graduate student working with Jin, created a gold nanoparticle that has the potential to catalyze chemical reactions that will produce one isomer rather than the other. The nanoparticle is comprised of precisely 38 gold atoms and measures a mere 1.4 nanometers. Qian worked diligently for nearly a year to grow the nanoparticles into high-quality crystals so that he could study their structure using x-ray crystallography.

"Growing a pure crystal from nanoparticles is very challenging, and you may not even be able to get a crystal at all," said Jin, an assistant professor of chemistry in CMU's Mellon College of Science. "In the nanoparticle community, the crystal structures of only three nanoparticles have been reported."

In Jin's case, x-ray crystallography revealed that the gold nanoparticle is chiral. Chemists typically probe the internal chiral structure of gold nanoparticles using a technique called circular dichoism spectroscopy. When pure chiral molecules are exposed to circularly polarized light, each isomer absorbs the light differently, resulting in a unique — and of opposite sign — spectrum for each isomer. The process of creating the gold nanoparticles, however, often results in a 50/50 mix of each isomer, known as racemates.

"Because the spectrum is of opposite sign for each isomer, they cancel each other out and the net optical response is zero. This makes circular dichoism (CD) spectroscopy useless when it comes to determining the chirality of gold nanoparticles in 50/50 mixtures," said Gil, associate research professor of chemistry and director of the Department of Chemistry's NMR Facility.

Since Jin couldn't use circular dichoism spectroscopy, Gil was able to use NMR to help Jin distinguish between his gold nanoparticles' left- and right-handed isomers.

NMR spectroscopy takes advantage of the physical phenomenon wherein some nuclei wobble and spin like tops, emitting and absorbing a radio frequency signal in a magnetic field. By observing the behavior of these spinning nuclei, scientists can piece together the chemical structure of the compound.

In 1957, scientists observed that the hydrogen atoms of a freely rotating methylene (CH2) group produced two different frequencies if they were close to a chiral center. Jin's gold nanoparticles, which have a chiral core, are cushioned by several chemical groups, including freely rotating methylene groups. Gil reasoned that the nanoparticles' chiral core should induce the methylene group's two hydrogen atoms to give off different frequencies, a phenomenon known as diastereotopicity.

Gil and Jin compared the NMR signal from the hydrogen atoms in a non-chiral gold nanoparticle with the NMR signal from the hydrogen atoms in chiral gold nanoparticle. The non-chiral nanoparticle's NMR spectrum did not reveal any differences, but the chiral nanoparticle's NMR spectrum revealed two different hydrogen signals, providing a simple and efficient way of telling whether the particle is chiral or not, even for a 50/50 mixture of isomers.

"NMR is an alternative — and very efficient — method for providing useful information about how the atoms in nanoparticles form the molecular structure. Because NMR can determine chirality in some cases, it can readily be used to determine the purity of a nanoparticle mixture," Jin said.

In current work, Jin and Qian are striving to turn their 50/50 mixture of right- and left-handed isomers into a pure solution of one or the other.

Article courtesy of EurekAlert

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

CMU Researchers One-Up Google Image Search And Photosynth With Visual Similarity Engine

To search these days is really an incredibly service-intensive process. Whereas before, to search something meant you had to through its drawers or folders by hand and inspect things by eye, now it means simply to produce a query and allow the vast computational engines of cloud services to exert themselves in parallel, sifting through petabytes of data and instantly presenting you with your results, ordered and arranged like snacks on a platter. We’re spoiled, to say the least.

It’s not enough, however, to have computers blindly compare 1s and 0s; when humans search, they search intelligently. We’ve seen incredible leaps in the ability to do this, and in the area of visual search, we’ve seen some interesting and practical technologies in (respectively) Photosynth and Google’s search by image function. And now some researchers at CMU have taken another step in the education of our tools. Their work, being presented at SIGGRAPH Asia, cleaves even closer to human visual cognition, though there’s still a long way to go on that front.

The challenge, when comparing images for similarity, is how to determine the parts of the image that make it unique. For us this is child’s play, literally: we learn the basics of visual distinction when we are toddlers, and have decades of practice. Computer vision, on the other hand, has no such biological library to draw on and must work algorithmically.

To this end, the researchers at Carnegie Mellon have determined an interesting way of comparing images. Instead of comparing a given image head to head with other images and trying to determine a degree of similarity, they turned the problem around. They compared the target image with a great number of random images and recorded the ways in which it differed the most from them. If another image differs in similar ways, chances are it’s similar to the first image. Ingenious, isn’t it?

The results speak for themselves: not only are they, like Google’s search tools, able to find images with similar shapes or, like Photosynth, able to find images of the same object or location with variations in color or angle, but they are able to reliably match very different versions of an image, like sketches, paintings, or images from totally different seasons or what have you.

Essentially, it’s an image comparison tool that acts more like a human: identifying not the ways in which a scene is like other scenes, but how it is different from everything else in the world. It recognizes the dome of St. Peter’s whether it’s Summer or Winter, ball point pen or photo.

Naturally there are limitations. The process is not very efficient and is extremely CPU-intensive; while Google may have reasonably similar images returned to you in half a second, the CMU approach would take much longer due to the way it must sift through countless images and do complicated zone-based comparisons. But the results are much more accurate and reliable, it seems, and calculation time will only decrease.

What will happen next? The research will almost certainly continue, and as this is a hot space right now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these guys snapped up by one of the majors (Google, Microsoft, Flickr) in a bid to outpace the others at visual search. Update: Google is in fact one of the funders of the project, though in what capacity and at what level is not disclosed.

The research team consists of Abhinav Shrivastava, Tomasz Malisiewicz, Abhinav Gupta, and Alexei A. Efros, who is leading the project. The full paper can be downloaded here (PDF) and there is some supplementary info and video at the project site if you’re interested.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wombat Securities targets the weakest link for cyber success, hiring

First came Phil, the anti-phishing fish who taught employees how to fend off internet predators. Then Phyllis jumped into the pool to help us learn to identify fraudulent emails. 
Wombat Security Systems in Oakland has moved beyond its anti-phishing tools and pools to offer companies a wider, more comprehensive approach to cyber security. Its latest release, Security Training Platform, gives firms a new level of cyber security support. The offering has proven so successful, Wombat has doubled its customer base in the last eight months, has added many Fortune 500 companies and plans to hire.     
"For years, people have thrown tech solutions at the problem of keeping businesses safe," explains Joe Ferrara, president and CEO, who joined the Wombat team in March of this year. "At the same time people have put less emphasis on the end user. The end user is the weakest link in the chain of events to protect companies. That's our focus."
Many companies and agencies were finding they had breaches and issues that weren't being addressed, Ferrara adds. "We needed to take a completely different approach. Our platform has dramatically changed employee behavior online; it hit the market at exactly the right time."
By embedding learning science principles into software to convey the right principles and strategies,  companies are able to determine which employees are the most vulnerable and work with them. The software provides strategies to remedy the weak link. 
"This takes us to a new level of data we can capture," says Ferrara. 
Wombat, a Carnegie Mellon spinout, moved this year to Henry Street, near the Project Olympus office, and has doubled in size to 12-14 employees. The entire management team is new, having joined in the last year. Hiring across the board is expected: developers, software developers, sales and marketing.
Over the next year, Wombat plans to expand products to further train employees on how to recognize and avoid advanced persistent threats caused by phishing, social media scams, and other attacks. The platform's analytics enable companies to measure the success of the efforts and target training to those users that need it most.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Global Entrepreneurship Week Starts Nov. 14

Entrepreneurship is vital to economic growth, and CMU students, faculty and alumni are right in the mix. Learn more during CMU’s third annual Global Entrepreneurship Week, part of the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life.

Read more below about the exciting and informative events across campus, including a startup job fair and panels on topics ranging from young entrepreneurship to social innovation. For more information about Carnegie Mellon's Global Entrepreneurship Week visit the event page on Facebook.

Brought to you by Carnegie Mellon University's Carnegie Institute of Technology, Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation, Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club, Graduate Student Assembly, Greenlighting Startups, Institute for Social Innovation, SCS Enterpreneurship Club, Students In Free Enterprise and Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Club.

Monday, November 14

Peter Stern, CEO of bitly, presented by James R. Swartz Entrepreneurial Leadership Series
12:30 - 1:20 p.m., Mellon Auditorium, Posner Hall
RSVP to Sonya Ford.

Before joining bitly, Stern created Zenbe, which made the Web a better place with innovative products like Zenbe Mail, Shareflow, and Lists for the iPhone. Zenbe Mail was sold to Facebook in June 2010. Long before that, in 1996, he co-founded Datek Online, which quickly grew to become the 4th largest online brokerage firm, successfully competing against companies that had 10+ year and $10+ billion head-starts.

Tuesday, November 15

Young Entrepreneurs Panel: The Perks & Challenges of Starting a Business During School

5:30 - 6:20 p.m., Room 151, Posner Hall

Moderated by Amanda Fox, assistant director of the Don Jones Center, the panel includes Mona Abdel-Halim (MBA and MSPPM '10), co-founder and director of sales at Careerimp; Daniel Bishop (MD and CIT Ph.D. candidate), co-founder and Technology Lead of Hygenyx; Neil Soni (CIT '13), founder and CEO of The College People; and Brett Weiwiora (MSPPM'11), founder and CEO of onlyinPgh.

Wednesday, November 16

Ad Idem: Discussion at the Interface of Design & Business

12:30 - 1:20 p.m., Posner Center
RSVP to Sonya Ford.

Many talk about the complementarities of Design and Business, but what are they, really?  What does it take to successfully capitalize on their potential synergies? Ad Idem will explore these questions via a series of seminars provided by industry experts who work at the interface of design and business. This series will focus on building stronger links between the business and design communities at Carnegie Mellon University by identifying commonalities and complementarities, spurring collaboration, and seeding ideas for research. Moderated by Helen Walters, former editor of Innovation and Design at Bloomberg Businessweek and current writer/researcher at Doblin, the discussion will include Colin Rainey, Design Director at IDEO, Shelley Evenson, Research Manager at Facebook, and Jeff Tull, Program Leader at Doblin.
At the conclusion of the discussion, students will be able to select from one of two interactive workshops. The panelists will detail how their respective companies operate and engage students with techniques and practices that work well at the crossing points of design and business. Contact Sonya Ford if you would like to be included in the afternoon workshops. Space is limited.

Workshop I, 2 – 4 p.m., Colin Raney, IDEO, and Helen Walters, Doblin
Workshop II, 2 – 4 p.m., Shelley Evenson, Facebook, and Jeff Tull, Doblin

SMART START — Commercializing from Game Hackfests

5 - 6:30 p.m., Room 6115, Gates Center

Ever wondered if things created at hackfests or hackathons can be commercialized? Or wonder who owns the code? Learn more about the patents, copyrights, intellectual property and more.

Think Like An Angel: Entrepreneurial Challenge

Sponsored by Blue Tree Allied Angels
5:30 - 9:30 p.m., Room 3305, Newell Simon Hall

Think Like an Angel is a real competition that will allow participants to improve their entrepreneurial abilities and interact with real entrepreneurs and professional investors. By registering for this event, students will join Angel teams with students from across campus and evaluate real startups to see if they deserve an investment from an Angel fund.

Thursday, November 17

Startup Job Fair 

3:30 - 8: p.m., Perlis Atrium, Newell Simon Hall

Working for a startup is a great learning experience and a great way to build up a resume. Participating startups are hiring for the following positions: full-time and part-time potential team members, summer interns and projects. For more information, contact Kit Needham, Project Olympus senior business adviser.

Friday, November 18

Social Impact Investing Panel

Noon - 1:30 p.m., Room 1000, Hamburg Hall

Make the future of finance more ethical through impact investing to solve the world’s most pressing problems. The panel is facilitated by Tim Zak and features investors and social entrepreneurs discussing social impact investing and its benefits.

Social Entrepreneurship Showcase

5 - 6:30 p.m., Hallway, Hamburg Hall

See the campus’ social innovations in a showcase that features more than a dozen innovations, from ideas to free-standing enterprises that have been launched into the world. Meet students, faculty, alums and members of the social innovation community.

Article courtesy of the PIPER

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Entrepreneurs get chance to impress potential investors at AlphaLab's Demo Day

Tech CEOs stepping to the stage for Innovation Works' AlphaLab Demo Day and the i6 Agile Innovation System Preview on Tuesday had about five minutes to sell complex technologies to an audience of potential investors and partners.

With time short, many sped through jargon-filled PowerPoint presentations and grainy video endorsements to cut to the heart of the matter: how their products can help to revolutionize an industry or improve daily life on an individual basis.

Edan Yago, co-founder of drug discovery technology provider Enzium, used his own illness as an example of how helping companies obtain FDA approval for drugs could someday benefit anyone who has ever been taken down by a case of the sniffles.

"It's 2011 and I'm coming to you with the flu. We still don't have a cure for the common cold. Our old methodology of drug discovery is failing us," he said.

Mr. Yago went on to explain that his company's tools for screening protease enzymes will help those creating medicines that target the enzymes to get the drugs through the clinical trial phase faster.

James Wolfe, CEO of HyGenyx, displayed the image of an ailing man in a hospital bed to drive home the potential impact that his company's Room Q hospital infection reduction technology could have on patients.

"Hospital-acquired infections kill nearly 100,000 people every year. Imagine a jumbo jet goes down every single day -- that's the reality of the severity of this problem," said Mr. Wolfe, motioning toward the photo.

Six companies being supported through Alpha Lab, Innovation Works' intensive tech accelerator program, and six who are part of the i6 Agile Innovation System, an initiative by Innovation Works and Carnegie Mellon University to help commercialize local technologies, put their best pitches forward for the annual event, which took place Tuesday at the South Side's Circuit Center.

Most of the presenting companies were so early in the startup stage that they have yet to incorporate.

The i6 initiative was formed only last year after South Oakland-based Innovation Works and CMU won a contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration. This group of AlphaLab companies just started their 20 weeks with the program in June.

Despite the short time with the programs, Innovation Works president and CEO Rich Lunak said many companies have made major steps toward commercialization, including securing initial rounds of investments, operating live beta sites and attracting major partners to use products.

Classroom Salon, an i6 company founded by CMU associate teaching professor Ananda Gunawardena, has formed partnerships with CMU and McGraw-Hill publishing to use its platform to modify classroom texts to social networking sites where communities of classmates read and comment on shared content.

Mr. Gunawardena said the company is seeking $500,000 in angel funds to supplement $500,000 in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Science Foundation to bring the product to new markets.

AlphaLab company Comvibe, a property management repairs site that allows tenants to request maintenance services through a managed network, has gotten so much support from initial users that a property manager using the site pitched it alongside company CEO, Kariithi Kilemi, during a recent conference. Mr. Kilemi hopes a $250,000 investment can help the company build its sales team and expand its market share.

With a range of companies that touch upon everything from medicine and education to fashion and graphic arts, Mr. Lunak said each has something to offer local and international investors or partners. It's simply a matter of Innovation Works, CMU and Alpha Lab helping connect them with the best investors and partners for their products.

"They're just plain great entrepreneurs with terrific ideas, good opportunities are there for the investment community," he said.

In addition to Classroom Salon, Hygenyx and Enzium, the following companies are part of the i6 Agile Innovation System: Transactional DA, a company that creates custom-designed embedded processors; EEme, a company that monitors energy efficiency for customers, businesses and third party consultants; and GlobaTrek, a company working to help small and medium-sized businesses expand globally.

In addition to ComVibe, AlphaLab is currently assisting: 8020 Select, an online graphics design community; MakerCraft, a custom online jewelry design company; VitalClip, an iPhone enabled device that allows for real-time health monitoring; Krowder, a crowd-sourced delivery system for products placed in classified ads online; and PHRQL (pronounced freckle), a smartphone app that helps people living with diabetes monitor their readings and founded by Hank Werronen, former COO of Humana Health Plan.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friday, October 21, 2011

7 toys you gotta have

Company: Bossa Nova Robotics
Location: Pittsburgh
Price: Skylee: $59.99; Mechatars: $39.99
Age: Skylee: 4 and up; Mechatars: 6 and up

Don't let the name fool you. Bossa Nova Robotics is actually a toymaker.

Sarjoun Skaff, who founded the company with two other colleagues, was working on his Ph.D. in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. He was building a robot for the defense department when he started to think about how he could translate that same technology to create consumer products, specifically toys.

In 2005, Skaff cofounded Bossa Nova Robotics, an offshoot of Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute. But he wasn't in a rush to invade the toy industry. Instead, he went to China and lived there for two years, doing research on toy manufacturing in a bid to find the best maker for his toys. In 2009, the company launched Penbo, a penguin built on similar robotics technology that Skaff worked on for the defense department.

"Penbo waddles. Penbo also interacts with kids through infrared technology and touch sensors," said Skaff. What's more, Penbo carries an egg that opens up into a baby penguin. "With our technology, we created a realistic mother-daughter interaction. And Penbo would talk to her baby and even play hide-and-seek with her," said Skaff.

This year, Bossa Nova Robotics added a new character to the Penbo & Friends line called Skylee, an adorable interactive dragon. Skylee sings, dances, and plays hide-and-seek with her own dragon baby.

There's more. For two years, Skaff and his team have worked on Mechatars, toy robots that become smarter the more often a child plays with them. Skaff said kids can play with Mechatars offline or connect Mechatars to their computer and watch the robotic characters come alive online and play there. "It's a form of blended reality," he said.

Both Skylee and Mechatars just launched at Target, Amazon and Toys R Us nationwide.

"We are robot enthusiasts. We also spend a lot of time understanding kids and how they are playing," said Bossa Nova Robotics cofounder Martin Hitch. "We are creating toys that are truly innovative at prices that parents feel good about."

Article courtesy of CNN Money

Thursday, October 20, 2011

TapSense technology enables richer touchscreen interactions

By attaching a microphone to a touchscreen, the CMU scientists are said to have shown that they can tell the difference between the tap of a fingertip, the pad of the finger, a fingernail and a knuckle.

According to a statement, this technology, dubbed TapSense, enables richer touchscreen interactions.

While typing on a virtual keyboard, users might capitalise letters by tapping with a fingernail instead of a finger tip or switch to numerals by using the pad of a finger, rather toggling to a different set of keys.

Another possible use would be a painting app that uses a variety of tapping modes and finger motions to control a pallet of colours or switching between drawing and erasing without having to press buttons.

‘TapSense basically doubles the input bandwidth for a touchscreen,’ said Chris Harrison, a PhD student in CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII). ‘This is particularly important for smaller touchscreens, where screen real estate is limited. If we can remove mode buttons from the screen, we can make room for more content or can make the remaining buttons larger.’

TapSense was developed by Harrison, fellow PhD student Julia Schwarz and Scott Hudson, a professor in the HCII.

‘TapSense can tell the difference between different parts of the finger by classifying the sounds they make when they strike the touchscreen,’ Schwarz said. An inexpensive microphone could be readily attached to a touchscreen for this purpose.

The researchers found that their proof-of-concept system was able to distinguish between the four types of finger inputs with 95 per cent accuracy and could distinguish between a pen and a finger with 99 per cent accuracy.

Article courtesy of the engineer

Monday, October 3, 2011

Metalonix Nano Inks to Revolutionize Printed Electronics Industry

The microelectronics inside virtually any device – from the humble alarm clock to the most advanced electronic tablet – require enormous care, clean rooms, and costs to produce.  Wouldn’t it be nice to just run a pattern of those complex interconnections through a copier and get the same result?

It would be like Michelangelo producing the Sistine Chapel ceiling with a few cans of spray paint. Crazy, right?

Well, no, actually. Thanks to some advanced thinking out in Oakland, microelectronics can now be printed onto virtually any surface with metallic ink, heated up, and converted into a system that can conduct electricity and carry out all the functions of a circuit board – faster, easier, cheaper, and with no drop-off in performance.

The home of this breakthrough technology is Metalonix, a Carnegie Mellon University start-up company formed in January 2010 to provide chemical solutions to the nascent printed electronics market. Specifically, the company supplies molecular inks comprised of novel metal complexes that can be printed as either solutions or neat liquids.

These materials can then metalize, thermally or photochemically, to form highly conductive traces and structures on a variety of substrates, including flexible organic supports. This truly disruptive technology will further the field of printed electronics by providing low-cost, printable and disposable devices across a wide spectrum of technologies.

“The technology was developed in my lab by Dr. John Belot,” explained Dr. Richard McCullough, Vice President of Research at CMU.  “John was my first grad student in my lab. He then went on to teach at University of Nebraska, but came back to CMU where he discovered the underlying technology that Metalonix was founded on.”

“We can make inks to print on any surface, allowing you to print metal on anything that has a circuit – copper, gold, silver, and so forth,” McCullough said.  “This is something that’s never been done before to our knowledge.  Today, before this technology, to try heat ink onto plastic would just melt the plastic.”

The Metalonix ink contains actual metal atoms, unlike competitive inks on the market that contain either nanoparticles or metal flakes, neither of which are present in the Metalonix inks.  As a result, the Metalonix inks act as a bulk metal, yielding benefits such as:

  • High conductivity – actually three times the conductivity of competitive metallic inks.
  • Low conversion temperatures – allowing printing on a variety of surfaces, including flexible plastics.
  • Instant conversion times – meaning that the Metalonix inks convert to metal in seconds.
  • Precision printing – because they are not limited by particle size, Metalonix inks can be deposited in smaller sizes.
  • Speed printing – meaning the inks can be deposited by various printing methods, including roll-to-roll and ink-jet.

Metalonix received a grant from the Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center to help develop the technology, and move it closer to large-scale commercialization.  Since then, the company has grown from one to five employees.  Metalonix also won honors as Most Promising Company and Best Presentation at the LOPE-C 2011 Conference earlier this year.

McCullough said Metalonix has met with numerous potential customers and partners in various markets, such as RFID, printed circuit board, and printed memory, receiving uniformly positive responses across the board.

“The most obvious applications for a metal ink manufacturer are within the printed electronic industry,” he said.  “The key is that we fulfill the market’s biggest pain point, thus leading to a huge opportunity.  There are endless possibilities to the uses of Metalonix’s metallic inks.”

Article courtesy of The Pittsburgh Technology Council's Online TEQ Magazine

Friday, September 30, 2011

Zach Negin is a Chief Mustard Grinder

Zach Negin is a Chief Mustard Grinder. As co-founder of SoNo Trading Company — purveyor of all-natural 'The Mustard' products — the Carnegie Mellon University alumnus knows a thing or two about successful startups.

Now he needs your help.

Zach entered SoNo Trading Company into Dell's America's Favorite Small Business Contest. And from hundreds of entries, Zach's young company was selected as one of the top 10.

As Zach, a mechanical engineering alum, says, now it's down to a good old-fashioned high school popularity contest.

Dell — in partnership with Microsoft and MasterCard — is giving small businesses the opportunity to win $25,000 in Dell products preloaded with Windows® 7 Professional & Microsoft® Office Home and Business, a $50,000 prepaid card from MasterCard, and their own online reality show.

You can vote daily through October 9th, with a winner announced the week of October 10th.

Vote here.

Article courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University Greenlighting Startups

Friday, September 23, 2011

3 Rivers Venture Fair Technology Showcase- Dr. Sanna Gaspard wins the grand prize for her company, Rubitection, Inc.

In a competition reminiscent of "American Idol," the 3 Rivers Venture Fair gave 14 would-be entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their products and companies in front of a panel of three well-known entrepreneurs at PNC Park.

Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Steven Tyler weren't anywhere to be found. But fair's organizers had something better: The advice of Richard Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works ; Glen Meakem, co-founder and managing director of Meakem Becker Venture Capital and Ned Renzi, partner of Birchmere Ventures.

Dr. Sanna Gaspard of Carnegie Mellon University presented her company, Rubitection Inc.'s, patent-pending product, the Rubitect, a low-cost way to detect pressure ulcers, otherwise known as bed sores, that affect up to 2.5 million people annually. Gaspard won the $2,500 grand prize for her presentation.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2 CMU students win at 3RVF Technology Showcase

What do you get when you put 34 startups together with more than 600 investors, business leaders and other entrepreneurs, and toss in 14 featured inventors from Pittsburgh universities? 
Creative sparks, cutting-edge technologies and, hopefully, lots of venture capital, says Kelly Szekjo, president of Pittsburgh Venture Capital Association, the organization that staged the 3 Rivers Venture Fair that was held last week at the Lexus Club at PNC Park.
While it's too soon to tell how successful this year's event was in terms of dollars raised, many expressed excitement for the technology showcase, a first this year, which featured innovative life science and technology inventions by Pitt and CMU students who gave 3-minute pitches. Among the inventions was Classroom Salon, which turns online reading by students into a communal classroom experience, to Nano-pathology, an optical cancer detection technology.
The big winner of the American Idol-like competition was Sanna Gaspard, a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from CMU, whose company, Rubitection, is developing a patent-pending, low-cost, non-invasive device, the Rubitect, capable of detecting early stage pressure ulcers. Gaspard took first place, including $2,500, and generated a buzz for the device, which would save hospitals $120,000 a year with a minimal seed investment of $500,000. 
The third prize winner was Doug Bernstein, an undergraduate in biomedical engineering at CMU, whose company, Peca Labs, is developing disruptive new heart-valve technologies as well as other technologies for rare diseases.
"While they were very early stage, the 14 spin-out technologies developed from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University that we showcased were well received," says Szekjo. "Investors were quite enthusiastic about a number of the 34 presenting companies so I am eager to see how this excitement translates into actual dollars invested."  
Since 2002, the 3RVF has provided a capital-raising forum for more than 175 companies that have gone on to raise more than $340 million as a direct result of the fair.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Aquion Energy, a developer of nontoxic batteries, raises $30 million in venture capital

Aquion Energy, a developer of nontoxic batteries, announced today it has raised $30 million in venture capital funding.

Investors in this round of funding include Foundation Capital, TriplePoint Capital, Advanced Technology Ventures, and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.

The company previously was operating on venture funding from Kleiner, as well as a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Pittsburgh, Penn. start-up, which grew from a Carnegie Mellon University research project, has been developing grid-scale energy storage without the use of "hazardous materials, corrosive acids, or noxious fumes," according to Aquion.

Specifically, Aquion Energy has developed a method for producing sodium ion battery-packs.

"The electrochemical couple that has emerged from this process is one that combines a high capacity carbon anode with a sodium intercalation cathode capable of thousands of complete discharge cycles over extended periods of time," according to Aquion.

The batteries can withstand "at least 5,000 cycles" with no sign of capacity degradation, according to the company.

Aquion plans to begin shipping prototypes this fall to partners, with production models available starting in 2013. The company said it plans to establish a manufacturing plant in the U.S. and is looking for a location.

It's no secret why so many big names in investment would be interested in such a start-up.

Smart-grid storage is expected to take off as smart grids themselves become prevalent. The smart-grid storage industry is expected to grow to a $15.8 billion industry by 2015, with the energy storage market in general growing to $44.4 billion by 2015, according to a recent report from Lux Research.

Article courtesy of CNET

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

RedZone Robotics wins $25M in new venture capital

RedZone Robotics Inc., a Lawrenceville maker of robots that inspect sewer systems, has received $25 million in private equity from a Baltimore-based growth equity firm, the company said Wednesday.

ABS Capital Partners Inc.'s investment will be used to expand the company, including product development, hiring and perhaps establishing RedZone's first office overseas, said Ken Wolf, vice president of sales and marketing.

"Every city in the world is a potential customer of ours," said Wolf. RedZone currently has clients throughout North America, including Alcosan in this region. Through partnerships, it also operates in the Middle East, Singapore and the Pacific Rim.

ABS general partners Bobby Goswami and Laura Witt will join RedZone's board.

The company employs 70 people, including about 10 in an office in San Ramone, Calif. Wolf declined to provide RedZone's revenue figures because the company is privately owned.

Founded in 1987, RedZone was a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff that currently develops robots that inspect and take video of sewer pipes. Armed with information from RedZone's robots, customers can make informed decisions about sewer system maintenance.

Investments in aging wastewater infrastructure in the United States alone will need to increase by at least $150 billion over the next 20 years just to maintain current service levels, without new spending and operations practices, said the company, citing Environmental Protection Agency data.

"It's critical infrastructure, and it's abundant, but it's out of sight and out of mind," said Wolf.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pittsburgh powered by high-technology success stories

Unrelenting desire for the latest video game helped spark the entrepreneurial spirit in Andrew Mason.

Now, as the 30-year-old creator and CEO of prepares his company to go public, he could become yet another Pittsburgh native to hit payday on the Internet. Groupon seeks at least $750 million through its pending IPO and could be valued at about $30 billion, analysts predict.

Not bad for a guy who used to hawk candy at school and deliver bagels to make a buck.

"He always wanted to have the most current electronic device," Bridgit Wolf, 58, of Mt. Lebanon said about her son, Mason, who started the popular daily-deal website nearly three years ago in Chicago. "Every time a new Nintendo came out, he wanted it."

Mason, who declined to be interviewed, is among a growing number of Pittsburghers whose technology successes could make them new-age industrialists of sorts, following in the footsteps of giants Andrew Carnegie and George Westinghouse.

The question of "Why Pittsburgh?" draws a multifaceted answer.

Some attribute it to the population's work ethic and the research and development prowess of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, with its Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence. Others note that the demise of the steel industry and other manufacturers forced growth in sectors such as high-tech and health care fields.

"The best thing you can have are success stories," said Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association in Washington. "Entrepreneurs are going to look and say, 'If they can do it, so can I.' "

Other technology successes tied to Western Pennsylvania include:

• Mark Cuban, 52, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon, owns the Dallas Mavericks and sold an Internet radio company to Yahoo! in 1999 for $5.7 billion.

• Chad Hurley, 34, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate, co-founded YouTube in 2005 and sold it to Google a year later for $1.65 billion.

• Charles Geschke, 71, a Carnegie Mellon graduate, in 1982 co-founded Adobe Systems Inc., the world's largest maker of graphics and publishing software that recorded $3.8 billion in 2010 revenue.

• Andy Bechtolsheim, 55, and Vinod Khosla, 56, Carnegie Mellon graduates, in 1982 co-founded Sun Microsystems, a computer and information technology company, which Oracle Corp. bought last year for $7.4 billion.

• Francois Bitz, Onat Menzilcioglu, Robert Sansom and Eric Cooper, Carnegie Mellon professors, in 1994 founded Warrendale-based telecommunications company FORE Systems and sold it to a British company in 1999 for $4.5 billion.

"There's definitely something special going on here," said Audrey Russo, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council. "Entrepreneurial success is happening everywhere. Success is happening in Detroit. Good things are happening in Topeka, Kansas. But there is no way it's happening like it is here."

Russo counts Cuban, Homestead native and Intuit Inc. board Chairman Bill Campbell and Regis McKenna, a Pittsburgh native and Silicon Valley investor, as people with significant business success who have "strong roots that happened here."

"This is a great place where it is in the DNA of people that you have to make things," Russo said.

That long has been the case, said Terri Glueck, spokeswoman for Innovation Works, the region's single-largest investor of technology startups.

"This is still a very engineering-driven community, and that dates back to the days of Westinghouse," Glueck said. "What we create is technology, and it always has been."

The attraction of Carnegie Mellon drew Michael "Fuzzy" Mauldin from Texas to Pittsburgh in the early 1980s to study.

"I had the opportunity to work with the best people in the world at what they do," said Mauldin, 52, of Austin, who in 1994 developed the Internet search code that became Lycos while teaching at the Oakland university.

He and the university sold majority interest in the web portal and search engine company in 1995 to a Boston investor for $2 million. A Spanish company in 2000 bought Lycos for $12.5 billion in stock. It sold again last year for $36 million.

Mauldin thinks his success helped change people's perception of technology entrepreneurship in Pittsburgh.

"There's now the expectation of, 'Fuzzy got rich doing this stuff; maybe I can get rich, too,' " he said.

The Lycos success occurred after Carnegie Mellon in 1993 opened its Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation. Its instant hit gave the university impetus to continue supporting spin-off companies, said Tara Branstad, the center's associate director.

"I don't think it hurts in any environment to see one of your colleagues get rich," Branstad said.

The school helps start projects in varying technology fields, Branstad said, because no one can predict where the next "big hit" might happen.

Since 2000, Carnegie Mellon has spawned 77 technology startups. That doesn't include companies that former students and professors started, which Branstad estimates are twice as many as those directly linked to the university.

"Pittsburgh is doing a lot better in startups, but I don't know if we have critical mass yet. We're getting close," Branstad said.

Mauldin said he wishes Lycos hadn't moved its headquarters to Boston from Pittsburgh.

"There is nothing wrong with Pittsburgh," he said. "There's no reason you can't have a successful business there. I did."

McCandless-based Dynamics Inc. is another promising company that could be destined for tech success with its virtually fraud-proof credit and debit cards. The company secured $35 million last month from a Boston venture capital group, and founder Jeffrey Mullen turned down more money in order to stay here instead of moving to Silicon Valley.

"We're trying to bring Pittsburgh back to what it once was, which was the entrepreneurial haven in the United States," Mullen said. "Pittsburgh, it could be said, was the birthplace of entrepreneurship in the United States."

Wolf can't gauge whether her son's company could have become the fastest-growing business in Internet history if it had been based in Pittsburgh. Groupon is in Chicago largely because Mason attended college there and met a financial backer there, he has said in other interviews.

But Wolf recognizes that Mason's business background started while he lived in Western Pennsylvania. His roots include an engineer grandfather and parents who each started businesses, Wolf said. She owned a photography studio. His father, Bob Mason of Upper St. Clair, imports diamonds.

In school, Mason hawked candy to kids in the lunchroom, his mother said, and later started a weekend bagel delivery service and a computer-repair business. He delivered the defunct Pittsburgh Press, though not for long because it didn't pay enough, she said. Mason's LinkedIn profile lists time spent as a server at Chi Chi's Mexican Restaurant.

"There is not as much opportunity to lie around in the sun here, so you have to go out and do something," Wolf said. "Now it looks like he has a big company."

She finds her son's success difficult to grasp, but understands that people are pulling for him as they have for other local successes. The mother of one of Mason's high school classmates recently reminded Wolf that her son always had good ideas.

"(Pittsburgh) has a small-town feel," Wolf said. "We're very much aware and proud of being close to people who succeed."

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Friday, August 26, 2011

What Would Your Business Do with $75K?

Imagine if your business had the opportunity to win $25,000 in Dell products preloaded with Windows® 7 Professional & Microsoft® Office Home and Business, a $50,000 prepaid card from MasterCard, and your own online reality show. Well, now is your chance.

Dell - in partnership with Microsoft and MasterCard- invites you to create and submit a video about your business. Our jury will select 10 finalists but America will ultimately decide the winner.

Explore the link below to learn more about the competition, view the entries and get inspired.

Will you become America’s Favorite Small Business?

Article courtesy of America's Favorite Small Business | Dell in partnership with MasterCard & Microsoft

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Will the CMU's Flashgroup be the next hot social media site?

Flashgroup is a new social media website with a purpose, a one-stop source for all your social media needs.

In beta now, the Carnegie Mellon spinoff is perfect for those who are feeling overwhelmed by the Internet, explains Carlos Guestrin, associate professor in CMU's Machine Learning Dept. The site offers not just a more streamlined user experience, but is a more profitable business model.

Guestrin and fellow CMU professor Seth Copen Goldstein founded Flashgroup, originally called GGideaLab, as a Project Olympus Probe. The startup recently received an undisclosed round of seed funding from New Enterprise Associates, which will enable the development of mobile apps.  

"Seth and I have been thinking of ways to address how people interact on the Web, which is the core of our technology," explains Guestrin, "The idea is to prioritize content in a highly unified way; all the content--social, email, personal, news and current events."

Registered users on Flashgroup are asked to link to their Facebook and email accounts (Twitter is coming soon).  The website then generates a series of bubbles that rise slowly to the top of the right side of the page, containing new content including breaking news and recent posts to your accounts.

Click on a rising bubble and the full text of an article appears on the left. Flashgroup is designed to balance exploration and exploitation, says Guestrin, becoming more personalized with use so users are eventually attracting the news, information, coupon offers and advertising that most interests them. (Hence the business model).

It works especially well with current events, allowing users to follow discussions and post comments with others who are tweeting and posting on several sites at once, says Guestrin.

"We don't think anybody has successfully personalized the social space, though there is a real need for it," says Guestrin. "I want to build something useful that fulfills this need."

Article courtesy of Popcity

Friday, August 12, 2011

Astrobotic lands $100K NASA award

Astrobotic, the Pittsburgh startup with its sights set on the moon, is one of 30 organizations nationwide to receive an initial $100,000 grant by NASA under an agency program to develop new technologies for launching, building and operating space systems.

The Astrobotic award will fund research into exploring lava tubes and caves on the moon and on Mars. The work will also look at “skylights” which are the entrances that lead down to these formations.

This award is the first phase of a potentially two-phase award. The next piece could bring in $500,000 next year to continue the research, the company said in a written statement.

The money is part of the space agency’s NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. In addition to Astrobotic’s research other organizations are looking at 3-D printing of spacecraft, new propulsion and power concepts, and spacesuits that help astronauts work in microgravity.

“These innovative concepts have the potential to mature into the transformative capabilities NASA needs to improve our current space mission operations, seeding the technology breakthroughs needed for the challenging space missions in NASA’s future,” said NASA chief technologist Bobby Braun in a written statement.

As for Astrobotic, which has close ties to Carnegie Mellon University the company expects to launch its lunar rover to the moon sometime between December 2013 and July 2014.

Astrobotic is also working with NASA to design a lunar mining robot, and has deals to provide the space agency with engineering data and other landing technology related to the company’s moon mission.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Monday, August 8, 2011

CMU and Disney Research Pittsburgh take motion capture to new levels

Researchers at and Disney Research Pittsburgh are developing the next generation of motion capture animation techniques and presenting their findings Monday at a conference in Vancouver.

Current motion capture, which is used in movies like “Lord of the Rings” for the Gollum character or Davey Jones in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” uses reference markers on the body of an actor and then infrared cameras mounted in a room to capture an actor’s movement. However, this technique is limited to indoor filming.

“If you go outside the sun interferes with the system, also it’s confined to close space,” said Yaser Sheikh, assistant research professor in CMU’s Robotics Institute. “This system you wear the camera and it can be done outside and over long stretches of space.”

The CMU and Disney Research method takes 19 high definition video cameras and places them on the person and allows for motion capture in a natural environment.

The method is still experimental, Sheikh said, and uses significantly more computing power to render than current methods since each camera is producing 60 frames per second of HD video.

“It’s still a couple years out to be viable,” he said, but now that the research phase of the work is done, the team can look at further development of the technology.

“This could be the future of motion capture,” said Takaaki Shiratori, a post-doctoral associate at Disney Research Pittsburgh, in a written statement. And as the cameras themselves become cheaper, “I think anyone will be able to do motion capture in the not-so-distant future.”

Shiratori is part of the team presenting the findings at SIGGRAPH, the International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques.

The entire system is based on a process called structure from motion and is based on the work of Takeo Kanade, a professor of computer science and robotics at CMU. The system uses structure from motion to analyze a person’s surroundings and estimate the pose of the cameras mounted on the person.

Also being presented at the conference is technology that allows video game players to feel what they are seeing on screen. Called Surround Haptics, the technology was developed by CMU and Disney’s Black Rock Studio and features a chair with inexpensive vibrating actuators that responds to game play.

“Although we have only implemented Surround Haptics with a gaming chair to date, the technology can be easily embedded into clothing, gloves, sports equipment and mobile computing devices,” said Ivan Poupyrev, senior research scientist at Disney Research Pittsburgh, in a written statement. Poupyrev along with researcher Ali Israr invented and developed Surround Haptics with researcher Ali Israr.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Carnegie Learning Acquired by Apollo Group, Inc. for $75M

Apollo Group, Inc. ("Apollo Group," "Apollo" or the "Company") today announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire 100% of the stock of Carnegie Learning, Inc., a publisher of research-based math curricula including the adaptive Cognitive Tutor(R) math software, for $75.0 million. In a separate transaction, Apollo also announced it has agreed to acquire related technology from Carnegie Mellon University for $21.5 million, payable over a 10-year period.

The acquisitions allow Apollo to accelerate its efforts to incorporate adaptive learning into its academic platform and to provide tools to help raise student achievement in mathematics, which supports improved retention and graduation rates.

"We are excited to partner with Carnegie Learning, which will allow us to integrate their high quality educational and adaptive learning technology into our platform," said Gregory Cappelli, Co-CEO of Apollo Group and Chairman of Apollo Global. "Carnegie Learning offers a highly individualized, innovative solution, addressing a fundamental skills gap in mathematics that is prevalent among today's postsecondary students."

Carnegie Learning was founded in 1998 by a team of cognitive and computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University, in conjunction with veteran mathematics teachers. Representative of one of the university's successful spinouts, Carnegie Learning provides math instruction to more than 600,000 students in 3,000 schools nationwide.

"Carnegie Learning has developed what we believe is a differentiated approach to learning that will help the students in all of our universities achieve classroom success," said Chas Edelstein, Co-CEO of Apollo Group. "In Carnegie Learning, we are working with a talented team and a market leader in adaptive learning. We are also exploring opportunities for further collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University in the science of learning."

Carnegie Learning integrates adaptive learning technology into instructional, assessment, and problem-solving activities to strengthen student conceptual understanding and underlying math proficiency. Adaptive learning methodologies adjust the presentation of educational curriculum to individually address a student's developmental needs, while continuously assessing comprehension, resulting in a more effective learning experience.

"We believe that adaptive and personalized learning is the future of education," said Dennis Ciccone, CEO of Carnegie Learning. "We are seeing significant, measurable results in student engagement and performance in mathematics, an essential subject to this generation of learners who must prepare to compete in a highly competitive global economy. We look forward to expanding the effectiveness of these adaptive learning methodologies into the Apollo academic platforms and continuing to serve our students and teachers."

As a wholly owned subsidiary of Apollo Group, Carnegie Learning will continue to service the K-12 space, where it is successfully implementing its innovative learning solutions and professional development programs in districts around the country. Given Apollo's postsecondary focus, the Company intends to evaluate strategic alternatives for the K-12 portion of the business in order to support Carnegie Learning's continued success in this market.

The Company currently anticipates the acquisitions to be value accretive over the long term and $0.07-$0.09 dilutive to earnings per share in fiscal 2012, in part due to non-cash amortization of intangibles. The acquisitions are subject to customary closing conditions and are anticipated to be completed during the first quarter of fiscal 2012.

Article courtesy of WSJ MarketWatch

Other related stories:

Carnegie Learning Inc. bought for $75M in Pittsburgh Business Times

Apollo To Pay $96.5 Million For Math Publisher, Related Technology in NASDAQ

Carnegie Learning Acquired by Apollo Group, Inc. in TechBurgher

Apollo Group to acquire Carnegie Learning for $75M in BusinessWeek

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New app provides real-time bus info

Aaron Steinfeld's iPhone told him the next Port Authority bus would arrive at the Oakland stop at Forbes and South Neville avenues in two minutes and that it would be a 69 Trafford.

A few minutes later, it also accurately forecast the arrivals of a 61D Murray and a 61A Wilkinsburg.

Welcome to the big time of real-time, Pittsburgh transit riders.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University on Wednesday unveiled an iPhone application that tells transit riders when the next bus or rail car will arrive at their stop and whether seats are available.

Called Tiramisu, Italian for "pick me up," the system uses information obtained from riders who are already on board to predict when a vehicle will arrive at subsequent stops.

Pittsburgh now joins scores of other cities where transit riders have access to real-time information, not just printed schedules that often can be unreliable.

Tiramisu counts on riders to activate the application, record how full the bus is and press a button allowing the phone to share a GPS trace with the system's server. It then relays the information to other riders.

In tech-speak, it's called "crowdsourcing" -- letting a large group of people generate information that is helpful to others.

"You just need one person on a bus to give everyone on the route the information," said Mr. Steinfeld, senior assistant scientist in CMU's Robotics Institute. "This is a very Pittsburgh way of doing things -- the community helping the community."

It would have cost tens of millions of dollars for the Port Authority to develop its own real-time tracking system, something the agency could not afford, he said.

"This is a great alternative that CMU came up with," authority spokeswoman Heather Pharo said. "Anything that has the potential to improve a rider's knowledge and experience of the system also has the potential to boost ridership."

CMU researchers cited another possible benefit: If riders know they have some time before the bus arrives, they might patronize nearby businesses.

If no one is using the Tiramisu application on a particular bus, the system will use accumulated historical data to predict arrival times. And if that is not available, it will deliver arrival times based on the Port Authority schedules, Mr. Steinfeld said.

Obviously, the more people who use Tiramisu, the better it will be. "We're kind of hoping a lot of people pick this up and begin using it, to get the ball rolling," he said.

Riders seemed eager to try it.

"That's great," said Irene Arduini of Point Breeze, who rides daily to work at the University of Pittsburgh. She said she has used real-time information on her iPhone to navigate New York City's transit system.

Abraham Gonzalez, a student at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, said he planned to download the app as soon as the Android version is available, which will be soon, according to the CMU researchers.

Another Tiramisu feature is the ability of riders to instantly report any problems or make suggestions to Port Authority. If a seat is broken, for example, the rider can take a photo, add text and notify the authority, and the message will automatically convey the time, bus and location from which it was sent.

The application also can be used to find the nearest bus or rail stop.

It was developed by researchers in the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation, a collaboration of CMU and the University of Buffalo-State University of New York that focuses on the transportation needs of disabled people.

The application has special benefits for riders with disabilities, Mr. Steinfeld said. For instance, it lets those who use wheelchairs know if there is room on the next bus.

Also on the development team are Anthony Tomasic, senior systems scientist in the Institute for Software Research, and John Zimmerman, associate professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

The application can be downloaded for free from the iTunes app store or by visiting .

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friday, July 22, 2011

Google Acquires Facial Recognition Technology Company

Google has acquired a seven-year-old company that develops facial-recognition technology for images and video, though the Web-search giant didn’t say what it plans to do with it.

The company, called Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition, or PittPatt, is run by three “image analysis” and “pattern recognition” specialists with PhD’s from Carnegie Mellon University, according to its site. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

A statement on PittPatt’s site said on Friday that “computer vision technology is already at the core of many existing products” at Google, including Image Search, YouTube and Picasa, “so it’s a natural fit to join Google and bring the benefits of our research and technology to a wider audience. We will continue to tap the potential of computer vision in applications that range from simple photo organization to complex video and mobile applications.”

A Google spokesman said PittPatt developed “innovative technology” in the area of computer vision and that its research “can benefit our users in many ways,” without elaborating.

Regarding face recognition, the spokesman said, “We’ve said that we won’t add face recognition to our apps or product features unless we have strong privacy protections in place, and that’s still the case.”

Google has said it built facial recognition technology for smartphones into a product known as Google Goggles, but withheld it. “As far as I know, it’s the only technology that Google built and after looking at it, we decided to stop,” said Google Chairman Eric Schmidt last month at a conference. “People could use this stuff in a very, very bad way as well as in a good way.”

During its annual developer conference in May, Google showed off something called “Virtual Camera Operator,” which uses computer-vision technology to stabilize mobile video chats by following a person’s head movements and to determine who is speaking during a multi-person video conference so that the camera would automatically focus on the speaker.

It also recently launched Google+, a social network that lets people share and store photos, among other things. Rival Facebook has face-recognition technology to identify people in photos, which has raised concerns from privacy advocates. The technology, first introduced last year, was designed to help Facebook users easily identify and mark, or “tag,” friends in photos as they upload them to the social-networking site.

“If for any reason someone doesn’t want their name to be suggested” for tagging, “they can disable the feature in their Privacy Settings,” Facebook has said.

PittPatt’s software “accurately counts the number of people viewed by a video camera” and “it can automatically generate reports measuring the presence and movement of people over extended periods of time,” according to a cached version of its website.

Some of the “practical applications” of the technology include measuring “the effectiveness of digital signage, advertising, kiosks and narrowcasting”; “customer traffic flow,” or gathering “insight into customer behavior and shopping patterns; “security-related matters” such as being able to send alerts when the PittPatt software detects a face that isn’t in its database.

PittPatt offered a tool for people to “integrate face finding and tracking into your own product,” and in 2007 it partnered with General Electric to develop an “intelligent security camera system,” the site said. The GE system “will obtain high resolution facial imagery using a motorized pan-tilt-zoom camera that will track and zoom in on faces that enter the field of view,” according to the site.

Article courtesy of Wall Street Journal

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Foundation Capital, KPCB Back Aquion Energy

Pittsburgh-based Aquion Energy has closed on $20 million of a proposed $29.9 million financing round, according to a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission.

The company, formed in 2008, develops stationary energy storage technology. Aquion’s founder and Carnegie Mellon University professor Jay Whitacre has partnered with venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers from the beginning, working with the firm’s Bill Joy and David Wells to license Whitacre’s technology from Carnegie Mellon. Initially named 44 Tech Inc., the company sealed a round of venture funding in the fall of 2009, as well as a Department of Energy grant. The company renamed itself Aquion last year.

Foundation Capital is apparently a new backer for the company. Steve Vassallo, general partner at Foundation Capital, is listed in the SEC filing as a new director for the company. Aquion’s board also includes Ray Lane and Jan van Dokkum of KPCB.

Article courtesy of peHUB

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Team provides business savvy to man's idea for surgical robotics

Howie Choset always wanted to start a company.

Choset, 42, a Carnegie Mellon University associate professor of robotics, said he had a good idea for a medical device and, by 2003, figured out how to make it work. What he didn't realize was how much help he would need to create a successful company.

"This is something that I just couldn't have done myself," Choset said. "It had to be this ensemble of people to go from concept to reality."

The company Choset co-founded, Medrobotics Inc., is poised to bring a minimally invasive surgical robot to market. Company officials say it could become a game-changer because it is flexible but can become rigid to manipulate tools, unlike other robotic surgery devices on the market.

"I saw this as unlocking this whole leap in minimally invasive surgery," said James Jordan, chief investment officer of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, which runs programs to help entrepreneurs and researchers start companies.

Jordan, a member of the Medrobotics board of directors, guided Choset and co-founders Marco Zenati and Alon Wolf during the company's early years, starting in 2005.

Until this month, they called their company Cardiorobotics, but officials changed the name to reflect a new marketing strategy, Jordan said. Once focused on a robot that could perform heart surgery, Medrobotics will target throat surgery applications, he said.

Choset serves as acting chief technology officer for Medrobotics but is not active in the company's day-to-day operations. Zenati, who was affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine when he began working with Choset, became a medical professor at Harvard. And Wolf, a postdoctoral researcher with Choset at CMU, now is a professor at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.

It wasn't easy to relinquish control of Medrobotics to people with more business experience, said Choset, who describes his position as a technical adviser.

"I had to let it go, and I had to let these people come in and do the work" of creating the company, he said.

That work included raising money from investors, developing a business plan and perfecting prototypes, Jordan said.

Medrobotics collected about $30 million from investors and expects to market its first commercially available surgical robot by the end of 2012, Jordan said.

To get there, the company will need to raise additional capital, probably another $30 million, said Samuel Straface, CEO of Medrobotics since 2009.

Much of the investment so far came from individuals in Pittsburgh, with whom the company connected through Eagle Ventures, a Pittsburgh venture capital firm run by Mel Pirchesky, Straface said.

"We've had access to capital from a lot of wealthy people from Pittsburgh," Straface said. That was a key factor, considering the recession that started in 2008. Venture capital firms, which provide money for startup companies around the country, pulled back and have been waiting longer for companies to develop before investing.

Yet, individual investors, or "angels," can go only so far. Straface intends to approach venture capitalists for the next $30 million.

"We do need that big-pocket support," he said. "You don't want to be running out of money halfway through commercializing a product."

Much of the company's 25-member staff is located in the Boston area, where Straface said it's easier to find experienced robotic engineers, but Medrobotics expects to open a sales-and-marketing office in Pittsburgh next year.

When Medrobotics introduces its product, it will enter a growing market for minimally invasive surgery -- with few competitors.

Proponents say minimally invasive surgery lessens the chance for surgical complications and allows patients to recover faster. Both of those factors can reduce costs, company officials said. Minimally invasive surgery enables surgeons to access organs through small holes, rather than large incisions that can more easily become infected.

The global market for minimally invasive devices and instruments is predicted to reach $23 billion in 2014, according to Wellesley, Mass.-based market research company BCC Research.

One of the largest surgical robotic companies in the United States is Intuitive Surgical Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., maker of the da Vinci Surgical System. Intuitive posted revenue last year of $1.4 billion.

Medrobotics stands out because its surgical robot is flexible, but can hold a shape and can move easily inside a patient's body, Jordan said. Intuitive's system uses straight, inflexible tools.

"This is the next leap," Jordan said of Medrobotics' technology.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The easiest $5000 you will ever win, says Luke Skurman

Luke Skurman knows from first-hand experience that a little bit of seed funding can go a long way.

College Prowler was launched when Skurman won two business plan competitions. It went on to become the first company in the country to successfully publish national college surveys for students, by students.

With that in mind, Skurman rounded up five friends and threw a barbecue fundraiser this summer. About 840 showed up in Shadyside to eat, mingle and drink IC Light. $5000 was raised for Business Bout, a contest that hopes to help other aspiring entrepreneurs in the region.

"We want to foster young professionals to stay in Pittsburgh," explains Skurman. "We're trying to prove to the Pittsburgh community that there are awesome people in Pittsburgh with awesome ideas."

Business Bout asks for a simple, two-page submission highlighting yourself and your idea. The key is to come up with an idea that will be self-sustaining, Skurman adds. If the company is already up and running, it must be less than one year old and have earned less than $100,000 in revenue; it also must have fewer than three employees.

And it must be operating in Pittsburgh.

Skurman and his five partners--three came to the region by choice and three are boomerangers--will judge the submissions. All are exemplary young professionals who want to give back to Pittsburgh in a larger way. If the contest is a success, Business Bout will partner with a corporate sponsor next year and expand the contest.

"We all got a good footing here and want to help get the next generation ahead," Skurman says. "We will all leverage our personal networks. We really want the business to work and create new jobs and be an added benefit to our region."

Article courtesy of Popcity

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Oakland's ATRP raises $1.2 million for blockbuster polymer, HIRING!

Oakland-based ATRP Solutions is generating a large buzz with a small ingredient, a revolutionary "designer polymer" that will substantially improve cosmetics and corner a share of the billion dollar cosmetics market.

ATRP plans to expand and hire with the help of a $1.2 million funding round from four investors including Audrey's Kitchen, a fund managed by the McGinnis family of Pittsburgh, and PLSG. In addition, the National Science Foundation has given ATRP two grants totaling $600,000 to support an advanced  manufacturing effort.

Two chemists will be added to the team of seven (plus contractors) this year and ATRP plans to move to a larger space, yet to be determined. The polymer is expected to go on the market in the next 12 months, says Patrick McCarthy, ATRP president.

ATRP is short for atom transfer radical polymerization, a highly evolved process that creates designer products for specific products. The process was developed over 12 years by Carnegie Mellon's Kris Matyjaszewski and founding team member Wojciech Jakubowski.

"Each polymer can be designed for optimal performance," explains McCarthy. "We can sit down at a table and draft a plan for polymers much like an architect. We can design and build ingredients that will create breakthrough products."

Dubbed Advantomer, the polymer is a non-active thickening agent that will enhance makeups and  lotions, giving them a distinct feel and longer shelf life. The solution also requires manufacturers to use less petro chemicals and fewer ingredients in products while improving their performance. Matyjaszewski won a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award in 2009 for developing lower-risk alternatives in chemical and industrial production.

ATRP is beta testing the polymer with nine multi-national companies. The company expects to be acquired by a larger specialty polymer company.

"At the end of the day, it enables ATRP Solutions to make designer polymers that nobody in the world can make which gives us a strategic advantage," says McCarthy.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Friday, July 1, 2011

10 CMU Start-ups in FY10

The Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation is pleased to announce 10 Start-Ups in FY11.

These companies include:

1. Fly Ruby, Inc.

Fly Ruby, Inc. was founded to commercialize transportation logistics technology.

2. Handshot LLC

HandShot is commercializing biometric technology for identification recognition and authentication of humans by using a novel fast, 3-D imaging system for capturing fingerprints, palm prints, and hand geometry.

3. NoFuss Security

SpiralGen offers high performance software solutions and services for performance-critical computing functions used in signal processing, communication, and scientific computing. SpiralGen can provide software that is highly optimized for a desired target processor and fully customized to application requirements.

4. Metal On, Inc.

Metal On offers a unique design and synthesis of molecular inks for the deposition of gold, silver, and copper metals. These metals are the backbone of modern electronics whose uses range from metal interconnects in the microelectronics industry to transistor elements in flexible organic electronics.

5. Bird Brain, LLC

Bird Brain is based on the Finch technology, which is a new robot for use in computer science education. The design philosophy behind the Finch can be boiled down to two principles: low cost and highly interactive.

6. Reckonen, Inc.

Reckonen offers a novel system for (i) locating, (ii) tracking, and (iii) monitoring resources in large-scale facilities. The system is based on a sensor network solution and is efficient, scalable, and requires short-range communication.

7. Invivomon, Inc.

Invivomon provides technological solutions to today's medical problems through embedded systems development. Our goal is to use the latest engineering technology to create robust, clinically useful tools that improve the quality of medical diagnostics available to physicians and treatment available to patients.

8. Telltale Information, LLC

Telltale Information offers a set of software tools for processing email received by U.S. regulatory agencies.

9. First Person Vision, LLC

First Person Vision offers a new wearable human assist device for awareness, with the capabilities of visual and motion sensing, a large capacity of storage, high performance processing for recognizing objects, location, and user activities and intent.

10. DUPR, Inc.

DUPR offers a pseudo-3D view using a single conventional webcam. This, in concert with a mobile virtual camera coupled to the user's viewing position, creates realistic motion parallax, producing a compelling 3D experience.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dynamics raises record-breaking $35 million for power cards and HIRING!

Pittsburgh-based Dynamics has closed on a $35 million series B round of financing, possibly the largest Series B ever raised in the region.

The company is also gearing up for major growth, doubling in size to 60 this year and hiring.

Boston-based Bain Capital Ventures, a new investor, led the round. Dynamics received a $5.7 million Series A from Adams Capital Management in Sewickley in 2009. Joel Adams of Adams Capital and Jeffrey Schwartz of Bain have joined Dynamic Inc.'s board of directors.

Dynamics may have raised the largest series B in Pittsburgh to date, but in terms of total it is second to Aspinwall-based Targe Energy's $100+ million raised in 2006.

"This is a true market validation of how meaningful a disruption Dynamics is creating in Pittsburgh," says Jeff Mullen, founder and CEO. "This round will allow Dynamics to continue to increase the size of our team and increase our production capacity so we can continue to support the deployment of our Card 2.0 technology."

A celebrity startup from early on, Dynamics won the $1 million DEMOgod prize at DEMO Fall 2010 in addition to other prestigious competitions. The company's flagship product is a next generation payment card equipped with the world's first programmable magnetic stripe that communicates information. Card 2.0 offers greater security and convenience than current credit cards and can be used for multiple account transactions with the press of a button, says Mullen.

The technology is so hot that Citi, the world's largest credit card issuer, announced late last year that its 2G line of credit card products will be based on Dynamics technology.

Presently located in McCandless, Dynamics may expand to new digs soon, Mullen says. The company currently employs 30 and plans to double with the hiring of hardware and software engineers and payment executives.

Work will continue as the company develops and deploys new technology including battery-powered contact chip cards, battery-powered RFID cards and the world's first phone-based card payment system, Mullen says.

The story of Dynamics began back in 2007 when Mullen was attending the Tepper School of Business at CMU. Dynamics was an early PROBE with CMU's Project Olympus. 

"This is terrific news and a big win for the region," says Lenore Blum of Project Olympus. "Dynamics was one of the first two student PROBEs to move into the Olympus incubator space. Jeff has been an inspiring role model for the many student PROBEs that have since followed him into the Olympus student incubator."

Job candidates can email

Article courtesy of Popcity

Friday, June 24, 2011

President Announces an Initiative in Technology

President Obama visited a university research center in Pittsburgh on Friday to announce a new partnership between the government, industries and leading universities to speed the movement of technological advances to commercial users. The trip was the latest of his increasingly frequent travels to battleground states to showcase administration efforts to create manufacturing jobs.

After touring the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University, a high-technology facility adjacent to a rusted factory symbolic of the area’s industrial past, Mr. Obama said federal agencies would invest more than $500 million to seed the initiative. Of that, $70 million is to go to robotics projects like one he viewed at the center: a boom-box-size robot that inspects sewer pipelines, made by a company started by a Carnegie Mellon professor.

“We’ve launched an all-hands-on-deck effort between our brightest academic minds, some of our boldest business leaders and our most dedicated public servants from science and technology agencies, all with one big goal, and that is a renaissance of American manufacturing,” Mr. Obama said in remarks to about 150 people, including the partnership’s co-chairmen, Andrew N. Liveris, the chief executive of the Dow Chemical Company, and Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Administration officials said the initiative would be overseen by federal agencies already active in public-private partnerships, like the Department of Energy, and would rely on both existing federal financing and money that Mr. Obama has requested from Congress. The new sum, however, reflects a small fraction of what the government already spends on research and innovation, and that has led to some of the mass-market products Mr. Obama cited here, like the Internet, cellphones and GPS navigation devices.

“What we’re trying to do is provide more focus and direction to this spending,” Ron Bloom, Mr. Obama’s adviser on manufacturing policy, told reporters. He called the new Advanced Manufacturing Partnership an “umbrella” for government innovation programs.

Mr. Obama’s new packaging for the government’s existing public-private efforts also allowed him to underscore his commitment to manufacturing jobs as the economy continues to sputter, and in a swing state for presidential elections.

Mr. Obama was careful not to declare complete victory over the economic downturn he inherited. “We’ve made some tough decisions that have turned our economy in a positive direction over the past two years,” he said.

Other universities in the partnership include Georgia Tech, Stanford, the University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley. Other manufacturers include Allegheny Technologies, Caterpillar, Corning, Ford, Honeywell, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Northrop Grumman and Procter & Gamble.

Article courtesy of NYTimes

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

HIRING! SpectraGenetics's gene-tagging tech moves drug development forward

Developing and discovering new drugs requires time and money. Pittsburgh-based SpectraGenetics is working to address those constraints with a unique, gene-tagging technique.

The life sciences startup, located on the South Side, is successfully selling a proprietary technique to produce full-length, reporter-tagged human and mouse genes that allow researchers to better understand the effect of drug interventions to the body.

It's a big win for pharmaceutical companies who gain from being able to reduce the time and cost involved in drug discovery and release new drugs faster, explains Nehal Bhojak, director of strategic life science initiatives for Idea Foundry.

"This is incredibly valuable to the pharma industry," says Bhojak. "The biggest benefit is it allows them to identify new drug targets and to withdraw failed targets earlier.  It also enables a researcher to determine exactly what is working. "

The technology is based on years of R&D through the work of Dr. Jonathan and Mary-Anne Jarvik , a husband and wife team with CMU. SpectraGenetics hired CEO Reid Asbury last year, an executive with genomics and proteomics experience from New Jersey. The startup moved into active commercialization and sales in September of 2010. With Asbury's help, it has generated earned revenues of $180,000 since January of 2011.

SpectraGenetics has raised $2.75 million in non-dilutive grant funding and $85,000 from Idea Foundry and is in growth and fundraising mode, says Bhojak. The firm employs four to six full and part-timers in addition to Asbury and the founders. Plans call for hiring a sales team in the near future.

Article courtesy of Pop City

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

CMU and Astrobotic Technology Complete Structural Assembly of Lunar Lander

Astrobotic Technology Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University researchers have completed structural assembly of the lunar landing craft that will deliver the Red Rover robot to the moon in 2014. The half-ton aluminum structure will now be shipped to Boeing Co. facilities in El Segundo, Calif., for shake testing to confirm its soundness and its compatibility with the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

Astrobotic plans to land the spacecraft, carrying both the robot and a commercial payload, on the moon's Sea of Tranquility or on the Marius Hills next to a recently discovered "skylight" leading down into a volcanic cave. The solar-powered Red Rover will broadcast high-definition video to Earth as the four-wheeled robot explores the moon. Astrobotic aims to claim up to $36 million in awards from the Google Lunar X Prize, a NASA landing contract and a Florida launch bonus. The Google Lunar X Prize is a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to Earth.

"This lunar lander will be a key part of our initial moon mission and we expect to re-use this design for a series of missions that will establish Astrobotic Technology as an ongoing, exploration enterprise," said William "Red" Whittaker, CMU professor of robotics and Astrobotics' CEO and chief technical officer. "It's an amazing piece of technology and it's gratifying to know that so much of it was invented and crafted here in Western Pennsylvania."

The team used engineering simulation software provided by ANSYS Inc. of Canonsburg, Pa., to calculate the design's strength and stiffness. Pittsburgh-based Alcoa provided technical expertise, the aluminum used to create the structure of the lunar lander, and the fasteners that hold the lander together. Its largest component is a 10-foot-diameter, 1-inch-thick deck made from two slabs of solid aluminum joined via stir welding by Concurrent Technologies Corp. in Johnstown, Pa., and machined by Edgar Industries in New Kensington, Pa.

Assembly took place in the Planetary Robotics Lab in Carnegie Mellon's Gates and Hillman centers; a grant from the state of Pennsylvania enabled construction of the lab, which was finished in 2009.

When the craft is completed, the deck will support four spherical fuel tanks capable of carrying almost two tons of propellant. A single main engine controlling the lander's descent will sit below the deck and eight thrusters on the deck's periphery will provide stability. A cone-shaped structure atop the deck will connect to the 173-pound Red Rover. The lander also can carry up to 242 pounds of commercial payload and will have rechargeable batteries and solar panels capable of providing 500 watts of power during daylight.

In February, Astrobotic signed a contract with SpaceX to launch its mission on a Falcon 9 rocket, the same vehicle that NASA will use to send supplies to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 will throw the Astrobotic spacecraft into a lunar trajectory for a four-day cruise to the moon. Navigation software, developed at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute so vehicles could drive themselves safely and reliably, will be used to guide the spacecraft to a soft and precise landing on the moon. Fold-down ramps will allow the rover to roll down either side of the lander, in case one side is blocked by a boulder or crater.

A unique aspect of the expedition is the inclusion of interdisciplinary arts projects created by students and faculty based in the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts. CMU Professor Lowry Burgess is coordinating the historic Moon Arts project. 

In addition to Carnegie Mellon, the mission is supported by industrial partners such as International Rectifier Corporation and corporate sponsors such as Caterpillar Inc.

For more information, visit CMU's Google Lunar X Prize website,, and the Astrobotic Technology website, The Robotics Institute is part of Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science; follow the school on Twitter @SCSatCMU.

Article courtesy of

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

CMU group works on movies that reach out and touch you

Sitting in a movie theater watching 3-D superheroes leap off the screen and soar overhead, it's hard to imagine what direction the next level of media enhancement could take.

Maybe viewers feeling wind whipping their hair as the hero flies by or the heat of his laser-beamed eyes warming their cheeks? What if an audience could feel the moisture of a tear as it streams down a heroine's face, followed by a gentle brush of hand wiping it away?

Sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but a team at the Disney Research Lab in Carnegie Mellon University's Collaborative Innovation Center in Oakland is working at making those sensations seem real. The lab is part of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center and one of six research facilities Disney operates internationally.

As a corporate partner to the university and led by Jessica Hodgins, a professor of computer science and robotics, the lab conducts research and development directed toward improving Disney rides and products. The arrangement gives Disney access to the university's laboratory and facilities in addition to the opportunity to collaborate with some of the finest minds in the computer science industry.

The new project, designed to add sensations to entertainment technology, is in the early stages, but the team already has gotten some interest from a video game developer.

The Tactile Brush algorithm, as the team has named its project, is meant to create sensations varying from a single point of vibration to continuous vibrations that can travel the length of a person's spine.

It opens the door for illusions that go far beyond vibrations, said Ali Israr, principal investigator, and Ivan Poupyrev, Interface Technology Group director.

"The problem with today's technology is the vibrations communicated by normal devices -- iPhones, joysticks, vibrating chairs people use in movies -- tend to be very one-dimensional," explained Mr. Poupyrev.

"The whole thing vibrates. So you can vibrate on, off or maybe increase intensity of vibration, but there's not really much information you can create."

One of the key differences between current tactile technologies and what's available through Tactile Brush, said Mr. Poupyrev, is how vibrating actuators -- the sources found in cell phones and other vibrating technologies -- are used.

Through the algorithm, the team discovered that changes in speed, intensity, timing and other variables create two new kinds of so-called haptic illusions, or illusions of sensation on the skin.

An illusion called "apparent tactile motion" allows for a continuous stream of vibration akin to a finger stroking the skin, while "phantom tactile sensation" creates the feeling of single-points of vibrations in spaces where no actuators are present.

Mr. Israr, a perceptual psychologist and mechanical engineer, developed the psychological model of how to create and manipulate the illusions.

Calling the combined technologies "Surround Haptics," the two researchers said the next step was to try to use visual imagery and research the brain's reactions to touch to create more authentic sensations and experiences.

"Our hypothesis is that people would feel different tactile sensations differently depending on what they see on the screen," said Mr. Poupyrev. "In a sense, our visual perception system would help us to disambiguate what sensation it is.

"In one situation, the sensation could feel like water streaming; in another, it could feel like a bug walking on your skin. In one kind of scenario, you'll feel it as hitting pavement as you're driving a car; in another case, it would feel like a gunshot."

What people see as they're experiencing sensations affects how they feel them, but how the brain processes those sensations is equally important.

Opportunities to introduce tactile sensations to industries already looking to enhance technologies are ripe.

The Motion Picture Association of America reported that 2010 global box office receipts reached a record of $31.8 billion, with 3-D films in the United States and Canada alone accounting for $2.2 billion.

The video game industry, which economist Paul Heydon of Avista Partners estimated to be worth about $105 billion in 2010, already has seen 3-D releases from Nintendo and firmware that allows 3-D viewing through Sony's Playstation 3.

Since low-level vibrating technologies already are used in some theater seats and video game joysticks, the notion of combining 3-D technologies with a wider range of vibrations and sensations could be the next logical step.

Deciding exactly how much sensation is too much for viewers is another hurdle for the Disney Research Lab team.

Should they actually create an illusion that simulates the pain of a fallen avatar's gunshot wound to the chest?

Mr. Poupyrev answered with an enthusiastic "why not?"; but Mr. Israr said they could find ways to mimic the sensation with considerably less pain.

"We don't want to create this emotional feeling of hurt or hurting, we just want to trigger these mechanical receptors that could create the sensation that something started to go in [the skin]," he said. "We don't want to go beyond that to make people suffer."

The duo is set to debut their prototype in August at the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. It's a three-day annual conference that draws thousands of computer science professionals, and highlights emerging technical and creative initiatives in research, science, art, animation, gaming and more.

The prototype -- a kitchen chair fitted with 12 actuators lined in three rows of four and swathed in cushion -- is connected to a simple video game that allows players to feel new types of vibrations each time a robot crosses a barrier on the screen.

That model already has led to an informal arrangement with Disney Interactive gaming developer, Black Rock Studio, to examine how the technology could be used in one of its games.

While the team envisions similar chairs with enhanced features in homes and movie theaters throughout the country someday, team members also recognize the potential to use the technology outside of entertainment.

Surround Haptic jackets could work as maps that use vibrations to notify wearers which direction to travel.

Someone wearing a haptic helmet could feel the sensation of a soothing temple massage.

Since the technology can use actuators as small and inexpensive as those found in pager motors (the prototype uses actuators made from speaker motors), both creators say the possibilities are ultimately as large or as small as the aspirations of the individuals who approach them with a plan.

"It can be a hand-held device such as a cell phone, it can be a sleeve. Actually, anywhere you have skin, this device can work," said Mr. Israr.

"Only imagination is the limiting factor here," Mr. Poupyrev said.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

YinzCam moves to the South Side and hiring

YinzCam , the Carnegie Mellon spinout that offers sports fans action-packed camera angles as a mobile app, is expanding with a new office in the South Side and the hiring of three.

Developed by CMU's Priya Narasimhan and her team for Penguin's play during the Stanley Cup playoffs, the company is riding a wave of success across professional sports, from the National Football League--including the Steelers--to the NHL and the NBA. YinzCam is moving next to the Steelers training facility on the South Side.

The company plans to add two or three mobile developers.

Another mobile sports marketing company, Songwhale, is expanding in Lawrenceville, adding 1,500 square-feet to its 2,500 square-foot space. Songwhale has hired two people to develop a Direct Response Mobile Marketing Platform called PayWhale, which will allow people to buy items directly off the TV by phone.

"These are exciting times," reports Ty Morse, CEO.

RedPath Technologies in the Strip District is back on track having closed on $1.6 million of a $2 million round through 12 investors. Earlier this year the company announced the hiring of CEO Dr. Dennis Smith Jr., who replaced Mark Myslinski, who remains on the board. An earlier bid by ExonHit to acquire RedPath last year fell through.

Finally, Alpha Lab company The Resumator raised $700,000 toward its web-based social recruiting and resume-tracking tools. The round was led by Rincon Venture Partners with assistance from Innovation Works.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Carnegie Mellon Launches "Greenlighting Startups" Initiative

Carnegie Mellon University today introduced "Greenlighting Startups," a new initiative aimed at accelerating CMU's already impressive record of turning campus innovations into sustainable new businesses. Since 2004, CMU has doubled the number of start-up companies created by its faculty and students and now stands as one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial institutions in the United States.

Greenlighting Startups, a portfolio of five new and existing campus incubators, is uniquely designed to further speed the organic growth of company creation at CMU. This initiative creates multiple portals through which the university can help turn research from award-winning professors and world-class students into thriving companies that provide new jobs and solve real-world problems. With Greenlighting Startups, CMU will be in a stronger position to serve as an engine for commercializing innovation, job growth and new business creation.

"Carnegie Mellon has always attracted faculty and students with the best ideas and innovations," said Rick McCullough, vice president of research at Carnegie Mellon. "The Greenlighting Startups initiative is part of the entrepreneurial culture at CMU that helps to take those innovations and make them a reality in the marketplace, creating companies and jobs in the process."

The five Greenlighting Startups groups include the Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation (CTTEC); the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship; Project Olympus; Quality of Life Technology Foundry; and the Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund (OFEF). In the past 15 years, CMU has helped to create more than 200 new companies, adding approximately 9,000 new jobs to the U.S. economy. In Pennsylvania alone, CMU spin-offs represent 34 percent of the total companies created based on university technologies in the past five years. Through Greenlighting Startups, the university is now poised to leverage its track record and experience to exponentially grow those numbers.

While some CMU incubators like CTTEC have been around for more than a decade, others like OFEF, which launched in May 2011, are more recent. OFEF is a key component of the Greenlighting Startups initiative, as it will serve as the backbone to making CMU a destination of choice for young entrepreneurs. The fund will provide early-stage business financing to alumni who have graduated from CMU within the past five years, and may also serve to attract prospective students who are interested in starting their own businesses to CMU.

Each incubator group has a distinct value proposition to support budding entrepreneurs, and together they provide a campus-wide infrastructure of resources for transforming ideas into marketable products and services. Companies such as Google, Apple, Disney and Intel have taken notice of CMU's entrepreneurial success and have opened labs and/or offices on campus in the past few years.

By and large, what attracts entrepreneurial professors and students to CMU is a liberating technology commercialization philosophy. This underlying philosophy, dubbed "Five Percent, Go in Peace" serves as CMU's technology transfer model and is the driving force behind Greenlighting Startups. Developed on the Carnegie Mellon campus, "Five Percent, Go in Peace" is a first-of-its-kind spinoff-model for academia that has, itself, become one of the university's great inventions.

"The goal of Five Percent, Go In Peace, was to create a transparent, expedient and easy to understand process that minimizes extensive negotiations," said Carnegie Mellon Provost and Executive Vice President Mark S. Kamlet. "Through this unique model, we have simplified our approach to free entrepreneurs so they can do what they do best."

The "Five Percent, Go in Peace" model not only attracts top talent globally, but also helps solidify CMU's position as the U.S. leader in turning federal and state funding into sustainable economic growth.  CMU ranks first among all American universities without a medical school in the number of startup companies created per research dollar spent since 2007, according to the Association of University Technology Managers.

CMU start-up success stories include companies such as reCAPTCHA, inventors of the swirling letters computer users retype to validate websites, which was acquired by Google in 2009; Plextronics, the world leader in active layer technology for printed electronic devices; and First Person Vision, which develops wearable visual devices to help the elderly and those with disabilities maintain independence.

To herald this exciting collaborative of business incubators, CMU has designed and unveiled a new graphic and wordmark for its Greenlighting Startups initiative. For more information about Greenlighting Startups, visit

Article courtesy of PRNewswire

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Plextronics inks deal with Sanyo Chemical, readies for primetime

Plextronics' Andy Hannah sees the day--in the not too distant future--when the company's polymer inks for flexible displays, plastic solar cells and a new world of products are being churned out in Pittsburgh and shipping by the boatload all over the world.

Two years from now, he says.

It's been a long and winding road to primetime commercialization, but Plextronics is almost there. While the company won't disclose revenues, Plextronics' first quarter revenues for 2011 were four times higher than a year ago. In addition, a major partnership with Sanyo Chemical Industries has opened the door for more business in Japan and Korea, which is where Plextronics is conducting 80% of all business outside of the U.S.

Plextronics signed an OLED lighting distribution agreement with Sanyo Chemical Industries this month that will allow Sanyo to distribute the new inks for OLED lighting applications throughout the Japanese market. Scaling up to meet the future demand is the next step.

"We're at that point where our products are ready for scale and an introduction to companies we don't know," says Hannah. "They (Sanyo) will help us with those relationships. Sanyo works with other companies, supplying chemicals. It's a feat to get a high quality distributor like that in Japan, which is an indicator of how high quality your products are."

Plextronics is in the process of hiring several people, including experts who can help the company scale the products and materials for major growth and supply line experts to improve the manufacturing process to ensure the delivery of high-quality products in large volumes.

"It's easy to show people the sizzle and great technical announcements," Hannah explains. "This is the hard work part. We're focused on the delivery of high value products that will make us a sustainable business."

"This agreement will give us the ability to work much more closely with some of the top OLED lighting developers in the world to drive the adoption and commercialization of OLED technology," adds Jim Dietz, vice president of business development.

"We continue to have the same vision," says Hannah. "You'll see our products in tens of millions of different products in the next few years, in the next generation of solar displays and white light applications. First and foremost, we're about achieving profitability so we can grow off our own cash flow. That's the stage we're in, making sure we achieve that milestone."

While the company has room to grow at the massive U-PARC near Harmarville, it may be looking for a manufacturing location in the next two years, he says.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Tech Collaborative gives $1.2M to robotic and tech startups

Nine companies and two universities received $1.2 million in grants from The Technology Collaborative, fueling the growth of robotics and digital technologies in Pittsburgh and across the state.

In addition, smart-grid technology developer BPL Global has raised $6.2 million toward an $8 million financing round to support company growth and hiring. BPLG in Cranberry is on the forefront of developing a better software solution that will improve distributed energy resources between utility companies and customers, saving energy and money.

Nine organizations in the region were among those to benefit from the TTC funding:

Pittsburgh-based SpiralGen, a Carnegie Mellon spinoff, is developing technology that automates the production and optimization of modular segments of software code, called libraries, thereby vastly reducing the amount of time spent on manual library development. The firm received previous support from the National Science Foundation as well as a Small Business Innovation Grant (SBIR).

Pittsburgh-based BluPanda, a startup supported by Disruptive Robotics of Pittsburgh (see the related story on The Brazen Kitchen), is working on logistics management software that will reduce the wait time and crowding in hospital emergency rooms. BluPanda will build, deploy and commercialize its robotic intelligence platform in several Pittsburgh area hospitals.

Voci Technologies Inc. in Pittsburgh is a startup that delivers high performance speech-to-text appliances for enterprise analytics and security applications. Pioneered at Carnegie Mellon, the firm's Hardware Accelerated Proper Name Recognition project hopes to provide proper name and number sequences with an unprecedented level of accuracy and speed.

Butler County-based Steel City Optronics is commercializing a high-resolution, accurate, low-cost compact airborne mapping system for the military market that promises a better resolution and speed than current systems on the market.

The University of Pittsburgh will receive support for the development of a Simple Feedback Device (SFD) used by individuals with severe disabilities.

Allpoint Systems of Pittsburgh, a 3D data processing and software company, will create a mapping package for small mobile platforms for the defense industry.

Carnegie Robotics of Pittsburgh, a new company, is building reliable robotic products to improve safety in the agricultural, mining, defense and oil and gas production markets. The TTC funding will improve the computing and electronics of the robots.

Advantech US Inc is an R&D company specializing in evaporative printing technology, producing thin film devices for the emerging display market for OLED, ePaper and printed circuit board industries. 

Embedded Energy Technology is providing a family of high-value products and services to reduce the nation's carbon footprint while increasing company efficiency in the thermal insulation market.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Friday, May 20, 2011

Carnegie Mellon's Metin Sitti Wins Prestigious Nano-engineering Award

Carnegie Mellon University's Metin Sitti received the 2011 Nano-engineering Award from SPIE—the international society for optics and photonics for his work on devices that can manipulate objects on a molecular level.

"This is a new field of robotics, and I'm honored to receive the award," said Sitti, director of the NanoRobotics Lab at Carnegie Mellon.

Sitti's research is leading to the development of nanorobots—robots smaller than the width of a human hair. The medical field wants the robots for health care, and the Department of Defense is interested in highly sensitive sensors created by Sitti's nanoengineering.

"The recognition is so well deserved by such a talented and innovative researcher," said Nadine Aubry, the Raymond J. Lane Distinguished Professor and head of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon. "Carnegie Mellon is noted for leading-edge research, and Professor Sitti is the epitome of our problem-solving, thinking-outside-the-box environment."

Sitti also is using his work with geckos to inspire new methods to print electronics on complex surfaces. Along with a team of researchers nationwide, Sitti has developed a reversible adhesion method for printing electronics on a swath of complex surfaces, such as clothing, plastics and leather. The team designed a square polymer stamp with pyramid micro-tips that allows them to control adhesion strength. Like geckos, which are wizards at sticking to any kind of surface, the new polymer stamp also features a distinct adhesive quality.

"We are developing breakthroughs that will have long-range applications for both commercial and industrial use," Sitti said.

The award was given April 28 during SPIE's Defense, Security, and Sensing conference in Orlando.

Article courtesy of CMU College of Engineering

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Innovator: Carnegie Mellon's Richard McCullough

The screens that dominate our lives—smartphones, tablets, televisions—keep getting sleeker and sleeker. Richard D. McCullough, dean of the College of Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, says that, soon enough, they'll be as thin as a coat of paint.

At Plextronics, where he is co-founder and chief scientist, McCullough is working to perfect conductive "ink." The ink is actually a polymer, or a synthesized chain of molecules, that can conduct electricity like metal while remaining flexible like rubber. It's a "disruptive technology that can be printed on anything," he says. A surface as thin as a magazine page, for instance, could become a bendable, foldable video player. "Imagine a Kindle (AMZN) or an iPad (AAPL) on steroids," says McCullough, 52, who earned his PhD in chemistry from Johns Hopkins University.

The technology builds off work that McCullough began in 1990, when he was an assistant professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon. After 10 years of federally funded research, he found a way to synthesize conductive polymers reliably and cheaply. He obtained a patent and recruited serial entrepreneur Andrew W. Hannah, who had worked at several early-stage technology companies, to help turn his ink into a business. They founded Plextronics in mid-2002, and Hannah, 45, took the job of chief executive officer.

Today the 65-person company manufactures McCullough's ink in its factory in Harmar Township, Pa., about 20 minutes outside Pittsburgh. The ink has many applications, and Raghu Das, CEO of research firm IDTechEx in Cambridge, Mass., says the market for printed and thin-film electronics will be $2.2 billion in 2011 and could reach $44.2 billion by 2021.

One of the first applications Plextronics is pursuing is in making better, cheaper, organic light-emitting diodes. OLEDs are essentially molecules in a layer that light up when electricity is applied. Unlike most of today's smartphone and TV display screens, which rely on liquid-crystal-display technology, OLEDs don't require backlighting, so they're far thinner and use less energy. McCullough says Plextronics's ink will be ready for smartphone screens within two or three years, and in larger displays a year or two after that.

OLEDs can also be used in conventional lighting fixtures. In late April, Plextronics announced its first distribution deal, with Sanyo Chemical Industries in Japan, which will market the ink for OLED lighting to major electronics companies. Plextronics is also developing a version of its ink for the solar industry. The company plans to start selling organic photovoltaic cells by 2012 and envisions their being used for indoor advertising, where they could power displays by harnessing energy from a store's overhead lighting—no batteries necessary.

Hannah says Plextronics had between $5 million and $10 million in revenue last year selling ink to manufacturers and researchers, and expects to do about the same this year. The company has raised a total of $55 million from investors, including Santa Clara (Calif.)-based Applied Materials (AMAT) and Solvay Chemicals in Brussels.

Article courtesy of Businessweek

Monday, May 16, 2011

CMU debuts entrepreneurship fund for alumni

Carnegie Mellon University on Sunday announced the formation of a new fund to provide early-stage business financing to alumni who have graduated from CMU within the past five years through matching grants of $50,000 and other support.

The lead donor to the Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund is CMU alum Jonathan Kaplan, former CEO of Pure Digital and developer of the Flip video camera, with his wife Marci Glazer. Peter Stern, Datek Online founder and Kaplan’s classmate, is also providing financial and advisory support.

Financial commitments were not disclosed, but Kaplan said he expects the fund to eventually reach $25 million over its first five years.

“My colleagues and former classmates are very interested in joining me in our effort to fund young entrepreneurs and help them to create exciting new businesses in all areas and disciplines,” Kaplan said in a prepared statement.

An independent advisory committee, which will include Kaplan and Stern, will be appointed annually to approve and mentor applicants. Applicants must present a business plan to the committee for review, outline how they will use Open Field funding and agree to become part of the Open Field Entrepreneurs incubation environment.

The fund is not a business plan competition, in which only entrepreneurs with the best ideas receive funding, Kaplan said. OFEF recipients will gain access to other funding sources, receive personalized mentoring and attend an annual business workshop. CMU will provide legal and accounting support.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Innovation Works gathering offers startup companies chance to seek venture capital investments

It took about four hours for 15 companies to ask for $23.2 million.

They might just get it, too.

After all, last year a group of companies with similar provenances (assistance from Innovation Works) raised $193 million in funding. That money, which is known as follow-on funding, came from venture capital firms, angel investors, corporations, the federal government, commercial lenders and state and economic development agencies.

And while their businesses ranged from software to manufacturing -- from fitting a shoe to retrofitting an industrial oven -- the common link was Innovation Works, a Ben Franklin Technology Partner funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. It is a hybrid of early stage investor and company incubator, providing money and expertise to companies that often consist of nothing but a couple of people and an idea.

Innovation Works last week tried its own innovation.

In the past it has held annual meetings and separate gatherings at which companies would ask investors for money. On Wednesday, the nonprofit held a daylong event at which businesses presented their best arguments on why they are good places for venture capital investments as part of Innovation Works annual meeting. Insiders were referring to it as Innovationpalooza.

On the low end of the scale, South Side-based Wawadoo, which is a website that provides event information and sells tickets to events, asked for $120,000 to support its quest to gain 1 million users.

At the other end of the spectrum, ALung, another South Side company that has created a system to assist breathing the same way dialysis assists kidney function, is looking for $15 million, or more than two-thirds of the total money sought during the day.

In the 11 years that Innovation Works has been providing seed money and early capital investments to local startups, those ventures have gone on to draw about $1 billion in additional investments. Companies that have worked with Innovation Works in the last five years now employ 4,684 people.

A study of Innovation Works companies done last year for the 10th anniversary showed that while about a third of startups in the United States fail before their second anniversary, more than 75 percent of the companies Innovation Works helped in its first decade were still in business.

A study of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners in 2009 found that every dollar of state funds put into the new companies yielded $3.50 in taxes.

"At Innovation Works, I believe we succeed when our partners succeed," CEO Rich Lunak said.

He said studies had shown that the majority of job growth in the United States comes from small companies launched fewer than five years ago, so by creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and reasons for people to move to Pittsburgh to start their businesses, "We create a more vibrant community in our region."

Regions that continue to thrive, Mr. Lunak said, will be those that encourage entrepreneurs to take risks.

There are some major ventures starting in Pittsburgh.

Knopp Biosciences on the South Side is working on a drug to slow the progression of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Mr. Lunak said that if the drug works, "It will be the largest therapeutic breakthrough in Pittsburgh history since Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine."

Knopp received $40 million in funding since its initial funds from Innovation Works to conduct its Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials and has signed a license agreement worth $345 million for further development, regulatory approval and commercialization.

Innovation Works has been working with all levels of companies for the last decade, and in the last few years it opened AlphaLab, an incubator that provides office space and business support to entrepreneurs who are just starting out.

AlphaLab's 20-week program provides assistance and $25,000 to the companies to get themselves going, but like graduates at a university job placement office, the entrepreneurs come back again and again for guidance from the people they met through the process.

Some of them have done well.

The Resumator is a company started by Don Charlton to help companies process resumes without having to print them all out to review them. Since leaving AlphaLab in 2009, the company has moved to its own offices on the North Shore. This year it received a $700,000 in private investment money, and it has nearly 400 subscribers.

NoWait, a company that manages restaurant seating by text message through iPads, has five employees, has received $235,000 in investments and recently won $75,000 in a competition for start-ups. It is used by 13 restaurants in four states.

The current group of AlphaLab companies that presented their businesses to potential investors Wednesday were looking for a combined $1.62 million in capital to keep the companies going and allow them to develop their technology. Most already have customers.

Delirium is in the later test stages of its product Reverb, which allows users to synchronize their contact information between their smartphones and email acccounts.

Companies further along in their development phases were also seeking venture capital.

Westmoreland Advanced Materials in Monessen has developed a material to line refractories that manufacture aluminum. The new material is recyclable and doesn't react with aluminum -- the refractory's inside does not have to be jack-hammered out to be cleaned.

Ken McGowan, the president of the company, said one of his customers had said the product saved $400,000 a year in the maintenance budget.

Mr. McGowan was seeking to raise $900,000 from investors.

When the presentations were over at the Innovationpalooza, the schmoozing began, as consultants, investors, inventors and programmers all started exchanging names and business cards, which were still readily available even in the age of the smartphone.

The money to the startup companies is coming from funds made up of institutional investors and funds comprising wealthy individuals.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Rise Of The Robo-Waiter

Intrepid and numb to fatigue, robots have come for human jobs before. Just ask fighter pilots, autoworkers and Wal-Mart checkout clerks.

Now, in Asia at least, robots are encroaching on yet another occupation: waiting tables.

The trend is official. In the past three years alone, robot food servers have appeared in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and mainland China. The latest restaurant to employ robo-waiters, a Japanese-themed sushi-and-barbecue eatery in Bangkok, has even fitted its bots with samurai plating and prop swords.

Should the developed world brace for a coming wave of robo-waiters? Maybe, according to robotics experts contacted by GlobalPost. But waiter bots, they say, will remain less competent than humans for some time to come.

ATM-ing Of Restaurants

Human waiters will actually prove quite resilient, says Illah Nourbakhsh, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute. The advantage is personality, among the hardest assets to replicate in robotics.

"The robot can't do banter or upsell or say, 'You've got to get this dessert because I had it last week and you're gonna love it,' " Nourbakhsh said.

In fact, they can barely hold a conversation. So far, Asia's various robot waiters amount to a new-wave Chuck E. Cheese-style spectacle. Some can interpret basic voice commands, as can $50 mobile phones. They can deliver trays of food and bus tables, but only along a fixed route.

And they cost much more than humans, especially in Asia, where a 10-hour shift of taking orders and running food trays typically pays less than $10. The two waiter bots at Bangkok's Hajime Robot Restaurant, for example, cost a total of $930,000.

What Asia's robo-waiters may herald, however, is the ATM-ing of restaurants.

Because robo-waiters aren't yet conversational, diners at robot restaurants tap out their food orders on a table-mounted touch screen or a unit fixed to the robot's belly.

This may ingratiate more people to human-free food ordering, just as humans were trained to bank via machine and scan Froot Loops at the supermarket.

"At first, such technologies may put people off. But eventually most of us accept these possibilities as an option that you can choose if you want to," said Henrik Scharfe, associate professor at Denmark's Aalborg University and director of the center for Computer Mediated Epistemology.

Scharfe's work focuses on humans' emotional responses to robots. His personal robo-clone — complete with graying goatee scruff — is so unsettlingly accurate that it's risen to YouTube celebrity status. But even Scharfe concedes that "if you like small talk or even flirting a little with the waiter," today's bots will prove unsatisfying.

'Less-Than-Perfect Interaction'

Consider "Yumbo," a robot that will debut this year at Thailand's popular hot pot franchises, MK. An estimated 10 shops will get a Yumbo bot, which has the height and voice of a pre-pubescent boy. He travels on rubber treading and can carry a single food tray.

Yumbo can squeak out "Happy Birthday" and some niceties in Thai. And thanks to radio frequency identification tags, he'll never deliver food to the wrong table.

But Yumbo can't field complicated questions. A similar bot is deployed in restaurants in Hong Kong and in China's northern Shandong province, where waiter bots ply the aisles on three-wheeled carts.

However, Scharfe believes the dawn of more competent waiter bots is relatively near. Waiters and patrons already follow a well-worn script, he said, "with a pattern of communication that is very predictable."

Scharfe noted that through hand gestures he once negotiated a suit's style, fabric and price with a human Shanghai tailor. He also recently ordered food at a Japanese shop through pointing. In such predictable scenarios, he said, robots could play the role of clerk if humans are willing to tolerate a "less-than-perfect interaction."

"Both parties have a clear understanding of the situation and their role in it," he said. "This is also why it is relatively easy to have a machine performing one role in the game."

But Nourbakhsh, the Carnegie-Mellon roboticist, is less convinced. He predicts that in the not-too-distant future some enterprising restaurateur will attempt to deploy waiter bots boasting enough artificial intelligence for a full-on, back-and-forth chat.

"That idea will come, and it will fail," he said. "People will assume it has more intelligence than it does. But it won't be able to answer a lot of your questions. And it'll be very boring."

Bots-Only Lane

The other big shortcoming of robots is mobility. Bots are far less nimble than human waiters. The models that share the aisle with humans, relying on motion sensors to avoid obstacles, can only slow down or stop to avoid collision. They must also follow a set path marked on the floor in white striping.

"In a busy place with other waitresses moving around and 6-year-olds running to the bathroom," Nourbakhsh said, "robots have to move slowly and carefully." That means dinner may arrive at room temperature if it's traveling in robot pincers instead of human hands.

But at least two eateries have sidestepped this problem with a bots-only lane of travel. At Bangkok's Hajime, which opened last year, the man-sized robots zip back and forth on a rail. Tables line the track on both sides. When the bot arrives with dinner, a plastic window slides open and the food is passed through.

Similarly, a South Korean cafe that employs much smaller bots — no bigger than a microwave — offers its bots a dedicated pathway elevated to table height.

While fun and amusing, "it's really just a conveyor belt, bringing food from the kitchen, with lots of bells and whistles," said Devendra Garg, head of Duke University's Robotics Laboratory. "Everything is within a constrained format."

"These robots don't have to react to unanticipated situations," Garg said. "There's a lot more work to be done in research laboratories before we get to that point."

The real asset machines bring to eateries is high-speed computation on the fly, Nourbakhsh said. A fellow Carnegie Mellon roboticist has invented a system that can scan cars in a drive-through lane and predict how much food each car will order. (Hint: SUVs order more fries than do sedans.)

Its findings are displayed to cooks, who are commanded to prepare a precise amount of food even as the vehicles turn into the parking lot. The customer's meal arrives more freshly cooked, and money wasted on unsold, pre-prepared burgers is saved.

"This is where robots will succeed," Nourbakhsh said. "They'll do what humans can't even imagine doing."

How much longer until we get robot waiters that can field diners' questions, sidestep toddlers in the aisle and do it all for less cost than a human?

"Forty years," said Nourbakhsh. "And nobody wants to invest too much money into research because humans do such good job of it."

Article courtesy of npr

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lockheed Martin and Carnegie Mellon University Pursue Cyber Security Innovation With New Lab

The number one federal government IT provider and one of the nation's leading research universities are teaming up to tackle the rapidly-changing world of cyber security. Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) today opened a new cyber lab space near the campus of Carnegie Mellon University, where the organizations will conduct joint research and development into concepts and technologies that could shape the future of cyber operations.

"Government agencies need to protect their networks and infrastructure against adversaries that are getting smarter, faster, and more sophisticated every day," said Rick Ambrose, President of Lockheed Martin's Information Systems and Global Solutions – Security division. "The advanced research we're conducting with Carnegie Mellon will help our nation's cyber defenders accelerate response times, protect smartphones, and pinpoint potential vulnerabilities in their networks."

"The opening of this new lab builds on CMU's successful collaborations with Lockheed Martin over the years," said Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon. "It also serves as another example of how Carnegie Mellon's talented faculty and students attract leading global businesses to the Pittsburgh region, helping to drive innovation and economic growth. We are pleased to be partnering with Lockheed Martin on such an exciting initiative, one that has great potential for groundbreaking work in the important field of cyber security."

Locating the lab near the Carnegie Mellon campus helps the research teams develop prototypes faster and test them in a realistic environment. The facility will be connected to Lockheed Martin's extensive network of cyber labs, including the NexGen Cyber Innovation and Technology Center.

Cyber security is a Carnegie Mellon strength, as the university's CyLab is one of the largest university-based cyber security education and research centers in the U.S. CyLab is multi-disciplinary and university-wide, involving six colleges from Carnegie Mellon. Supported by public and private funding, Cylab's goals include building mutually beneficial public-private partnerships to develop new technologies for measurable, available, secure, trustworthy, and sustainable computing and communications systems and to educate individuals at all levels.

"Cyber security technologies are rapidly advancing, and Lockheed Martin is committed to providing innovative security solutions for our customers through industry-academia partnerships," said Dr. Ray O Johnson, Lockheed Martin's Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer. "Collaboration with best-in-class universities like Carnegie Mellon provides the latest concepts that enable tomorrow's cyber security solutions."

Lockheed Martin and CMU enjoy a 25-year history, which began when Lockheed Martin worked with the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI) on software process improvements and software architecture projects. Today, the company's research projects are spread across many areas of Carnegie Mellon, including the SEI, the Robotics Institute, the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and the Information Networking Institute. Lockheed is also one of the largest employers of Carnegie Mellon graduates, with more than 250 CMU alumni working for the company and its subsidiaries.

"We are thrilled that Lockheed Martin has chosen Pittsburgh as the place to foster and create innovative solutions that will help solve a growing challenge to government," said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. "Carnegie Mellon attracts some of the best and brightest young people in the world, and out of this collaboration, we will continue to grow our technology and innovation economy."

Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security company that employs about 126,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. The Corporation's 2010 sales from continuing operations were $45.8 billion.

Article courtesy of PR Newswire

Friday, May 6, 2011

BirdBrain Technologies aims to use finch robot to teach computer programming

There is a growing number of companies around here with products or interests in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education arena — Bayer Corp. and its Making Science Make Sense campaign pops to mind, as do companies like Zulama and their work with the Entertainment Technology Center for game design, and Apangea Learning and its math tutoring programs.

Add one more to the list, BirdBrain Technologies LLC, created by Tom Lauwers, an instructor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, along with associate professor Illah Nourbakhsh. The company aims to make introductory computer science courses more engaging than programming a website with the words “Hello World.”

Instead, why not program a small robot (that looks like a small finch bird) to say, “Hello World,” dance or light up on command.

“Students are more interested and more motivated when they can work with something interactive and create programs that operate in the real world,” Lauwers said in a written statement announcing the product launch. “We packed Finch with sensors and mechanisms that engage the eyes, the ears — as many senses as possible.”

The Finch and its toolkit is for sale on its website here and sells for $99 each. The program is designed for anyone 12 years old and up. By including the robot, instruction time can be spent on the programming and not building the hardware, Lauwers said. It plugs into a computer over a 15-foot USB cable and can be programmed with Java and Python.

“Computer science now touches virtually every scientific discipline and is a critical part of most new technologies, U.S. universities saw declining enrollments in computer science through most of the past decade,” said Nourbakhsh, who is also director of the Robotics Institutes CREATE Lab. “If Finch can help motivate students to give more computer science a try, we think many more students will realize that this is a field that they would enjoy exploring.”

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Plextronics Announces OLED Lighting Distribution Agreement with Sanyo Chemical Industries

Plextronics, Inc. announced today that the Company has signed an OLED lighting distribution agreement with Sanyo Chemical Industries, Ltd.  Under the terms of the agreement, Sanyo will distribute select Plexcore® OC inks developed specifically for use in OLED lighting applications in the Japanese market.

Jim Dietz, Plextronics Vice President of Business Development, indicated that the relationship with Sanyo has been a long-standing and important one for both companies. "Sanyo has a tremendously strong reputation in the Japanese market for the quality and performance of the products it makes and sells. We’ve worked with them for the last few years, and there is no one better suited to be our distribution partner in Japan," said Dietz.

He added, “This agreement will give us the ability to work much more closely with some of the top OLED lighting developers in the world to drive the adoption and commercialization of OLED technology.”

Fusayoshi Masuda, Sanyo Chemical’s Representative Director and Executive Vice President, emphasized that Sanyo is enthusiastically developing new business fields. “From that point of view, new conductive polymer technology introduced by Plextronics was very attractive to us. We are sure that based upon our close relationship with our customers, this distribution agreement will be a good starting point for developing such new business opportunities,” said Masuda.

Plexcore® OC Product Platform
Plexcore® OC includes two product lines with tunable hole injection designed for different device architectures – Plexcore® OC AQ and Plexcore® OC NQ. Plexcore® OC AQ consists of water-based HIL inks designed to deliver stable, low operating voltage and extended lifetime in polymer OLED (P-OLED) displays as well as hybrid phosphorescent OLED lighting panels.

Plexcore® OC NQ includes solvent-based HIL inks for solution-processed phosphorescent OLED emitters.  Combining new conductive polymer technology with solvent-based ink formulations, this HIL enables OLED display manufacturers to solution-process this layer without the concerns of potential device degradation due to the acidic nature of other HIL technologies.  In devices, Plexcore® OC NQ dramatically reduced operating voltage that is extending device lifetimes to be competitive with vapor-deposited OLED displays.    

Article courtesy of Plextronics

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Carnegie Learning Publishes National Math Book

Carnegie Learning will publish it's first nationwide middle school text  early this summer.  Working with a committee of local educators from Richmond County, Carnegie Learning created a user-friendly textbook designed to appeal to students by making it seem less like a traditional textbook and more like an interactive workbook.  The Carnegie Learning Math Series: Courses 1-3 will begin with a 15,000 copy printing in June.  Creating the textbook from scratch allowed educators to shape lessons around requirements set forth in the upcoming Common Core Standards, which will be implemented nationally next school year. Learn more, and view an excerpt from the book, at

Article courtesy of Draper Triangle Ventures

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Carnegie Mellon uses social networking to tap collective intelligence of online study groups

Taking their cue from social media, educators at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a social networking application called Classroom Salon that engages students in online learning communities that effectively tap the collective intelligence of groups. Thousands of high school and university students used Classroom Salon (CLS),, this past academic year to share their ideas about texts, news articles and other reading materials or their critiques of each others' writings. With the support of the Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, CLS will be used in an innovative experiment at the University of Baltimore to see if it can help students who are in danger of failing introductory courses or otherwise dropping out of college.

"Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have captured the attention of young people in a way that blogs and online discussion forums have not," said Ananda Gunawardena, associate teaching professor in the Computer Science Department, who developed CLS with David S. Kaufer, professor of English. "With Classroom Salon, we've tried to capture the sense of connectedness that makes social media sites so appealing, but within a framework that that allows groups to explore texts deeply. So it's not just social networking for the sake of socializing but enhancing the student experience as readers and writers."

In CLS, class members can read assigned texts and then annotate them with online editing tools. These observations can then be shared with the group using CLS's novel interactive tools, which can highlight "hot spots" that spark discussion within a document, cluster similar comments and identify which comments are most influential.

"Studies show that people working in teams are able to arrive at better and more creative solutions than people working alone, and this is particularly true in reading and writing tasks. However, that collective effort is difficult to achieve in formal education settings," Kaufer said. "Class time is limited and most online course management systems tend to be driven by the instructor's questions. Classroom Salon, by contrast, makes possible more genuinely student-centered collaborative work."

Carnegie Mellon students discuss how they use CLS in this YouTube video,

All students can benefit from the kind of collective intelligence CLS makes possible, but Kaufer and Gunawardena suggest that at-risk students may benefit the most because CLS also can easily be used to personalize instruction for specific individuals and groups.

That idea will be tested in a new program, funded by a $250,000 grant through the Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative. Nancy Kaplan, professor and executive director of the School of Information Arts and Technologies at the University of Baltimore, working with collaborators at Carnegie Mellon, will combine CLS and materials developed for Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative,, with traditional face-to-face instruction to create a sustainable social learning model.

The researchers will see if this new approach will help students at the University of Baltimore, an urban, open-admission institution where about half of the incoming students fail to graduate within eight years. Many are first-generation college students who attend part-time, come from low-income families, and require remedial math and writing courses.

Gunawardena and Kaufer also are exploring the commercial potential of CLS through Carnegie Mellon's Project Olympus, a program that bridges the gap between research and the marketplace by providing faculty and students with start-up advice, incubator space and business connections. The National Science Foundation, Innovation Works and the Heinz Endowments have supported the development of CLS.

Article courtesy of e! Science News

Friday, April 29, 2011

Accelerator: Second program starting

CMU’s Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship launched the program in June 2010 as a way to link graduate students at the Tepper School of Business to the broader marketplace. It helps the companies validate their products, services and business models earlier and more efficiently in a mentored environment. CMU paid the Accelerator companies a stipend that will convert to equity.

The five Accelerator companies we have followed are:

  • Black Locus — Developer of a cloud-based platform to help small- and medium-sized online retailers in real time.
  • LearnBop — Developer of technology that allows educators to create content online that adapts to what students don’t understand about a particular subject.
  • REBIScan — Developer of a hand-held vision scanner that will work toward erasing the leading causes of preventable blindness in children.
  • CommunityVibe — Developer of an affordable, centralized online tenant management portal.
  • RhoMania — Developer of a Web-based application that predicts how much consumers will enjoy a bottle of wine prior to purchase based on an individualized taste profile.

Art Boni, Jones Center executive director, said four of the five companies have already acquired customers; the exception is REBIScan, which is still in clinical testing and awaiting FDA approval. He answered questions about the program’s first year and what’s ahead.

What surprised you most about the 2010 companies?

The biggest surprise is that all of the companies have made considerable progress, have evolved their business models based on customer input, and the founding teams have attracted new members and partners. You usually expect to see a few early crash and burn. I was most pleased that all companies said that they benefitted from the experience and were more prepared to launch products and services and to begin generating investor interest, which has occurred over the academic year. In effect, all of these MBAs generated their own jobs.

What sort of response did the program receive from the investment community?

Most of these companies have already received validation from the investment community. Idea Foundry, Innovation Works/Alpha Labs, The Technology Collaborative, and angel investors have all been very supportive.

Will any of the companies be based outside Pittsburgh?

RebiScan is based in Boston and will return there upon graduation of the CEO. LearnBop is contemplating a split base between New York City and Pittsburgh based on their selection to participate in the Dreamit ventures program this summer.

Who are the 2011 participants?

This year we have selected three promising companies – Enzium, a biotech diagnostics company; HyGenyx, a medical IT company; and Global Paradigmz, a Web-based business to facilitate formation and management of global partnerships for small and medium enterprises.

What’s different?

Enzium is a company being launched by graduating MBAs that would benefit from the Accelerator since the company did not come into existence until the second year of their MBA program. Since last summer, we have entered into a partnership with Innovation Works to develop and deploy agile innovation tools and techniques that are being developed and implemented under our i6 Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce. These tools and techniques are more fully developed and will also be deployed by our Accelerator teams.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Thursday, April 21, 2011

CMU unveils photo system that can travel back in time

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute have developed computer browser technology to create the GigaPan Time Machine.

The next-generation GigaPan photographic technology allows viewers to zoom into large, panoramic photographs to see fine detail, but now it also allows the viewer to watch the full picture or details within it back and forth through time.

One GigaPan Time Machine video, for example, shows a garden from the time seeds are planted until full bloom. The viewer can watch the entire garden grow or focus on individual plants to see caterpillars and stink bugs eating particular leaves or stems.

Photos in the Time Machine videos are taken in 15-minute intervals, each with millions and even billions of pixels of resolution, which allows zoom-ins deep into the photo to see detail and to go back to how things started.

The Time Machine technology uses the GigaPan camera, operated by a robotic platform and processed by CMU computers, to show beehives being developed; roads, buildings or bridges being constructed; or festivals or protests as they unfold.

"With GigaPan Time Machine, you can simultaneously explore space and time at extremely high resolutions," said Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics and head of the CREATE Lab. "Science has always been about narrowing your point of view -- seeing a particular experiment or observation that you think might provide insight. But this system enables what we call exhaustive science, capturing huge amounts of data that can be explored in amazing ways."

In coming years, Mr. Nourbakhsh, and Randy Sargent, CMU senior systems scientist, anticipate upgrades so the high-resolution photographs, stitched together into a vast panorama, can be taken each minute, second or even fraction of a second to produce videos allowing exploration of everything from sporting events to volcanic eruptions.

Along with announcement of the technological breakthrough today, CMU also said the public can go to the following link -- -- for details on how to create and share timelapse GigaPan videos.

Time Machine operates only with Google's Chrome or Apple's Safari browsers.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pittsburgh start-ups win cash at Rice competition

A pair of Pittsburgh start-ups with both AlphaLab and Carnegie Mellon University ties walked away with funding after competing in the Rice University Business Plan Competition last weekend.

Web-based software company BlackLocus, which helps online retailers manage pricing and inventory, was one of the big winners, taking home a $100,000 for the tech transfer investment prize.

“It was a good opportunity to not only make some prize money but to also network with a lot of investors,” said CEO Rodrigo Carvalho. The company has been developing its product since January 2010 when it was part of the South Side incubator AlphaLab.

The company is talking to investors and in the middle of raising a $1 million seed round. “We are starting to get traction now and have a stable platform,” Carvalho said, as well as paying customers.

The prize money will be used to further expand the six-person staff. The company also recently moved into offices on Craig Street.

RhoMania, a member of the current class of AlphaLab start-ups, also participated in the Rice competition and won three awards totaling around $12,000, said company CEO Darren Olson.

“The really big benefit of the competition is not the money that you get,” Olson said. “It’s getting to present. At Rice we got to present to a total of like 80 business people, entrepreneurs and investors and got personal feedback.”

RhoMania is developing a platform that can help consumers in restaurants select wine. So far, the product runs on iPads and is being used in three Pittsburgh-area restaurants — Donato’s in Fox Chapel, Paris 66 Bistro in East Liberty and 17th Street Cafe on the South Side.

Other AlphaLab companies are also hitting the road after winning spots in pitch competitions. Four companies connected with the incubator are headed to Detroit at the end of the month to take part in the Funded By Night competition in hopes of taking home a $100,000 convertible note.

The competition is being held in conjunction with the FutureMidwest conference.

NoWait, which finished up AlphaLab in October, has developed a platform to manage waiting for restaurants that don’t take reservations. The company, which has five full-time employees, raised $210,000 in January from angels and Innovation Works and expects to raise a series A round in the second half of this year, said CEO Robb Myer. There are six locations in Pittsburgh using the technology as well as three locations in Philadelphia and one location in Florida.

“It’s pretty encouraging that there are four AlphaLab companies selected,” for Funded By Night, he said. “It shows the work that AlphaLab and Innovation Works is doing and how the companies here are reaching out even early on to get outside the region to get funding and publicity.”

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Friday, April 15, 2011

Carmell Therapeutics Completes Series A Financing to Advance the Development of Novel Bioactive Plastics

Carmell Therapeutics, a company that manufactures novel blood plasma-based biomaterials that accelerate the repair of injured tissues, has closed on a Series A financing it will use to establish a pilot manufacturing facility and collect data for early clinical validation for the Company’s first products.

The round was led by Harbor Light Capital Partners, a private investment firm that invests in early and growth stage companies located in the United States. Additional investors in the financing include; Newlin Investment Company, the PLSG Accelerator Fund, LLC, Innovation Works, Ariel Savannah Angels, Blue Tree Allied Angels as well as individual investors.

“This financing establishes a national investor base to support the important work we are doing to develop products to treat injuries to joints and connective tissues,” said Carmell Therapeutics President and CEO Alan West. “We’re pleased to welcome Harbor Light Capital Partners, Newlin Investment Company, Ariel Savannah Angels, Blue Tree Allied Angels and several western Pennsylvania investment leaders in supporting Carmell and the development of our exciting new products made from blood plasma (Platelet Rich Plasma).”

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is receiving widespread clinical use to augment the healing of soft & hard tissue injuries because of the concentration of natural growth factors that occur in platelets. Carmell’s novel materials incorporate both platelet and plasma-derived regenerative factors and are sterile, ready-to-use, easy to handle, shape and suture and exhibit mechanical properties designed to match the repaired tissue. Carmell’s first products include a surgical scaffold for tendon repair and a bone putty form of these plasma-based biomaterials. Both products address the compelling clinical need for an effective and inexpensive product that accelerates healing.

“Newlin Investment Company believes that the opportunity for innovation in healthcare has never been greater and western Pennsylvania is ripe with investment opportunities,” says Bill Newlin, Chairman of Newlin Investment Company. Mr. Newlin continues, “Carmell is a start-up company with a superior technology and a team with the vision and ability to deliver on a huge opportunity. I have a personal commitment to the cultivation of regional innovation and talent and look forward to the continued growth and success of this promising company.”

Article courtesy of Carmell Therapeutics

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Carnegie Mellon University launches new Biotechnology Innovation and Computation Program

The M.S. in Biotechnology Innovation and Computation is a new professional master's program offered jointly by the Lane Center for Computational Biology and the Language Technologies Institute in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. This program seeks to educate leaders in the innovative use of computing to create innovative solutions (software, systems and business models) in the biotechnology sector. As the biotechnology industry matures there is a great need for computational technologies and leaders who can envision, design, plan and deliver solutions that integrate emerging technologies (such as text mining, social network analysis, and machine learning) into innovative applications and effective business models for biotechnology R&D.

The curriculum assumes that incoming students have appropriate background in biology and/or computing, excellent communication skills, and a strong desire to innovate. Our integrated curriculum includes course work and case studies, and also emphasizes the application of computing skills in realistic business environments. As part of their ongoing course work, students complete a series of system and business development objectives as they tackle current real-world problems. Industry leaders participate in many of the courses, both as presenters and as student mentors.

The M.S. BIC program is one of four biotechnology related Masters programs at Carnegie Mellon.

Article courtesy of BIC

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Carnegie Learning Math Project Awarded Next Generation Learning Challenges Grant

Carnegie Learning, Inc. has been awarded a $750,000 grant from Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC), a new initiative focused on identifying and scaling technology-enabled approaches to improve college readiness and completion, especially for low-income young adults, in the United States.  The award will fund The Mathematics Fluency Data Collaborative, a project to improve performance in developmental math courses by building games to help students develop the fluency and number sense required to succeed in mathematical problem solving. Carnegie Learning is one of 29 grantees selected from a field of more than 600 pre-proposals and 50 finalists.

The NGLC initiative plans to advance college readiness and completion by addressing a continuum of interrelated issues spanning secondary and postsecondary education from grades 6 through college. NGLC is led by EDUCAUSE in partnership with The League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association of K-12 Online Learning, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation helped design the Next Generation Learning Challenges and funds the initiative.

A collaborative project led by Carnegie Learning, The Mathematics Fluency Data Collaborative is a partnership among the Games for Learning Institute (G4LI) at New York University; Game2Learn at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center at Carnegie Mellon University;  Pellissippi State Community College in Tennessee; and the Playpower Project. The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Pellissippi State Community College, Boise State University, and Carlow University are implementation partners.

"The Mathematics Fluency Data Collaborative will establish a practice that values iterative testing and refinement of learning games based on careful examination of student data," said Dr. Steve Ritter, chief scientist for Carnegie Learning, Inc. and the project director. "Our team of researchers will mine the data to better understand which gaming parameters lead to success. The game code will be released under an open source license, so that the games can serve as a model for additional development as well as a platform for researchers interested in developing and testing improvements to the games."

Games produced under this effort will be included in future releases of Carnegie Learning's Cognitive Tutor® and MATHia™ software programs for middle school, high school, and post-secondary students aligned with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. In addition to funding, NGLC is gathering evidence about effective practices and working to develop a community dedicated to these persistent challenges.  

"The Games for Learning Institute is pleased to participate in the The Mathematics Fluency Data Collaborative which allows us to continue building the science of learning with partner universities, games design researchers, and corporate partners," said Jan Plass, professor of educational communication and technology and co-director of G4LI at New York University. "This is a significant project in that we will be designing games that can improve student success in college while producing rich research data to help us verify the educational quality and impact of these games; and, it allows us to continue growing a highly interdisciplinary research and development community to study games as agents to transform education for a broad range of learners."

Article courtesy of PR Newswire

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hiring! Bosch moves in with Akustica on the South Side

The Bosch Group is expanding its presence in Pittsburgh, having moved its Research Technology Center (RTC) from the North Side to join Akustica's headquarters in SouthSide Works; both companies are hiring.

Pittsburgh-based Akustica, a CMU spinout and developer of one of the first chips on the market with a clear, high-definition voice signal, was acquired by The Bosch Group of Germany in 2009. More than a logistical move, the expansion highlights a long standing investment in Pittsburgh by the billion dollar consumer electronics company, says Davin Yuknis, vice president of sales and marketing at Akustica.

Both companies will be working side-by-side on two floors of the expanded 21,000 square-foot space. Both also will increase staffs by 25% this year. Akustica currently employs 40 and Bosch 10. New hires will be in the areas of systems and product engineering as well as administrative.

"Within Bosch, this (Pittsburgh) is viewed as the center of excellence for CMOS MEMS design," says Yuknis. "We have all the experts here."

Last week Akustica announced the launch of the first single-chip digital (MEMS) microphone--the AKU230--for high quality voice applications in laptops, tablets and netbook PCs. The chip is being produced in the Bosch foundry in Reutlingen, Germany.

"What's unique about our solution is it's all on one chip," explains Marcie Weinstein of Akustica.

Bosch has several connections to the region. The company initially formed a partnership with CMU in 1990 through the Carnegie Bosch Institute of Applied Studies in International Management, part of the Tepper School of Business; Bosch has also invested in several Pittsburgh companies including Aethon.

Article courtesy of Pop City

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

CMU's Takeo Kanade wins ACM/AAAI Award for career contributions to computer vision, robotics

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has named Takeo Kanade, the U.A. and Helen Whitaker University Professor of Computer Science and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, the 2010 winner of the ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award for contributions to research in computer vision and robotics.

The Newell Award, named for one of the founding fathers of Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, recognizes career contributions that have breadth within computer science, or that bridge computer science and other disciplines. It includes a $10,000 prize and is supported by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) and individual contributors. The award will be presented June 4 at the ACM Awards Banquet in San Jose, Calif.

"I am honored and proud to receive this award named after our late Professor Allen Newell," Kanade said. "I first met him in Kyoto, Japan, and he then helped me come to Carnegie Mellon," recalled Kanade, who joined the university in 1980 and now holds the chaired professorship that once belonged to Newell.

Kanade is director of the Quality of Life Technology Center, a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center he founded in 2006. He headed Carnegie Mellon's renowned Robotics Institute from 1991-2001 and established the Digital Human Research Center in Tokyo in 2001.

"Takeo Kanade has been an important creative and intellectual force in robotics," said Randal E. Bryant, dean of the School of Computer Science. "His work spans everything from novel applications of computer vision to improved motor drives. As director of the NSF Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center, he is devising new ways for robotic technology to help people overcome visual, physical and cognitive impairments. We value all that he has done for Carnegie Mellon and for the world of robotics."

Kanade has received a number of high scientific honors, including the Franklin Institute's Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science in 2008 and the inaugural Tateisi Grand Award and Prize in 2010.

Kanade's research breakthroughs began while he was in college, when he developed the first complete system for face recognition by computers for his doctoral thesis. Since then, he has continued to explore the science of computer vision, including the physical, geometrical, optical and statistical processes involved in vision. In the early 1980s, he founded and led NavLab, a pioneering project that developed techniques for a vision-based autonomous car, including lane keeping, automatic parallel parking and object detection. NavLab produced a series of self-driving vehicles, including NavLab 5, a minivan that steered itself on a cross-country tour called "No Hands Across America" in 1995.

He co-developed the world's first direct-drive robot arm, which is used by several robot manufacturers and is recognized as one of the most advanced robot arm technologies. Applications of his algorithmic insights, mathematical and physical principles, and rigorous implementation include medical robots for surgical assistance, "virtualized reality" systems for capturing and visualizing three-dimensional scenes and modern graphics effects in video.

Kanade is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Article courtesy of EurekAlert

Thursday, March 31, 2011

CMU, Cranberry to team on traffic data, technology

There are magnetic sensors beneath the asphalt that can count the number of cars passing through a particular intersection. There are cameras that can show pictures of those same cars and whether they're in a streamlined progression or snarled by a disabled vehicle.

You'd think that between the sensors and the cameras, all these "smart" traffic management tools would be smart enough to make the traffic signal turn green at a side street to Route 19 when it becomes suddenly clogged with church traffic on Sunday morning.

Nope, not yet.

"[The traffic signals] don't have enough brains. It seems like they should, but they don't," said Duane McKee, Cranberry assistant township manager.

Change is on the horizon, though, and Cranberry's state-of-the-art traffic data collection systems will play a role.

Cranberry is entering into an agreement with Carnegie Mellon University to further the efforts of the Traffic21 project, a universitywide research initiative aimed at integrating technology into public transportation projects. The first project -- ParkPGH -- provides real-time information on space availability at parking garages in the Cultural District. The information may be accessed by iPhone application, a website for other mobile phones, a regular website, text message and telephone.

Stan Caldwell, associate director of Traffic21, said research now is being conducted into "adaptive signalization" and ways to better use traffic cameras. That's where Cranberry comes in.

The township's traffic data collection systems are among the most advanced in the region. "It's a good place for us to do research," Mr. Caldwell said. "It could be the perfect test bed."

The details of the agreement haven't yet been worked out, but both Mr. Caldwell and Mr. McKee see the potential for a fruitful partnership with Cranberry providing raw data and the township being the site for the testing of the technology that flows from that data.

The first meeting among the players was held March 16 in Cranberry. The discussion focused on ways of conveying Cranberry's video information and raw traffic data to CMU. The township has a new traffic operations center, based at the public works building off of Route 19, that uses sensors and cameras to evaluate traffic volumes and alert officials as to when there is a traffic "incident," such as a disabled vehicle or an accident.

While those data collection systems are considered state-of-the-art, the art is somewhat limited, Mr. McKee said.

"The limiting factor is that [the traffic management system] only has a limited number of traffic signal patterns to pick from" to respond to the data that it has collected, he said. Mr. McKee is hoping Cranberry will be a part of creating an "adaptive software" system that's intelligent enough to respond to real-time conditions and create a logical management solution based on the existing traffic circumstances: "It'll be as close to artificial intelligence as you can get."

"We have the newest stuff [in data collection], and they're working on the newest stuff in adaptive software," Mr. McKee said. "To play a role in that is exciting and holds a lot of potential benefit to Cranberry and the traveling public in general."

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Carnegie Learning Launches Middle School Math Preview

The Carnegie Learning Math Series, the new research-based core and supplemental middle school curricula, are now available for preview via dynamic online demonstration problems, video walk-throughs, and a text sampling tool. An expansion of the company's research-based high school math curricula, the Carnegie Learning Math Series is designed to close the achievement gap by providing individualized learning for math students in grades 6-8 that surpasses one-size-fits-all instruction.

Carnegie Learning Math Series: Courses 1-3 is a blended program that includes Carnegie Learning® Math Textbooks and Carnegie Learning® MATHia software powered by Cognitive Tutor® software technology.  The courses fully align to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and the Standards for Mathematical Practice.  Elements throughout the Math Series focus on student motivation and engagement, developing a deep conceptual understanding of the mathematics, and providing embedded formative assessment. The MATHia software provides a personalized learning path for each student based upon his unique level of knowledge and cognitive skill.  In addition to addressing motivation, real-world contexts are selected for the student based upon her interest areas such as sports/fitness, art/music, money/business, and the environment/nature.

"Research indicates that middle school students tend to view the school environment as out of their control and unresponsive to their interests," said Dr. Steve Ritter, chief scientist of Carnegie learning, Inc.  "As a result, they set unproductive learning goals focused on satisfying others or avoiding failure rather than on gaining personal satisfaction from academic achievement. In the Math Series, we've focused on using personalization and messaging to improve students' approach to academic achievement."

The Research Behind the Carnegie Learning Math Series, a white paper by Dr. Ritter, a cognitive scientist and company co-founder, discusses how the Carnegie Learning Math Series uses personalization to improve student motivation and learning. Continuous feedback, spontaneous awards, and ongoing formative assessment emphasize the internal rewards inherent to succeeding in a difficult task and achieving improved academic performance. A series of short Carnegie Learning Math Series Webinars are also available presenting the program in the context of several timely topics: Applying Research to Middle School Math Education; Exploring Mathematics Topic Progression; and Building Highly Motivating and Intelligent Software Technology for Middle School Math Students.

The Carnegie Learning Math Series is available for implementation this fall. For more information, please visit, call 888.851.7094, or schedule a meeting with Carnegie Learning at the 2011 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) annual meetings in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 11-16.

Article courtesy of PRNewswire

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hiring! Civic Science raises $1.2 million and plans to expand

CivicScience, makers of digital tools and widgets that collects and analyzes consumer opinion and behavior, has raised $1.2 million to expand the company and roll out a new audience measurement platform.

Investing in the round was global marketing research firm, The NPD Group, national polling company ALR and Kevin McClatchy, director of The McClatchy Company and former owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Civic Science previously raised $1.6 million, bringing the total investment to $2.8 million.  
The company was founded in 2008 by John Dick, CEO, with data technology developed by Carnegie Mellon University. The early polling widgets were published on Pop City and Pittsburgh Today as well as local newspapers.

The funding will accelerate marketing and product development around the IntelligentQuestion, or iQpoll, an unique polling platform that plugs into websites, social networks and mobile platforms, says Dick. CivicScience will add four to its staff of eight, salespeople and software engineers.

The platformed is offered to publishers free of charge. The information is then gathered by the firm, analyzed and the data sold to marketing researchers, advertisers, anyone with a need to understand the public's inclination or opinions in a given area.

"Ultimately this funding will help us to rapidly expand the number of websites that are using our technology and increase the amount of data we are collecting and analyzing," says Dick.

Article courtesy of
Pop City

Friday, March 25, 2011

'Can you hear me now?' Researchers detail how neurons decide how to transmit information

There are billions of neurons in the brain and at any given time tens of thousands of these neurons might be trying to send signals to one another. Much like a person trying to be heard by his friend across a crowded room, neurons must figure out the best way to get their message heard above the din.

Researchers from the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a joint program between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, have found two ways that neurons accomplish this, establishing a fundamental mechanism by which neurons communicate. The findings have been published in an online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"Neurons face a universal communications conundrum. They can speak together and be heard far and wide, or they can speak individually and say more. Both are important. We wanted to find out how neurons choose between these strategies," said Nathan Urban, the Dr. Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguish Professor of Life Sciences and head of the Department of Biological Sciences at CMU.

Neurons communicate by sending out electrical impulses called action potentials or "spikes." These spikes code information much like a version of Morse code with only dots and no dashes. Groups of neurons can choose to communicate information in one of two ways: by spiking simultaneously or by spiking separately.

To find out how the brain decided which method to use to process a sensory input, the researchers looked at mitral cell neurons in the brain's olfactory bulb — the part of the brain that sorts out smells and a common model for studying global information processing. Using slice electrophysiology and computer simulations, the researchers found that the brain had a clever strategy for ensuring that the neurons' message was being heard.

Over the short time scale of a few milliseconds, the brain engaged its inhibitory circuitry to make the neurons fire in synchrony. This simultaneous, correlated firing creates a loud, but simple, signal. The effect was much like a crowd at a sporting event chanting, "Let's go team!" Over short time intervals, individual neurons produced the same short message, increasing the effectiveness with which activity was transmitted to other brain areas. The researchers say that in both human and neuronal communication alike, this collective communication works well for simple messages, but not for longer or more complex messages that contain more intricate information.

The neurons studied used longer timescales (around one second) to convey these more complex concepts. Over longer time intervals, the inhibitory circuitry generated a form of competition between neurons, so that the more strongly activated neurons silenced the activity of weakly activated neurons, enhancing the differences in their firing rates and making their activity less correlated. Each neuron was able to communicate a different piece of information about the stimulus without being drowned out by the chatter of competing neurons. It would be like being in a group where each person spoke in turn. The room would be much quieter than a sports arena and the immediate audience would be able to listen and learn much more complex information.

Researchers believe that the findings can be applied beyond the olfactory system to other neural systems, and perhaps even be used in other biological systems.

"Across biology, from genetics to ecology, systems must simultaneously complete multiple functions. The solution we found in neuroscience can be applied to other systems to try to understand how they manage competing demands," Urban said.

Article courtesy of

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pearson named CEO of Aquion Energy

Aquion Energy Inc., a Lawrenceville start-up developing a novel sodium-ion battery, has tapped Scott A. Pearson as CEO.

The company, founded in 2009, is based on research by Carnegie Mellon University engineer Jay Whitacre, and aims to build a battery that is cheaper, longer lasting and more environmentally friendly for commercial scale energy storage.

Pearson was most recently president and CEO of Protonex Technology Corp., a Massachusetts-based maker of advanced fuel cell power systems. Pearson remains chairman of that company’s board and a non-executive director.

He joins the company at a time of growth. Since last summer, the firm has gone from 17 employees to 33 and in the spring it will begin assembly and testing of prototype units. By fall, the company expects to begin shipments to customers.

“The company’s proprietary technology base and compelling value propositions in conjunction with the industry’s strong need for better energy storage solutions provide a strong foundation for building a valuable, industry-leading company,” Pearson said in a written statement.

To date, the company has received funding from the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), as well as a $5 million grant from the Department of Energy.

“Scott is the ideal person to manage the company’s product and market strategies, to establish world-class manufacturing operations, and to build mutually beneficial partnerships with leading customers, strategic partners and government agencies,” said Ray Lane, chairman of Aquion’s board and managing partner at Kleiner Perkins. “We at KPCB are also very pleased to see Aquion Energy, one of our most promising venture investments, transitioning from an early-stage technology development organization into a full-fledged product company.”

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Monday, March 21, 2011

DSF Charitable Foundation gives $3.9M to CMU's Center or Nucleic Acids Science & Technology

The DSF Charitable Foundation has given a $3.9 million grant to Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Nucleic Acids Science and Technology (CNAST) to further the development of novel biomedical tools targeted at monitoring and manipulating gene expression.

The grant will allow the interdisciplinary team of researchers to advance their work aimed at providing innovative approaches for understanding and treating disease. These include the development of peptide nucleic acids (PNA), synthetic analogs of DNA and RNA that have extraordinary scientific and therapeutic potential.

"We are so grateful to the DSF Charitable Foundation for this tremendous award, which will position CNAST — and Pittsburgh — to generate fundamental biomedical discoveries in the coming decade," noted Fred Gilman, dean of the Mellon College of Science. "This award will leverage the trademark interdisciplinary work of our departments of Chemistry and Biological Sciences."

"CNAST's innovation is emblematic of the high-risk, high-return science we do, and for which federal funding is notoriously difficult to secure," added Richard D. McCullough, vice president for research and professor of chemistry. "The DSF Charitable Foundation's vision and generosity will help us to jump-start some amazing projects so that we can successfully vie for these additional funds."

Nucleic acids, which include DNA and RNA, are vital to all living systems. DNA contains instructions for making proteins, the molecules that do most of a cell's work. RNA plays a key role in turning those instructions into functional proteins. If something goes awry during this process — called gene expression— too much or too little of a protein can be made, sometimes with disastrous effects.

"At CNAST we are creating tools that will help us to answer fundamental scientific questions and lead to the development of practical applications for treating genetic and infectious diseases," said John Woolford, professor of biological sciences and co-director of CNAST.

A key aspect of CNAST's approach involves the development the synthetic nucleic acid PNA, which contains similar building blocks as strands of its natural counterparts (DNA and RNA). This feature allows the synthetic nucleic acid to bind to naturally occurring ones using the same Watson-Crick pairing rules that govern DNA and RNA binding activities which normally take place within cells. What makes PNA unique is that it has a protein-like backbone instead of a natural sugar-phosphate backbone. This synthetic backbone provides the added advantage of making the bond between a PNA and a DNA or RNA strand much more stable.

At CMU, researchers led by associate professor of chemistry Danith Ly are designing finely tailored PNAs that contain sequences complementary to target sequences of DNA and RNA found within cells. In addition, Ly's team is perfecting the ability of PNAs to enter cells. PNA's manifold attributes make it ideal for use in biomedical research. Because of its unique structure, cells fail to recognize and destroy PNAs. Moreover, because PNAs are made to bind to specific DNA or RNA targets, they can be used to indirectly monitor a pathway of gene expression. Once bound to RNA or DNA, PNA also can directly manipulate gene expression, resulting in increased or decreased production of proteins associated with diseases.

"In our labs we've been looking at PNA as a sophisticated way to regulate expression. We don't need to totally turn off a gene in order to prevent disease. If we reduce the amount of gene expression by as little as 20 percent, it could have a profound effect," said Bruce Armitage, professor of chemistry and co-director of CNAST. "This grant from the DSF Charitable Foundation will help us to take PNAs out of the test tube and put them into cells to study and potentially develop treatments for many diseases that are characterized by misregulated gene expression."

With more than 100 members spanning disciplines including biology, chemistry, physics, and chemical engineering, and with research ranging from fundamental biology to nanotechnology, CNAST is one of the largest and most diverse nucleic acids research centers in the world. In addition to supporting the center's projects, the grant from the DSF Charitable Trust will expand the center's infrastructure by creating a facility for the production of PNAs and help to educate the next generation of scientists by supporting graduate student and postdoctoral researchers.

Article courtesy of EurekAlert

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Send in the Robots to Japan's Nuclear Meltdown

The scientist who created robots to clean up after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear disasters says similar machines will play a big role at the Fukushima plant that is now suffering a meltdown.

"There is no question that robotics will play a great role in the sustained response and recovery in Japan," said William "Red" Whittaker, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "The Japanese are masters in robotics. They are great at what they do."

Recent reports have pointed out that despite Japan's proficiency at creating lifelike robots that can run and play the violin, so far the dangerous and possibly deadly work of managing the crisis at Fukushima has been left to humans.

But Whittaker, while conceding that he has not been involved directly with helping out at Fukushima, said robots eventually will be applied in any number of ways. First off will be submersible devices—"You can call them swimming machines," he said—deployed to survey the damage.

"The first agenda is always to evaluate, and to do that you have to get access. You have to get into places," he said.

Whittaker had just finished his Ph.D. in civil engineering at Carnegie Mellon when the Three Mile Island meltdown occurred in 1979. He and others at the university built three-wheeled remote-controlled robots that explored the basement of the reactor to inspect and clean up after the disaster. That was how the Carnegie Mellon robotics program was born.

Since then, Whittaker and his colleagues have designed robots to explore other harsh environments, like ice fields in Antarctica and the inside of volcanoes.

The devices Whittaker has built and the ones that likely will be deployed in Japan are not the humanoid devices of science fiction. They're more likely to be remote-controlled cranes and digging machines.

"It's not a matter of looking like R2D2. In a nuclear incident, there are needs to handle materials, to load materials, to carry things, sometimes to clean surfaces," he says. "You can call these devices robots, but they're sometimes just called 'remote work systems,' because in almost all cases in this kind of operation they are tele-operated or directed by humans."

In other words, don't expect a SWAT team of smart, autonomous Terminator robots to go bounding into the building. The reality is more mundane than that.

But Whittaker said robots could help dismantle the reactor; package and load and haul away parts; and monitor the site for years after the cleanup is done.

The first chore simply will be to get in and "observe and view and sense," and figure out what's going wrong and how to stop it, he said. "To get that done there are machines that crawl, or roll, or swim, or fly. It's not like one size fits all."

And it's not going to happen overnight. The work will take years. "It has to be a sustained campaign," Whittaker said.

Article courtesy of The Daily Beast

Thursday, March 17, 2011

CMU competing to participate in New York City research program

Carnegie Mellon and two other North American universities want to provide research support for a campus expansion at New York University, a Carnegie Mellon official said today.

A joint letter expressing interest in the development was submitted by Carnegie Mellon, the University of Toronto, City University of New York and NYU as well as IBM.

It was among 18 responses expressing interest submitted by academic institutions from around the world following an invitation from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

A statement issued by Mr. Bloomberg's office today said the schools are "seeking to develop and operate a new applied science and engineering research campus in New York City."

However, Richard McCullough, Carnegie Mellon vice president for research, said the statement's use of the word "campus" is not accurate as it pertains to what Carnegie Mellon's role would be if the NYU campus expansion comes to fruition.

"We may have a small physical presence but certainly not a campus," he said. "Our faculty would help them to get research dollars and we would get some of those research dollars."

The work would involve research related to development of smart technologies for cities, and some Carnegie Mellon researchers may work for periods in New York City.

A separate, joint letter of interest from Carnegie Mellon and Steiner Studios involves creating a digital media program that would build on the school's work in entertainment-related technologies, Mr. McCullough said. It would be located on city-owned land in Brooklyn being developed by Steiner, and while a small number of students may enroll there, Carnegie Mellon does not expect it to develop into a campus.

A total of 27 institutions, some in partnership with others, submitted "expressions of interest," Mr. Bloomberg's office said. Other elite U.S. campuses also interested include Stanford University, Columbia University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Chicago, among others, according to the mayor's office.

The submissions will be reviewed and a request for proposals will be issued this summer.

The city wants to make a choice by year's end.

The Bloomberg administration has said it wants to diversify the city's economy and accelerate growth in its technology sector. The mayor called the idea a "once-in-generation" opportunity to attract interest from top-tier universities around the globe, which in turn would benefit the schools.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Leading Computer Science University Takes Multi-Pronged Approach to Combat Phishing; Deploys Wombat Security’s Highly Effective Suite of Training and Filtering Products

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), one of the world’s premier institutions for computer science research and education, is leading the way in combating phishing attacks with an evidence-based, multi-layered approach. “When it comes to phishing, there is no silver bullet” says Dr. Norman Sadeh, Co-Founder and CEO of Wombat Security Technologies (Wombat). “What we offer is a suite of highly effective training and filtering products that significantly reduces the chance that an organization’s users fall for an attack”. Following an extensive evaluation of Wombat’s products, CMU licensed the complete suite of anti-phishing products from Wombat.

The suite includes a combination of highly effective training products – Anti-Phishing Phil, Anti-Phishing Phyllis and PhishGuru and a unique anti-phishing email filter, PhishPatrol, that complements traditional anti-spam and anti-virus filtering solutions.

“Like many organizations, we face continuing threats of credential loss via phishing attacks,” says Mary Ann Blair, CMU’s Director of Information Security. In this role, she is responsible for real-time protection of the campus computing and network infrastructure and institutional information —which includes training and awareness. “We are concerned about all of our constituents—not just staff and faculty but also our students,”

For users to learn the skills they need to better protect themselves, training must be provided at the right time, and in the right way. That premise is at the core of the success of Wombat’s PhishGuru product, which incorporates principles of learning science to teach skills in real time and in context. As a software-as-a-service product, PhishGuru enables IT administrators to test and train users by sending them simulated phishing emails. When users fall for one of the simulated attacks, the system doesn’t just record their error—it also pops up real-time training that teaches them how to avoid falling for similar attacks in the future.

CMU supplements the PhishGuru campaigns with Wombat’s Anti-Phishing Phil and Anti-Phishing Phyllis training games. In a matter of minutes, these training games teach people practical strategies to recognize fraudulent emails and URLs. PhishPatrol is another important component of Wombat’s suite of anti-phishing products. It is a unique anti-phishing email filter that complements traditional anti-spam and anti-virus filtering solution. Rather than relying on blacklists, PhishPatrol uses advanced machine learning techniques and a unique combination of email features to detect phishing.

“PhishPatrol was able to improve our filtering of phishing emails with zero false positives, minimal configuration, and no noticeable load increase,” says Lou Anschuetz, CMU’s Electrical and Computer Engineering network manager.

"The most important thing is to give people the skill set to practice the right behavior,” says Mary Ann Blair. “Just making them aware of phishing emails is not sufficient. They need to be able to effectively differentiate between legitimate and fraudulent emails. That is our goal, to give them the skills to take the right action. And our results show that it works.”

Article courtesy of Insurance News Net

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Playpower creates computer games for children in developing countries

For children in developing countries, educational games that are culturally appropriate and operate on low-cost computers are only too rare.

Playpower hopes to change that. The Project Olympus social venture is developing educational computer games for children in countries such as Africa, India and South America that run on computers that cost as little as $10. The games target STEM skills--science, technology, engineering and math--and are also available on modern platforms such as PCs, smartphones and tablet computers.

Playpower is well on its way to launching several game titles and building a community of more than 500 volunteers for the global effort, explains Derek Lomas, founder and director. The company has received financial support through several grants, including a MacArthur Foundation Grant, and $50,000 from Silicon Valley-based Marvell Semiconductor to develop a STEM game for their Android tablet.

"We realized that the cost of a computer isn't so much a barrier to computer-generated-learning as the lack of software," says Lomas. "We're looking to combine academic research with grant funding to create software titles that we can release on these really low-cost platforms."

Lomas believes providing the games through an open-source and nonprofit model would help to support the distribution of games to those who can't afford them.  Playpower is also a way to slip into the more competitive and profitable gaming space for higher computing platforms, he adds, especially the school market and games that address STEM learning. The company is based at Carnegie Mellon but includes team members in India, NYU, MIT and San Diego.

"We're looking at education as a really global issue that isn't currently being addressed," he says. "There are a lot of issues still to be worked out, but there's a lot of support to do this in Pittsburgh."

Article courtesy of Popcity

Friday, March 11, 2011

Blue Belt Technologies preparing to sell its robotic surgical tool in Europe

Work at Oakland robotics firm Blue Belt Technologies Inc. is ramping up as the company prepares to submit an application for its robotic surgical tool to be sold in Europe.

The eight-year-old company has grown to 15 employees, up from seven in 2009 when it was short on funding and evaluating ways to keep its doors open. By the end of that year, the company was able to secure $2.4 million in funding.

“We made it through the rough times,” said cofounder and CEO Craig Markovitz. “We are still here and thriving, actually.”

Blue Belt makes a device used in orthopedic surgery that allows a surgeon to direct which portion of bone is removed or preserved. Like many new medical device firms, the company is targeting Europe for its initial launch and then the U.S.

Markovitz hopes to have an approval later this year of the company’s application for a CE Mark, the equivalent of FDA approval for the European Union, and then sales by the end of the year. Work toward the U.S. market would begin soon after sales in Europe start.

The company is going after the growing minimally invasive medical device market, which, according to BCC Research, was worth $14.8 billion in 2008 and is expected to reach $23 billion in 2014. Orthopedic surgery made up roughly 12 percent of that market, according to the 2009 study.

Initially, the company was looking at releasing the technology as a development kit that would be added to existing systems and sold to manufacturers. However, as the market shifted, Blue Belt decided to create its own complete system and platform under the name NAVIO and release it by selling directly to hospitals and surgeons.

“It’s the nature of this business,” Markovitz said of the ability to shift strategy.

“You can’t put the blinders on. You have to set the plan, but (you also) really need to be fluid in terms of reacting and setting plans.”

Gearing up for the last push to market, the company took investment from an undisclosed private equity group. Markovitz would not go into detail on the deal other than to say it closed at the beginning of the year and is “sufficient enough to allow us to execute on the plan.”

Blue Belt Technologies is the largest investment in the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse portfolio, said President and CEO John Manzetti. The group has invested a total of $623,000.

“(Markovitz) uses every program we have,” Manzetti said. “He is the model on how a company should use the expertise in economic development and life sciences to grow his business and provide capital to the exit.”

Blue Belt also received $400,000 from Innovation Works, another early-stage investment group. With the private equity Blue Belt received earlier this year, both Innovation Works and the Greenhouse were able to recoup their investment.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Deeplocal sells transit app RouteShout

RouteMatch Software, Inc. ( today announced its acquisition of RouteShout™ (, an award-winning Traveler Information Systems (TIS) product developed by interactive mobility pioneers Deeplocal. Financial terms were undisclosed.

The acquisition of RouteShout from the Carnegie Mellon University spin-out expands RouteMatch's TIS initiatives, and sharpens RouteMatch's focus on developing innovative technologies for transit agencies. RouteShout's capabilities strongly complement RouteMatch's paratransit and fixed-route products, adopted by more than 300 US and international transit agencies. Integrating consumer-friendly applications with extensive back-end data analysis and reporting tools, RouteMatch's RouteShout TIS platform offers agencies a turn-key solution for interfacing with riders. Multiple forms of rider communications such as cellular SMS texts, smartphone applications, the Internet, IVR (Interactive Voice Response), and dynamic display signage at bus and railway stations will be offered through the flexible RouteShout platform.

"Transit agencies now using or considering any paratransit or fixed-route technology have proven schedule information and a real-time estimated time of arrival (ETA) solution with RouteShout," said Tim Quinn, Executive Vice President, RouteMatch Software, Inc. "Already, the reception has been phenomenal. Real-time bus and rail arrival information has been the missing link to achieving fully coordinated Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) for many transit agencies. RouteShout can help complete their ITS vision. Transit agencies can recruit more riders and engage fresh demographics from data they already have."

How to overcome public perceptions of inconvenience and schedule irregularity have been chronic challenges for transit agencies that operate fixed-route and paratransit services. Having scheduled or real-time arrival times at point of pick-up, or while en route to a bus stop, readily available through mobile phones helps riders both pre-plan and make on-the-spot travel decisions. In addition to empowering riders, transit agencies can use RouteShout to notify customers of disruptions, route or schedule changes via alerts. It can also help lower volume of phone calls into call centers, and the costs of printing paper schedules.

"We've seen our ridership increase 11% last year, and attribute much of that to RouteShout. We have also reduced our costs printing schedules by 75%," said John Kanyan, executive director of Indiana County Transit Authority in Pennsylvania. "With most of our ridership being university students, SMS texting is a no brainer since mobile technology is second nature to them. We have used SMS to welcome our students back to college, and inform them of route changes and have seen a huge spike in usage. As an industry, we compete with cars. RouteShout helps with communicating reliability. It's comforting for riders to know the bus will be there at their stop."

The RouteShout TIS platform can be deployed within hours or can be customized for more complex requirements within weeks. Its "drag and drop" web- based interface brings an extra degree of user-friendliness for both technical and non-technical users, enabling transit agencies to gain visibility into their ridership at any given time. It also offers an open API option for transit agencies that would like to tap development resources from third- party developers, and offers an additional channel for supplementing advertising revenue.

RouteShout combines real street network data, real-time GPS information and predictive analysis algorithms to pull, convert and push real-time information to riders. 24/7 customer support will be offered by RouteMatch's team of ITS technologies and wireless experts.

RouteShout is available now, and is currently used by more than 140 transit agencies. For more information, visit

Article courtesy of Marketwire

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Transform your body into a touchscreen

Skinput is an amazing Bluetooth-enabled device being developed by scientists from Carnegie Mellon and Microsoft that allows you to use your skin as a touchscreen to control your phone, MP3 player or gaming console.

It works by using a bio-acoustic sensing technique that allows your body to be used as an input surface. When your finger taps your skin, the impact creates acoustic signals that can be measured by the device. To capture these signals, scientists have developed a bio-acoustic sensing array which listens for impacts and classifies them. Skinput is able to do this because of variations in bone density, size and mass, as well as filtering effects from soft tissues and joints that make different locations on the skin acoustically distinct. Skinput sensors transmit their signals to your chosen device using Bluetooth technology, allowing you to control its functions.

Is there a practical use for this technology? I think there definitely is! Just imagine an iPod strapped to your arm could be controlled by taps to your fingers. A mini-projector could project a graphic user interface on an arm allowing the user to click on buttons or navigate using a scrolling-based interface!

What do you think? Could you see yourself using a device like Skinput?

Article courtesy of Toronto Sun

Monday, March 7, 2011

POW Solutions from CMU announced to be semifinalist in MIT Clean Energy Prize

MIT Clean Energy Prize Semifinalists Announced

Congratulations to the 25 MIT Clean Energy Prize Finalists. The results are listed below or check out the MIT 100K webcast.

General Cryogenic
Righteous Wheels
Thermal Conservation Technologies

Access: WIND
Green Glove Energy Efficiency

Clean Non-Renewables
C5 Bio
PK Clean
Transatomic Power

Energy Efficiency and Infrastructure
Artic Sand
CoolChip Technologies
POW Solutions
Smarter Shade (Lono LLC)

Effimax Solar
New Power Energy Systems
S2E Solar
Ubiquitous Energy
ZOLAR Chiller

Article courtesy of
MIT Clean Energy Prize

Monday, March 7, 2011

CMU teams up with Singapore university

Carnegie Mellon University is teaming up with Singapore Management University to establish a center aimed at developing new ways to gather consumer data and behavior and analyze that information.

Called the Living Analytics Research Center (LARC), the $47 million facility is receiving $20 million over the next five years from the National Research Foundation in Singapore, as well as cash and in-kind contributions from the two universities.

The CMU portion of the center will be housed in the Heinz College iLab in Pittsburgh. Research teams will be led by SMU and CMU faculty.

“The Living Analytics Research Center builds on CMU’s successful collaborations with SMU over the years,” said CMU President Jared L. Cohon in a written statement. “We are pleased to be partnering with SMU on such an exciting initiative, one that has great potential for ground breaking work in the emerging field of computational social science.”

In addition to looking at how to harness large scale data mining combined with analysis of consumer behavior and social media, the center will look at trade-offs for privacy protection.

CMU faculty within the Heinz College, School of Computer Science, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Tepper School of Business are expected to participate.

The five-year long partnership will also bring 40 SMU doctoral students to CMU’s Pittsburgh campus for a one-year term of study.

This research is another step in CMU’s work on the intersection of computational and behavior science, said Ramayya Krishnan, director of the Heinz College iLab.

“It enables us to combine our strength in machine learning, statistics, management science and social science — making us the ideal partner for SMU,” he said in a written statement. “Together, we are uniquely positioned to become leaders in the field of living analytics research. As information technology increasingly enables people to live their lives in social network-centric worlds, we can produce new tools and ways of thinking that will have considerable value for society and business organizations.”

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Monday, March 7, 2011

Public pothole project pinpoints pitted Pittsburgh pavement

Pittsburgh potholes might have met their match, or at least another challenge, in the Rodas project -- the Road Damage Assessment System.

The brainchild of a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student, a software engineer, a pair of CMU professors and a civil engineer with an MIT pedigree, challenges private citizens to battle the city's pitted pavement with their iPhones.

"I hope it spurs action in the community and local government accountability," said Todd Eichel, a recent CMU grad and software engineer who wrote the code for the project.

The project asks people who see a pothole while sitting at a red light or walking down the sidewalk to snap a picture. Facebook members can enter and upload pothole photos instantly to a map that will pinpoint their locations throughout the city.

Veronica Acha, a graduate student in public policy at CMU's Heinz School, came up with the idea of crowd-sourcing a pothole map to meet an internship requirement last year. Her adviser, economist Robert Strauss, thought it was a great way to develop an independent repository of infrastructure needs that would allow maintenance crews to schedule repair work based on top priority needs rather than political considerations.

The site went up last week and boasts 200 pothole pictures on a Google map. Acha hopes there will be thousands more in the coming weeks.

"It's really going up fast because of the condition of the roads," she said.

Takeo Kanade, the CMU robotics and computer science professor who helped develop EyeVision, the stop-action program that allowed 33 cameras to reproduce a matrix-like replay of the Super Bowl, quickly agreed to aid the project. So did Eichel and Ed Krokowski, a civil engineer who studied at MIT and is part of the George Wilson Company.

Kanade said one of the biggest advantages of Rodas is that it will allow maintenance supervisors to see a vast array of potholes at one time and schedule repair work in the most efficient fashion. He envisions a day when automobiles will include cameras that automatically create roadway records that include the size and depth of cracks and potholes.

Pittsburgh public works officials did not return calls for comment on the Rodas project.

But PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi, who visited the website, said it's an interesting concept. He said once bugs in the program are fixed, he may well pass it along to PennDOT staff.

"We welcome any resource that helps us ID potholes, so we can get them patched efficiently," Struzzi said.

"From my perspective, it's nice that people want to do that. But taking a picture and putting it on a website doesn't necessarily mean it will be addressed quickly," he said. "The quickest way to address a pothole is to call 1-800-FIXROAD. It is manned 24-7 during the winter months, and you can talk to a live person and get a pothole scheduled to be fixed as quickly as possible."

Struzzi said FIXROAD logged 1,270 pothole reports in Allegheny County in February 2010. Figures for the current year weren't immediately available.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Monday, February 28, 2011

DEMO: Charter a private jet with FlyRuby

Online private flight booking company FlyRuby announced today that it is launching at the DEMO Spring 2011 conference in Palm Springs, Calif.

Like other flight-sharing services, FlyRuby works with private air charters to find the cheapest form of transportation. The company works with more than 3,000 private jet operators across the country to help its users find an alternative to mainstream airlines. FlyRuby sells private-jet flights by the seat.

The service was originally developed by Carnegie Mellon University as part of a project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that was supposed to help the air force manage its private jets. The service crawls those databases to find empty seats on privately-chartered flights across the country and connects its users with those pilots and charter companies. More than 40 percent of privately-chartered flights end up with empty seats, according to the company.

There are other private-flight booking companies, like Blue Star Jets. But none of them have achieved the same visibility that some of the more popular flight search startups — such as Hipmunk or Sidestep — have achieved. That’s probably because the whole process typically involves a quote and some kind of conversation rather than a direct transaction. Blue Star Jets, for example, only offers its users a quote as to how much the flight will cost — they can’t directly book through the site.

FlyRuby’s site will let its users book privately chartered jets online without having to go through that typical process. So it is basically taking on typical flight search companies because it aims to be a site for transactions rather than connecting fliers with potential private charter companies. It’s a pretty significant barrier to entry — so now it only depends on whether the flights end up cheaper than mainstream airline flights.

The Pittsburgh, Phil.-based company was founded in 2009 and has ten employees. It has raised funding from private investors and Carnegie Mellon University.

Article courtesy of Demo Beat

Friday, February 18, 2011

CMU professor may be on road to Nobel

A Carnegie Mellon University professor has been awarded the 2011 Wolf Prize in Chemistry, an international honor many regard as a precursor to the Nobel Prize.

Krzysztof Matyjaszewski, 60, of Shadyside will share the $100,000 prize with chemists Stuart Alan Rice of the University of Chicago and Ching Tang of the University of Rochester. The Tel Aviv-based Wolf Foundation singled out the men for "deep creative contributions to the chemical sciences."

"I feel very flattered," Matyjaszewski said. "It was very unexpected."

He said the award is a testament to the work of dozens of fellow researchers in his 26 years at CMU.

"Chemistry is really a magnificent area because you can do new things, create new things," Matyjaszewski said.

The prize committee commended Matyjaszewski for his research in polymer synthesis.

Polymers are large molecules, ranging from synthetic plastic to silicon.

Matyjaszewski developed a process that allows scientists to create new polymers in an environmentally friendly way. It has been used in the creation of materials in everything from paints to adhesives, he said.

James Spanswick, associate director of the Center for Macromolecular Engineering at CMU, has worked with Matyjaszewski for 16 years. Spanswick said the Wolf Prize caps the notice Matyjaszewski has received in professional circles.

"Everybody else is looking at his work and building on his work to do new work and expand on ways to build new materials," Spanswick said.

According to the Wolf Foundation, about one of every three scientists it honored in chemistry, physics and medicine in the past 33 years went on to win a Nobel.

The late CMU professor John Pople received the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 1992 for his contributions to theoretical chemistry. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1998.

Article courtesy of
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Chevy Volt hums on over to CMU, Chargecar opens the Electric Garage

Motor Trend's Car of the Year, the electric and gas-powered 2011 Chevy Volt, generated a buzz in Pittsburgh last week at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show.  

It also made a pit stop on campus at Carnegie Mellon University, which received $70,000 from the General Motor Foundation for education initiatives. GM and CMU have been partners for more than 10 years on autonomous driving research, having collaborated on the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge which was won by a driverless Chevy Tahoe.

For supporters of CMU's ChargeCar initiative, the project that will make all-electric-all-the-time cars available to the region this year, the Volt failed to impress. While the car offers a sustainable electric option, the price point is not exactly geared for college students. Undeniably sporty and loaded with options, the Volt's lithium-ion battery plugs into a 120-volt outlet and--after a 10-hour charge--is ready to go 30 to 50 gas free miles at a reported electric cost of $1.50 a charge. For longer trips the Volt switches over to extended range mode and a gas-powered, 1.4 liter, 84-horsepower engine. With the federal tax rebate, it is selling for about  $33,500.

"It's great because of the flexibility. You get what you pay for," notes Illah Nourbakhsh, director of CREATE Lab and the ChargeCar initiative. "They're doing a great job of engineering a car from the top down. We have a different philosophy, engineering a car from the bottom up."

Nourbakhsh is focused on the future of an all-electric option for commuters and local driving. ChargeCar recently opened a recharge station on campus, Electric Garage,  where campus ChargeCar commuters can plug in and recharge. The Electric Garage, located at the old Exxon gas station on Panther Hollow, will have four to six charging stations. The garage was made possible through funding from the Heinz Endowments and CMU alumni Donna Auguste.

ChargeCar also plans to take its first orders in March through several Pittsburgh mechanic shops. With the purchase of conversions packages in bulk, Nourbakhsh hopes to bring down the price of the electric car conversions to below $18,000, which is about the price of a single conversion.

Article courtesy of Pop City

Monday, February 7, 2011

Astrobotic Signs Contract for SpaceX To Launch Robot to Moon

Astrobotic Technology Inc., the Carnegie Mellon University spin-off headed by William "Red" Whittaker, has signed a contract with SpaceX to launch Astrobotic's exploration robot to the Moon atop one of the company's Falcon 9 boosters. The mission could launch as soon as December 2013.

SpaceX, headed by CEO Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal, is developing a family of launch vehicles and spacecraft for boosting commercial satellites into orbit and carrying cargo to and from the International Space Station. Popular Science last year named the Falcon 9 the winner of a Best of What's New Award in Aviation & Space, calling it "The First Astronaut-Worthy Private Rocket In Orbit."

The Falcon 9 will enable Astrobotic to deliver 240 pounds of payload to the moon, in addition to the robot. The company plans to sell that extra payload capacity to space agencies and corporate marketers to help pay for the mission. The company also anticipates receiving up to $24 million by winning the Google Lunar X Prize and $2 million from the state of Florida as a launch bonus. Last year, NASA awarded Astrobotic a $10 million contract through its Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program for data to be gathered before and during the expedition.

"The mission is the first of a serial campaign," said Whittaker, Astrobotic chairman, founder of the Robotics Institute's Field Robotics Center, and research professor of robotics. "Astrobotic's missions will pursue new resources, deliver rich experiences, serve new customers and open new markets. Spurred further by incentives, contracts, and the Google Lunar X Prize, this is a perfect storm for new exploration."

Astrobotic is now the only team competing for the Google Lunar X Prize that has a contract for a launch vehicle in hand, said David Gump, Astrobotic president. But he emphasized that the X Prize competition is only one of the company's goals. The company is planning multiple missions as it seeks to carve out a commercial niche delivering scientific payloads to the Moon, gathering and selling lunar data to agencies and companies and performing contracted scientific and engineering experiments.

"The moon has economic and scientific treasures that went undiscovered during the Apollo era, and our robot explorers will spearhead this new lunar frontier," Gump said.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle is powered by a cluster of nine SpaceX-designed and -developed Merlin engines. Using ultra pure jet fuel and liquid oxygen, the engines generate nearly a million pounds of thrust.

In the first mission, the Falcon 9 upper stage will sling Astrobotic's payload on a four-day cruise to the Moon. After orbiting the Moon to align itself, the spacecraft will land softly, precisely and safely using technologies pioneered by Carnegie Mellon for guiding autonomous cars. The four-wheeled rover will beam high-definition video back to Earth. Its exploration mission likely will continue for three months, with the solar-powered robot operating continuously during the lunar days and hibernating through the lunar nights.  The lander will sustain payload operations with generous power and communications.

In addition to Carnegie Mellon, where several prototypes have been built and tested, the mission is supported by industrial partners such as International Rectifier Corporation and corporate sponsors such as Caterpillar Inc. and ANSYS Inc.

For more information, visit the Astrobotic website,

Article courtesy of

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chicks dig me for $500? Jeopardy! titans take on IBM computer (with an assist from CMU)

In the Nineties, chess mastermind Garry Kasparov challenged a computer named Deep Blue to a game of chess, proving that despite its super human speed, the computer was no match for human intellect on the chessboard.

The computer is gaining on us. Next week a televised challenge raises the bar on artificial intelligence when an IBM computer named Watson, developed jointly by IBM and Carnegie Mellon University, goes up against two former champions on NBC's Jeopardy!, the long-running quiz show that requires quick-thinking questions to answers.

Brace yourself. Watson responds (verbally) so quickly he has already kicked butt in the practice rounds.

"The idea that a person could ask a computer a question in standard English and get a specific, accurate and authoritative answer has fired imaginations since the beginning of the computer age," says Eric Nyberg, a professor in CMU's Language Technologies Institute. 

IBM and CMU have been collaborators since 2007 in the development of a system called "Open Advancement of Question Answering (OAQA)," a sort of "plug and play" architecture that allows various components to be combined or substituted as needed. It's sort of like picking an all-star team, mixing and matching the best players to improve overall performance, explains Nyberg.

The man vs. machine Jeopardy! challenge brings former champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter to the stage with Watson. The program will air Feb. 14, 15 and 16 at 7 p.m.

In addition, PBS's NOVA tonight, Feb. 9, on WQED at 10 p.m. will highlight the story of the Watson-Jeopardy challenge. The show will feature interviews about artificial intelligence with CMU faculty including Tom Mitchell, Alex Waibel and Luis von Ahn.

Article courtesy of Pop City

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Carnegie Mellon Qatar start-up inks deal with Fuego Digital Media

Youssef Francis, Edmond Abi-Saleh, and Ossama Obeid are setting out to change mobile device application development in the Middle East. The three Carnegie Mellon Qatar undergraduates founded Dune Apps with the goal of developing apps for people in the region. “Mobile phone and mobile device usage is huge in the Gulf, yet few if any apps are developed here or are designed specifically for this region,” says Abi-Saleh, junior business administration major and Dune CFO. “We saw a market niche and decided to go for it.”

Dune has inked a deal with Fuego Digital Media that the three co-founders hope will transform the start-up into the first mobile phone application development powerhouse in Qatar. From there, they hope to spark interest in other young people to create a culture of innovation that will transform Qatar into the regional leader in app development. “Their timing is perfect,” says Kevin Higgins, CEO of Fuego. “Mobile apps are a huge part of what is coming. Fuego is building web-based systems for various public and private enterprises, and we already have clients approaching us for solutions.”

Under Fuego’s guidance, Dune plans to develop both platform and enterprise apps. The agreement will provide Dune with office space, equipment, and guidance in all aspects of business. Francis, Abi-Saleh, and Obeid will have mentors and be introduced to writing commercial grade software. Dune Apps will function as a division of Fuego with the goal of spinning off as an independent enterprise at the end of an18- to 36-month incubation period.

Article courtesy of
The Tech Transfer Blog

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Crowd workers are not online Shakespeares, but Carnegie Mellon research shows they can write

Writing can be a solitary, intellectual pursuit, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have shown that the task of writing an informational article also can be accomplished by dozens of people working independently online.

Each person in the CMU experiments completed just a sliver of the work of preparing an article, such as preparing an outline, gathering facts or assembling facts into simple prose. The "authors" never even spoke with each other. But the research team led by Aniket Kittur, assistant professor in CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII), found that the crowdsourced articles compared favorably with articles written by a single author and with Simple English Wikipedia entries.

"This is exciting because collaborative crowdsourcing could change the future of work," Kittur said. "We foresee a day when it will be possible to tap into hundreds of thousands or millions of workers around the globe to accomplish creative work on an unprecedented scale."

Kittur, along with Robert Kraut, professor of human-computer interaction, and Boris Smus, a student in HCII's joint master's degree program with the University of Madeira, have created a framework called CrowdForge that breaks down complex tasks into simple, independent micro-tasks that can be completed rapidly and cheaply. Their technical paper is available online at

Jim Giles and MacGregor Campbell, San Francisco-based science journalists, have created a blog,, that will explore the use of CrowdForge for preparing science news articles based on research reports.

Crowdsourcing has become a powerful mechanism for accomplishing work online. Millions of volunteers have performed tasks such as cataloging Martian landforms ( and translating text into machine-readable form (

In the Carnegie Mellon experiments, crowdsourced work was performed through Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk), an online marketplace for work. Employers can post simple, self-contained tasks on MTurk that workers, or "turkers," complete in return for a small fee, usually a few cents. Typical tasks include identifying objects in photos, writing product descriptions and transcribing audio recordings.

"But much of the work required by real-world organizations requires more time, cognitive effort and coordination among co-workers than is typical of these crowdsourcing efforts," Kittur said. Most turkers, for instance, refuse long, complex tasks because they are paid so little in return.

To accomplish these complex tasks, the CMU researchers approached the crowdsourcing market as if it was a distributed computing system, like the large computer systems used for Web searches. In a distributed computing system, computations are divided up in such a way that smaller chunks can be solved simultaneously by large numbers of processors and failures by individual processors won't undermine the entire process. Google, for instance, uses a framework called MapReduce in which queries are divided, or mapped, into sub-problems that can be solved simultaneously by numerous computers. The results of the computations then are combined, or reduced, to answer the query.

The framework developed by the CMU researchers, called CrowdForge, likewise divides up complex tasks so that many individuals can complete parts of the overall task and then provides a means for coordinating, combining and evaluating their work.

To prepare a brief encyclopedia article, for instance, CrowdForge would assign several people the task of writing an outline; as a quality control measure, a second set of workers might be tasked with voting for the best outline, or combining the best parts of each outline into a master outline. Subsequent sub-tasks might include collecting one fact for a topic in the outline. Finally, a worker might be given the task of taking several of the facts collected for a topic and turning them into a paragraph, or combining several paragraphs in proper order for an article.

In preparing five such articles on New York City, this method required an average of 36 sub-tasks for each article, at an average cost of $3.26. The articles averaged 658 words. The researchers then paid eight individuals $3.05 each to produce short articles on the same subjects; the average length was 393 words. When 15 people compared the articles, they rated the group-written articles of higher quality than those produced by individuals and about the same as a Wikipedia entry on the topic. The variability — the range from the best to the worst article — was lower for the crowdsourced articles.

"We were surprised at how well CrowdForge worked," Kittur said. "Admittedly, none of these articles is going to win any awards. But the ratings weren't bad considering that the work of dozens of people had to be coordinated to produce these pieces."

Kittur said the significance of CrowdForge is that it shows crowdsourcing of creative work is feasible, not that it can drive down the cost of articles. "We used MTurk as a source of workers," he noted, "but other users might tap into writers and researchers within an organization or into an existing network of freelancers."


This work was supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation. More information is available on the CrowdForge project page,

The Human-Computer Interaction Institute is part of Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science. Follow SCS on Twitter @SCSatCMU.

Article courtesy of

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Re2 doubles in size to 42, hiring 16 more; Pipitone adds six

Two Pittsburgh companies are upsizing: Robotics company Re2 is expanding its Lawrenceville operation and has doubled in size since 2009; Pipitone Group on the North Side has added six marketing professionals bringing its staff to 30-plus.

A leading maker of mobile, modular manipulations systems for the defense industry, Re2's business got a boost from a deal to provide its Small Robot Toolkit to Northrop Grumman Corp. subsidiary Romtec Inc., technology that assists in dismantling improvised explosive devices (IEDs). 

DARPA has also selected Re2 to develop a dual-arm robot and software simulation tool for its Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM) program's Outreach Track, a program through which DARPA shares research information with other scientists.

Ongoing projects such as these are driving company growth, reports Jorgen Pedersen, president and CEO.  Re2 doubled in size to 40 employees in the last year and plans to hire an additional 16 people by March, engineers for both entry level and senior positions. Re2 has also expanded its space to 17,000 square feet and has added a 10,000 square-foot parking facility in Lawrenceville.

"We've been focused on mobile intelligence manipulation almost exclusively for the past half decade and no company is focused on just that," says Pedersen. "It's a very hot topic in the military now. We're definitely a leader in this area."

After a year of belt-tightening in 2009, Pipitone Group has added six new employees to its team of 30-plus, says Scott Pipitone. Retaining customers, winning new ones and capitalizing on new business is driving the firm forward.

"We've had a good stable of customers who are in it for the long term," says Pipitone. "Our niche is around smaller channel marketing companies. We're not going off and hunting for the big elephant; we have some nice-sized deer and antelope in our sights."

Pipitone has room to grow on the North Side with 12,000 square-feet of space, he adds.

Article courtesy of Pop City

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

UPMC grant program funds 5 health IT projects

UPMC's new Technology Development Center in Pittsburgh has awarded grants worth $550,000 to five health IT research projects at academic partner Carnegie Mellon University. The projects range from developing software for end-stage heart failure patients to improving simulation systems for cerebral aneurysms.

The grant is part of UPMC Healthcare Technology Innovation Grant program (HTI Grants) to advance new areas of research in healthcare information technology. The program, which has been underway since Sept. 2010, 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.

Official say the $1 million initiative has already attracted more than 25 proposals from cross-disciplinary research teams at CMU.

[Read about some other projects going on at UPMC: UPMC to market its ‘smart’ hospital rooms.]

"These unrestricted grants will support ground-breaking areas of research that are critical for turning a wealth of healthcare information into true knowledge that  improves the care of  patients," said Rebecca Kaul, president of the TDC.
The five funded projects and their principal investigators are:

  • Development of software for improving management of end-stage heart failure patients – James Antaki, Ph.D, professor of biomedical engineering, and Antonio Ferreira, Ph.D, assistant professor of biomedical engineering
  • Creation of a digital system for identifying poisonous plants – Marios Savvides, Ph.D, director of the CyLab Biometrics Lab, and Cynthia Morton, Ph.D, head of the botany section of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
  • Improvement of a simulation system that will help researchers better understand the pathology of cerebral aneurysms – Kenji Shimada, Ph.D, professor of engineering, and  Jessica Zhang, Ph.D, assistant professor of mechanical engineering
  • Application of novel pattern detection methods to real-time healthcare data streams to provide diagnostic and business intelligence – Daniel B. Neill, Ph.D, assistant professor of information systems, Artur Dubrawski, Ph.D, co-director of the Auton Lab in the School of Computer Science, Rema Padman, Ph.D, professor of management science and healthcare informatics, and Jeff Schneider, Ph.D, co-director of the Auton Lab
  • Development of visual data analysis tools for improving diabetes care – Padman and Daniel Neill, Ph.D, assistant professor of information systems

"We thank UPMC for these generous grants, which will allow our faculty to use their technical expertise to help develop solutions for important healthcare problems," said CMU vice president for research Rick McCullough. "Carnegie Mellon has played a leading role in many areas of medical technology, and we look forward to working with the TDC on these projects, which have the potential to both improve patient care and spur economic growth."

Article courtesy of Healthcare IT News

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Loss of privacy highlights cost, CMU professor says

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg declared privacy dead and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange trampled the corpse, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University believe privacy of personal information remains a key concern in the digital age.

"When you lose it, you realize the cost of it," said Alessandro Acquisti, a Carnegie Mellon professor of information systems and public policy who extensively researched data privacy.

Acquisti moderated a panel discussion among digital privacy researchers at the school's Oakland campus Wednesday as a prelude to the fourth International Data Privacy Day, an event the digital community in the United States, Canada and 27 other countries will mark Friday.

"There are two converging trends people need to consider. First, there is more and more self-disclosure online, where we give away little pieces of data, and the other side of that is the ability of data mining to scour those pieces to build a complete profile of your life," Acquisti said. "It's difficult for us as users to predict how those different pieces of data will be used by others."

Carnegie Mellon professor Steve Fienberg, who recently launched The Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality, learned how tough it can be to set things right when data miners create a flawed picture.

He was trying to purchase an international travel plan for his iPhone when an operator asked questions, including whether he had ever lived in several Ohio cities. When he answered no, the operator balked at continuing the transaction. Apparently, someone else's data had been linked with his profile, he said. He was forced to ask a supervisor to intervene.

Fienberg pointed to as an example of a service that aggregates data and contact information about individuals and makes it available on the Internet. It is one of many data mining operations that build extensive portraits of people based on information gathered from various sources.

"Don't think this is a trivial matter," Fienberg warned. "The government is buying those data from data warehouses and using it in the war on terror. It really is a big issue with the government. They need to provide mechanisms to ensure data is accurate."

Acquisti said such issues raise questions, such as "What can we do about websites that share information about you that is incorrect?"

The answer, he and others say, might be to increase public awareness of the nature of digital data and help people fine-tune where and to whom they release information when using computers.

Researchers in Carnegie Mellon's Mobile Commerce Lab said that's what they attempted to do with Locaccino, a free smartphone application they developed two years ago.

The application enables users to preserve their privacy while allowing friends, family members or co-workers to track their locations. The application allows users to select whom they'll include in their groups and which members of the groups can access their locations at specific hours of the day.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Monday, January 24, 2011

CMU fellow's online tool prods songwriters short on inspiration

The next time a stumped songwriter has a hot riff and no lyrics, a Carnegie Mellon University researcher and moonlighting musician hopes the confused composer will turn to the Internet for inspiration.

Burr Settles' online tool, The Muse, randomly suggests song plot lines ("Write a song in the second person in which the main character is addressing the listener ... ) and structures (verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus). But it can even suggest lyrics and song titles -- features that grew directly out of his day job.

Settles, 32, is a postdoctoral fellow in CMU's Machine Learning Department, which develops programs and algorithms that enable computers to learn or think. His research involves developing computers that can "read" by programming them to recognize how words relate to each other.

Settles, a pop guitarist and songwriter himself, fed the lyrics of nearly 140,000 songs into a computer and applied his research principles to create his website:

"I just realized that, some of the analytical tools that we use in natural language process in my research, you could sort of flip them inside-out to help write songs," Settles said.

His department's pet project is NELL, for Never-Ending Language Learning, a computer system that is teaching itself how to read by trolling through websites and tracking the way words are used.

For example, when a computer repeatedly sees "Pittsburgh" capitalized, it can be taught to recognize that it is likely a proper name. Seeing the word repeatedly next to "mayor" suggests "Pittsburgh" is a municipality -- as would countless other contextual clues the computer is programmed to notice.

Settles turned that research on its head to create The Muse's two key features: LyriCloud and Titular, which spit out suggestions based on patterns that his computer discerned from the lyrics and titles from songs by artists ranging from Beyonce to Van Halen.

If research is Settles' job, music is his passion. He's a singer, guitarist and songwriter with the Delicious Pastries, an "unapologetic pop band borrowing from the Beatles and Beach Boys with more of a contemporary delivery."

But like all songwriters -- Settles has written 150 to 200 tunes -- he encounters writer's block, which is why he developed LyriCloud and Titular.

Typing a word into LyriCloud produces a "cloud" of related words. "Love" produced 26 options ranging from "made," "forever," and "ooh" to less obvious connections including "incarceration" and "doo-doo-doo-doo" -- presumably, in case the writer has already used "yeah, yeah, yeah."

Titular is a random song title generator that churned out "I Shall Always Crush Your Warrior" and "The Altar of the Overdue Vendetta" in one recent test, along with "Airports Don't Bleed."

Settles acknowledges that some suggestions are nonsensical. But the website isn't meant to write songs -- it aims to inspire the writer, and the head of one songwriters group thinks it's a great idea, if not exactly new.

"I think it's really cool that technology can get into the songwriter's head after a while," said Barton Herbison, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International. His organization, which has 140 chapters -- including one in the Pittsburgh area -- provides songwriting instruction and feedback, both from professional reviewers and other members who meet monthly to play their new songs for one another.

There are other programs, Herbison said, with rhyming dictionaries that can detect a writer's word patterns and even suggest lines of lyrics.

"I'm not aware of any hit song in any genre that's ever been written this way, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. Songwriting has changed like society has changed," Herbison said.

Settles is more concerned about jump-starting creativity and keeping things fun.

That appeals to songwriter Ron "Hookstown" Brown, 53, a jeweler from Heidelberg who helps coordinate the Pittsburgh chapter of the songwriters association.

Asked to try Settles' program, Brown fell in love with it.

"He's absolutely right. When you're short of inspiration, if you get something like this feeding you ideas, it gives you a jumping-off point," Brown said. "Writer's block is kind of your creativity going into a 'reset' mode. This gets it moving again."

Article courtesy of
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Thursday, January 20, 2011

CMU Research Finds Regional Dialects Are Alive and Well on Twitter

Microbloggers may think they're interacting in one big Twitterverse, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science find that regional slang and dialects are as evident in tweets as they are in everyday conversations.

Postings on Twitter reflect some well-known regionalisms, such as Southerners' "y'all," and Pittsburghers' "yinz," and the usual regional divides in references to soda, pop and Coke. But Jacob Eisenstein, a post-doctoral fellow in CMU's Machine Learning Department, said the automated method he and his colleagues have developed for analyzing Twitter word use shows that regional dialects appear to be evolving within social media.

In northern California, something that's cool is "koo" in tweets, while in southern California, it's "coo." In many cities, something is "sumthin," but tweets in New York City favor "suttin." While many of us might complain in tweets of being "very" tired, people in northern California tend to be "hella" tired, New Yorkers "deadass" tired and Angelenos are simply tired "af."

The "af" is an acronym that, like many others on Twitter, stands for a vulgarity. LOL is a commonly used acronym for "laughing out loud," but Twitterers in Washington, D.C., seem to have an affinity for the cruder LLS.

Eisenstein said some of this usage clearly is shaped by the 140-character limit of Twitter messages, but geography's influence also is apparent. The statistical model the CMU team used to recognize regional variation in word use and topics could predict the location of a microblogger in the continental United States with a median error of about 300 miles.

Eisenstein will present the study on Jan. 8 at the Linguistic Society of America annual meeting in Pittsburgh.

Studies of regional dialects traditionally have been based primarily on oral interviews, Eisenstein said, noting that written communication often is less reflective of regional influences because writing, even in blogs, tends to be formal and thus homogenized. But Twitter offers a new way of studying regional lexicon, he explained, because tweets are informal and conversational. Furthermore, people who tweet using mobile phones have the option of geotagging their messages with GPS coordinates.

For this study, Eisenstein and his co-authors — Eric P. Xing, associate professor of machine learning, Noah A. Smith, assistant professor in the Language Technologies Institute (LTI), and Brendan O'Connor, machine learning graduate student — collected a week's worth of Twitter messages in March 2010, and selected geotagged messages from Twitter users who wrote at least 20 messages. That yielded a data base of 9,500 users and 380,000 messages.

Though the researchers could pinpoint the users' locations using the geotags, they can only guess as to their profiles. Eisenstein said it's reasonable to assume that people sending lots of tweets from mobile phones are younger than the average Twitter user and the topics discussed by these users seem to reflect that.

Automated analysis of Twitter message streams offers linguists an opportunity to watch regional dialects evolve in real time. "It will be interesting to see what happens. Will 'suttin' remain a word we see primarily in New York City, or will it spread?" Eisenstein asked.

It might be a mistake to assume that the greater interconnectivity afforded by computer networks and sites such as Twitter will necessarily result in more homogeneity in language. The social circles maintained by social networks such as Twitter often are geographically focused, he noted. Also, many people use the Internet to seek out like-minded people with similar interests, rather than expose themselves to a broader range of ideas and experiences.

The research was supported, in part, by funding from Google, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Article courtesy of International and Cross-cultural Perspectives

Friday, January 21, 2011

A 'leaning' edge idea

Zoom in on a fourth-floor office in Carnegie Mellon's Newell Simon Hall. A tech entrepreneur reads a spreadsheet on his laptop. Wait. Is that number in cell E5 correct?

As he leans forward to get a closer look, the image magnifies and zooms in -- suddenly, the cell fills the screen.

Making this possible is a recently premiered technology called Lean & Zoom, a software download that uses the cameras found in most laptops to automatically magnify the screen when the user leans in for a closer look. Lean & Zoom LLC, the Carnegie Mellon spinoff company behind the technology, recently premiered the technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

New applications for the simple concept were imagined by industry reps at the convention: Had the creators considered moving the technology to mobile devices? Could it help with in-car navigation? And what about advertising displays that could follow the shopper's gaze?

Zoom out for a second: The excitement that Lean & Zoom created at the trade show tapped into a growing interest in computing-by-movement. This form of artificial intelligence interprets movement the way a desktop registers a mouse click. Game systems like the Microsoft Kinect, which recently exceeded estimates and sold more than 8 million units over the holidays, can read a user's dance moves and compare them with the dancing avatars on screen.

The Lean & Zoom software, created by CMU grad student Chris Harrison, tracks how close your nose gets to the screen.

Mr. Harrison began development of Lean & Zoom when he came to CMU about 31/2 years ago to begin the computer science doctoral program. His previous big success was the Skinput, a technology that projected buttons on human skin so that pressing buttons on your forearm was like pressing buttons on a television remote.

Around that time, most laptops had started to come automatically equipped with built-in cameras. They were typically used for telecommunication services like Skype, but Mr. Harrison saw a different potential use: a "remarkably sophisticated sensor" capable of "Superman-like magnification," he said.

He first envisioned the technology as software's answer to the schoolmarm: a chance to correct your slouching by watching the screen adjust as you hunched over.

To first establish where the user normally sits, the Lean & Zoom software takes a photo of the user sitting at a comfortable distance. It then uses that photo as an origin point to see how much closer or farther away the face is from the screen.

As you look in for closer detail, the screen magnifies; as you back out, the screen adjusts back to the normal display. If you lean backwards, the screen display stays at the normal dimensions.

To develop the technology that tracked user movement, the team worked with Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition, a Strip District face-tracking firm that had never been involved with a project that used the computer camera to identify distance, said Michael Sipe, vice president of product development.

"It's changing the basic interactions that you would do with a remote control or mouse and keyboard," said Mr. Sipe. "People are thinking there may be more natural ways."

Movement-based computing is still playing catch-up with human intuition, said Mr. Harrison. Humans know not to shout when talking to a person 6 inches away, but computers and artificial intelligence are just beginning to interpret distance and how it affects a display, he said.

The sensitivity of Lean & Zoom software can be configured so that the slightest shift doesn't cause the screen to go crazy like a kaleidoscope. And any screen display -- be it a vacation photo, spreadsheet or YouTube video -- works with the technology.

The software is available for download on the company website,, and costs $27.99. So far, hundreds of downloads have been sold, said Curt Stone, an executive-in-residence at the Carnegie Mellon Quality of Life Technology Center who has become the company's chief executive.

Lean & Zoom became a registered company last fall after entering the center's startup-incubation program.

Mr. Stone helped secure a partnership with KDDI Corp., a Tokyo-based telecommunications firm he called "the AT&T of Japan" that has funded most of the research. A smart phone application of the technology will premiere on Google Android phones in Japan later this year, but the company has started courting angel investors willing to fund a company expansion.

The company now has five part-time workers but expects to assemble a work force of nine full-time employees by the end of the year, said Mr. Stone. The Lean & Zoom team is building a prototype that uses the technology through Google Maps, so leaning in would automatically zoom into the map and display the image in closer detail.

Everyone has an idea on uses for the technology: Mr. Sipe and his team thought the technology could be applied to assembly drawings or blueprints that rotate as your head turns to look at other sides or angles.

The intuitive nature of leaning in for a zoomed image could be applied across many devices, said Mr. Harrison.

Imagine a computer screen on your refrigerator door, he said. When you're standing across the room, the display could read, "You Have Two E-mails" in large type. But as you move closer, the information might grow more detailed until finally the text of the message is displayed.

And even though Mr. Harrison has moved onto other projects and is now conducting research for Microsoft in Seattle, he said he carried with him a side effect of all that Lean & Zoom research.

"My posture's pretty terrible as a computer scientist," he said. "It comes with the job, but I have gotten into some better habits."

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fruit Flies' Neural Networks Solve Distributed Computing Problem Better Than Humans

The burgeoning neural networks of fruit fly pupae solve a distributed computing problem, arranging sensory bristles in a very efficient, effective manner. Scientists who monitored the bristles‘ growth say they can mimic the flies’ method to build more effective communications networks.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen an insect solve a problem that plagues computer scientists — bees can do it, too — but the fruit fly discovery does one better, leading to an algorithm that can be used to develop more efficient computer and wireless networks.

Distributed computing involves several processors working in concert to solve a problem. Some are chosen as leaders, collecting data from the other processors and passing it along. Organizing these networks into efficient processor-leader groups is one of the biggest challenges in computing — but millions of cells in a fly’s nervous system do it automatically, organizing themselves so that a small number of cells serve as leaders. It is much better than anything humans have come up with, scientists say: “It is such a simple and intuitive solution, I can’t believe we did not think of this 25 years ago,” according to co-author Noga Alon, a mathematician and computer scientist at Tel Aviv University and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Fruit fly bristles, which are used for feeling and hearing, develop as nerve cells self-select to become leaders. The cells send chemical signals to their neighboring cells, ensuring that those cells cannot become leaders, too. Using fluorescence microscopy, the researchers watched an entire network form in about three hours.

They developed an algorithm based on the cells’ self-selection approach, and say it’s particularly effective for adaptive networks where the number and position of each node is not certain, according to Carnegie Mellon University. That could include environmental monitoring sensors, robot swarms and more.

The research is published today in the journal Science.

Article courtesy of Popular Science

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It heals and grows together: Polymer with amazing self-healing properties

Krzysztof Matyjaszewski and his co-workers at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, USA) and Kyushu University (Japan) have now developed a polymer that can repair itself when irradiated with UV light -- over and over again. As the scientists report in the journal , this is the first material in which capped covalent bonds repeatedly reattach, even allowing fully separated pieces to be fused back together.

Some previous solid self-healing materials contain tiny capsules that tear open to release a chemical agent when the material is damaged and have been able to repair themselves only one time. Other materials, including some gels, can repair themselves repeatedly but lack the covalent bonds that increase materials strength and stability.

In contrast, the new polymeric material produced by the American and Japanese team is stable and repairs itself again and again. The secret to their success is that the polymer is cross-linked through trithiocarbonate units. These are carbon atoms bonded to three sulfur atoms, two of which use their second bonding position to attach to another carbon atom. These groups have a special property: they can restructure under UV light. The light breaks one carbon–sulfur bond in the trithiocarbonate groups. This produces two radicals -- molecules with a free, unpaired electron. The radicals are very reactive and attack other trithiocarbonate groups to form new carbon–sulfur bonds while breaking others to form more free radicals. The chain reaction stops when two radicals react with each other.

The researchers were able to heal cut polymer fragments with irradiation—either immersed in liquid or in bulk. They only had to firmly press the cut edges together and irradiate them. The edges grew back together by means of the radical re-organization process described above.

The self-healing effect goes much further: even shredded polymer samples could simply be pressed together and irradiated to be fused into a continuous piece. The resulting object was in the shape of the cylindrical tube in which the procedure was carried out. This self-healing process can be carried out repeatedly on the same sample. The material is thus also interesting as a new recyclable product.

Article courtesy of

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Autodesk buys ETC spinout Wild Pockets

Autodesk, the 3D computer-aided design company, has bought Wild Pockets, formerly Sim Ops Studio, the 3D game platform and spinout of Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center. 

Wild Pockets founder and CEO Shanna Tellerman declined to comment on the sale at this time, but her  LinkedIn profile lists her job as Product Manager at Autodesk. Several sources confirmed the sale and speculated that Autodesk will maintain the Wild Pockets office in Pittsburgh, which will give the company a presence in Pittsburgh.

Tellerman started  Sim Ops in 2008 with a virtual training tool that helped workers in high-risk occupations. The company later changed its name to Wild Pockets, based on the 3D game development platform that was one of the earliest 3D platforms on the Web 2.0 scene. Wild Pockets is a free web-based game engine that allows anyone to create and share 3D games and media.

The company has an office in San Francisco in addition to its digs on the South Side. Wild Pockets also sponsors the popular Wild Pockets PA Game Jam, which attracts game creators to Pittsburgh from across the country.

Autodesk, based in San Rafael, Calif., makes the gaming tools 3ds Max, Inventor and Maya.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Carnegie Learning Drives Significant Math Achievement Increase in Kentucky School Districts

A review of the 2010 Kentucky Transition Math Index, an annual report providing trend data for school-level performance in the state, indicates that eight Kentucky districts implementing Carnegie Learning® Math curricula in 2009 moved up in math percentile rankings at both the high school and middle school levels.

Owsley County in rural eastern Kentucky improved a remarkable 70 points in high school math and 42 points in middle school rank. Schools in Owsley, Ohio, and Union County districts demonstrated Adequate Yearly Progress for the first time since the institution of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Each of these districts implemented Carnegie Learning® Math textbooks and Cognitive Tutor® software in all middle schools and high schools. The districts implemented the curricula with fidelity and with the recommended professional development support.

The five other districts showing improved math performance using Carnegie Learning are Carroll County, Corbin Independent, Harlan Independent, Henry County, and Knox County.

“Math achievement data from these districts indicate that Carnegie Learning® Math curricula are associated with positive overall school district improvement, a reduction in the number of students identified as Novice Performers, and improved achievement in both low- performing and high-performing schools and with a wide range of student groups, including gifted and students in poverty,” said Josh Powell, superintendent of the Union County Public Schools. “When implemented with fidelity, the ability to differentiate instruction with a blended textbook and software approach is a tremendous complement to instruction, and the results are impressive.”

In Kentucky, performance in subject areas is scored using an index scale from 0-140, with the goal of achieving a score of 100 or above. Consistent with math tests and index scores used for NCLB assessment, a score of 100 or above represents proficiency. The Kentucky state average 2010 index improvement in High School Math was 1 index point. In comparison, the average index score gain for the eight districts implementing Carnegie Learning® Math programs was 9 index points, representing a 22% improvement. Kentucky’s average 2010 index improvement in Middle School Math was 2 index points, compared to an average index score gain of 7 points for the eight districts implementing Carnegie Learning.

“A significant reason for the success of Carnegie Learning in Owsley County is that our students enjoy learning because the math feels relevant,” said Jennifer Carroll, director of curriculum and instruction at Owsley County Schools. “Real world examples, self-paced software, and individualized sequencing and scaffolding make the math understandable and students see their progress daily. Teachers find that the program allows for flexible scheduling and the double-blocking of students who have specific learning needs to provide additional instruction easily. From my perspective as an administrator, I am excited to find such close alignment to the new Common Core Standards.”

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Wire

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'Facebook neurons' could shed light on brain's centre of higher learning

Scientists have discovered that the brain's neocortex contains a complex network of highly active neurons called 'Facebook' neurons.

These networks have a small population of highly active members who give and receive more information than the majority of other members.

Alison Barth, associate professor of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon and a member of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC) believes that the find could shed light on the neocortex, which is thought to be the brain's center of higher learning.

A mouse model links green fluorescent protein (GFP) with the activity-dependent gene fos, causing the neuron to light up when it is activated.

The researchers took recordings from both fos-labeled and unlabeled neurons and found that the most active neurons were expressing the fos gene.

After isolating the active neurons, the researchers to begin to understand the mechanisms underlying the increased activity.

Barth and colleagues were able to see that the fos-expressing neurons weren't more active because they were intrinsically more excitable; in fact, the neurons seemed to be calmer or more suppressed than their neighboring, inactive neurons.

Barth concluded the similarity to a social network. There is a small, but significant, population of neurons that are more connected than other neurons.

"It's like Facebook. Most of your friends don't post much - if at all. But, there is a small percentage of your friends on Facebook who update their status and page often. Those people are more likely to be connected to more friends, so while they're sharing more information, they're also receiving more information from their expanded network, which includes other more active participants," Barth said.

The Carnegie Mellon researchers plan to study these neurons to see if these neurons play a role in learning.

The study has been published in the journal Neuron. (ANI)

Article courtesy of sify news

Monday, January 10, 2011

RNA Game Lets Players Help Find a Biological Prize

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University are attempting to harness the wisdom of crowds with the creation of an online video game that challenges players to design new ways to fold RNA molecules.

The scientists hope to uncover fundamental principles underlying one of life’s building blocks, and they believe that the free game will also serve as a training ground for a cadre of citizen-experts who will help generate a new storehouse of biological knowledge. The process may also aid researchers in building more powerful automated algorithms for biological discovery.

The game, EteRNA, is accessible at It allows non-biologists to design complex new ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules, as well as to receive quick feedback on the biological function of their designs.

In a way, EteRNA is a successor to Foldit, a popular Internet-based video game that proved that the pattern matching skills of amateurs could outperform some of the best protein-folding algorithms designed by scientists.

Designed by some of the same researchers as Foldit, EteRNA is similar in that it is basically a two-dimensional puzzle-solving exercise performed in this case with the four bases — adenine, guanine, uracil and cytosine — that make up RNA molecules. Players can design elaborate structures including knots, lattices and switches. Unlike earlier efforts at crowd-sourced science, EteRNA will cross over from simulation to biology. Each week the best designs created by game players and chosen by the gaming community will be synthesized at Stanford, according to the scientists.

Synthesizing the designs created by game players will make it possible for researchers to see if their models fold correctly, yielding predicted shapes that are biologically active. Beyond better biological understanding, the scientists believe they will be able to employ new RNA molecules as a basic toolkit to help explore new avenues in nanoengineering.

“The dream is that within a year or so we will be able to create RNA that is functional and that we can transcribe into cells to do things such as sense light or even deactivate a virus,” said Rhiju Das, a physicist who teaches in the Stanford biochemistry department and who is one of the designers of the game.

During the last half decade there has been a rapidly growing interest in the role of RNA as a messenger and a regulator of cell functions. But there is still a tremendous amount that biologists have yet to learn about its purpose. And it is possible that RNA could be used to build a powerful biological computer, Dr. Das said.

EteRNA is the joint effort of a group of scientists led by Dr. Das, and Adrien Treuille, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon. They met as postgraduate researchers at the University of Washington, where they were part of the team that created Foldit.

The new game may be more user-friendly in some ways. “I do think EteRNA will be easier to play,” said Jeehyung Lee, a computer science graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, who led the programming effort to design the game.

But mastering the molecule construction kit requires players working individually and in groups to become adept in some aspects of biochemistry. “We’re the leading edge in asking nonexperts to do really complicated things online,” said Dr. Treuille. “RNA are these beautiful molecules. They are very simple and they self-assemble into complex shapes. From the scientific side there is a RNA revolution going on. The complexity of life may be due to RNA signaling.”

The scientists hope to tap the Internet’s ability to harness what is described as “collective intelligence,” the collaborative potential of hundreds or thousands of human minds linked together. Using games to harvest participation from amateurs exploits a resource which the social scientist Clay Shirky recently described as the “cognitive surplus.” It was recently estimated by the software developer Rovio, for example, that its iPhone game Angry Birds consumes roughly 200 million minutes of human attention each day.

“This is like putting a molecular chess game in people’s hands at a massive level,” said Dr. Treuille. “I think of this as opening up science. I think we are democratizing science.”

Whether what the researchers describe as “social computation” will have a significant impact on scientific research has yet to be seen. Foldit, in which players competed to predict protein folding, attracted more than 50,000 participants. Significantly, not only were the humans able to outperform software protein algorithms, but the scientists determined that the human strategies developed in the course of the game were significantly more flexible and adaptable than the computer-only software programs they competed against.

Another effort, Galaxy Zoo, developed to help classify deep sky objects by a broad community of astronomers, has so far enlisted more than 250,000 people in an Internet system that employs the pattern recognition skills of Web surfers. The designers initially thought that it would take a year to classify the one million galaxy images collected by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. But within a day of the project’s start, eager users were classifying more than 70,000 objects an hour, and 50 million classifications were entered in the first year from almost 150,000 people.

The early experience with both Foldit and Galaxy Zoo is just a hint of the power inherent in digitally weaving together humans, Mr. Shirky said.

“We’re still in the world of special cases,” he said, “but there are bunches of places where people are being harnessed for their native cognitive abilities.”

For the moment, Dr. Treuille said the development of new forms of RNA would not pose safety issues because the components are being created in such small quantities and are isolated in test tubes. In the future, real ethical and legal questions may confront the game players.

“We want to modify little bits of cellular machinery that do real things,” he said. “There is the question of not just safety but also the question of who owns it.”

Article courtesy of NYTimes

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Technology Collaborative announces new companies, jobs and $1.2 M in early-stage awards

The Technology Collaborative (TTC) in Pittsburgh is off to a strong 2011 with 1.2 million in grants for 11 early-stage projects that show commercial promise, the formation of 10 new tech companies and the creation of 263 high-value jobs for the region.

The economic development organization, which moved last year to a smaller office on Technology Drive, supports the growth of world-class robotics, cyber-security and digital technologies industries in the region and across the state. The nonprofit receives funding from federal, state, foundations and member organizations.

While the outlook for TTC is bright, President and CEO David Ruppersberger cautions that the organization is largely dependent on state funding. "The signs are pretty positive. Hiring is picking up; we aren't seeing as much attrition. Even in the troubled economy, company formation and job creation results exceeded expectations for the year (which began July 1, 2010)."

In addition to the grants, jobs and new companies, TTC notes other highlights:

For the first time, TTC received a grant from the Small Business Administration to place an emphasis on making the region a preferred location for global robotics companies.

TTC's incubation facility in Oakland provided critical workspace for young companies including Bossa Nova, Bueda, Ciespace, SpiralGen, and Voci, formerly SiliconVox.

526 students at Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh and Penn State participated in the Collaborative System-On-Chip curriculum.

The Talent Recruiting program continued to source hard-to-find talent for TTC member companies as the employment situation stabilized in the latter part of 2010.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

OmniProx pushes for maximum impact in the sizzling digital content space

Proximity marketing on mobile phones is hot, hot, hot and Pittsburgh's OmniProx is stepping up with a unique approach.

The idea is to deliver information to mobile phones when and where it's needed, says Bob DiGioia, chief innovation officer of the Carnegie Mellon spinout. Say Panera has a surplus of bagels one day that it wants to unload. Panera sends a reward to mobile customers in the immediate vicinity, offering bagels at a discount, and customers flock into the store.

The idea is to send the messages through "Impact Zones," a virtual area that is identified when a mobile has been initialized to respond to a given location. "We're the only system that's a push technology," he adds. "As soon as you enter the zone, we push you the information that you can use here and now. You can look at it and act on it."

OmniProx was founded by three partners in addition to DiGioia: Robert Petrilli of WQED Multimedia and Ananada Gunawardena and Aaron Tan, both with ties to Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science. The group was previously working on delivering information through kiosk systems when mobile media apps began taking off.

Unlike other digital media apps, which often require users to log on for access, OmniProx users initialize their smartphone through a free download. This enables customers to receive information on deals when they're within a one mile radius of an Impact Zone. The data may include: general information, reward incentives or secure coupons with barcodes, to name a few. No more cutting out paper coupons, says DiGioia, simply flash your text to the business. 

The concept also puts decisions in the hands of businesses, adds DiGioia. A "smart sensor" will allows them to program messages for days when inventories are high. While still in development, OmniProx is working with the Monroeville Chamber of Commerce on a regional zone for Monroeville for possible launch in August.

"Imagine what we can do with Kennywood and the Pittsbugh Zoo," he muses, "or Disney World!"

Article courtesy of Popcity

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Panopto Completes $4M Equity Offering

According to an SEC filing, Panopto, Inc. completed a $3.98 million equity offering.

The financing adds to the $1.69 million raised in April of 2010.

Panopto provides integrated audio, screen and video capture software for the corporate, education, government and healthcare markets. The company was founded in 2007 with technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University.

Panopto's flagship product is Panopto Focus, a video, audio and screen recorder that enables users to capture and broadcast presentations, city council meetings, lectures and live events.

Named in the filing were William L. Guttman, PhD, executive chairman of the board; Eric Burns, chief operating officer; William L. Scherlis, PhD, chief scientist; and directors Mark S. Kamlet, Provost and Executive Vice President of Carnegie Mellon University, currently serving as Acting Dean of the Tepper Business School; Lawrence Kinsella, chief financial officer of iCarnegie; and Jay L. Panzarella,an attorney with the Schnader law firm.

Dr. Guttman is Special Advisor to the Provost of Carnegie Mellon University, and Chairman of iCarnegie, Carnegie Mellon's for-profit education company. He previously co-founded Cylab, university-based research initiatives focused on dependability and security in software and networked systems. He is also a partner Philadelphia-based TL Ventures.

Dr. Scherlis is a professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). He is the founding director of CMU's PhD program in Software Engineering and director of CMU's Institute for Software Research (ISR) in the School of Computer Science. He chairs the National Research Council (NRC) study committee on defense software producibility and is a member of the NRC study committee on cyber security.

Burns was the co-inventor of the SlideCentric and Focus courseware projects at Carnegie Mellon University and oversaw the design, development and implementation of both systems. He went on to become a senior engineer at Microsoft Corp, spending two years helping to lead development of the Books and Academic search engines for Microsoft's Windows Live division.

Article courtesy of Citybiznews