Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, November 19, 2012

Carnegie Mellon Startup, Neon, Moves to Silicon Valley Campus

Neon, the Carnegie Mellon University startup that uses cognitive neuroscience to improve online video clicks, now has a footprint from coast to coast in the United States to further take advantage of opportunities to grow business and to work with students in Carnegie Mellon's Master of Entertainment Industry Management program in Los Angeles.

Neon announced a move to the university's campus in the Silicon Valley, a prominent area for the online video industry. Meanwhile, Michael J. Tarr, Neon co-founder and senior technical adviser, remains in Pittsburgh.

"We are excited to be the first startup from CMU's Pittsburgh campus to take the opportunity to move to Silicon Valley," said Sophie Lebrecht, Neon CEO and co-founder. "This move puts us where we can work face-to-face to build partnerships, collaborations and a strong customer base with video publishers and platforms. And, by having Michael in Pittsburgh, we will benefit from remaining strongly connected to its rich scientific community."     

Founded on research conducted in the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a joint program between CMU and the University of Pittsburgh, Neon is one of the first companies to use cognitive and brain science to increase audience engagement for online video publishers. Using research that shows how visual perception unconsciously affects preferences, the Neon team is developing a Web-based software service that automatically selects the most visually appealing frame from a stream of video to be used as the thumbnail. Thumbnails — the entry point for a Web user to interact with a video — are becoming more important to video publishers as the number of online videos continue to increase.

"In the recent past the majority of online video content was provided by individual users, but today television companies, movie studios and media sites are publishing videos and many of them are incorporating advertisements," Lebrecht said. "Our service will help make sure that our customers' videos are presented with a thumbnail that users want to click."

Initial results from an online pilot test show that a thumbnail chosen by Neon significantly increased clicks as compared to a thumbnail hand-selected by a Web designer. Against a randomly generated thumbnail, which is how the majority of online video platforms currently select thumbnails, Neon increased the clicks even more.

Tarr, the George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at CMU and co-director of the CNBC, commented that basic research in the cognitive and brain sciences has many innovative applications. "In Neon's case, a better understanding of the role of unconscious visual processing in choice behavior may have implications in both the educational and commercial domains," he said.

Neon's move to Silicon Valley also allows it to serve as a capstone project company for the CMU Master of Entertainment Industry Management (MEIM) program in Los Angeles. Students in the capstone project will work to uncover the characteristics of online users and how they engage with different video categories, such as user generated, music, TV, sports and news. They will determine how to predict different viewer behaviors, and that information will be used with the visual perception research to build upon Neon's product.

"Entrepreneurship is one of our key values at the Silicon Valley campus," said Gladys Mercier, director of software management at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley. "Carnegie Mellon has a strong tradition of teaching students how to build upon ideas and bring them to market, and the Silicon Valley campus brings that tradition into the heart of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We are excited to have Neon on our campus and anticipate the synergies between their work and our ongoing entrepreneurial program will be a benefit to all involved."

Neon got its start with a grant from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps), which allows scientists to assess the readiness of transitioning new scientific opportunities into valuable products through a public-private partnership. Neon's original I-Corps team also included Babs Carryer, at the time an embedded entrepreneur at CMU-Pittsburgh's Project Olympus, and Thomas Kubilius, president of Pittsburgh-based Bright Innovation and an adjunct professor of design at CMU. Carryer is now an adjunct faculty member in CMU's Tepper School of Business, Heinz College and Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

Carnegie Mellon is well known for its entrepreneurial culture. The university's Greenlighting Startups initiative, a portfolio of six business incubators, is designed to speed company creation at CMU. In the past 15 years, Carnegie Mellon faculty and students have helped to create more than 300 companies and 9,000 jobs; the university averages 15 to 20 new startups each year.

For more information on Neon, visit

Article courtesy of Carnegie Mellon News

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

CMU merges Project Olympus, Don Jones Center

After months of quiet talks it’s finally official. Two of Carnegie Mellon University’s entrepreneurship programs are merging.

Project Olympus, which is housed in the school of computer science, and the Don Jones Center for Entrepreneurship, which is part of the Tepper School of Business, are coming together to create the Carnegie Mellon University for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

It makes sense.

The two groups both encourage students, and faculty, to pursue commercialization of research and projects. Under the same umbrella the two organizations can better serve the entire school and not just pockets.

“We have always worked with each other’s students,” said Lenore Blum, co-director of the new center before outlining the three main goals of the new entity. This new center is also in the market for a naming sponsor if anyone is interested, but in the meantime, Blum said it is focusing on grant applications for funding.

The center aims to:

  • Make CMU a destination of choice for students and faculty interested in entrepreneurship.
  • Create successful ventures based on the cutting-edge research happening on campus. This “inside-out” mentality is meant to ensure the region and the country benefit from all the research dollars being poured into the university.
  • Develop a robust network alumni entrepreneurs to effectively bring talent back to the region as mentors, investors or contacts.

The center will also work closely with the CMU Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation, Blum said.

The other co-director of the center is Dave Mawhinney, an assistant teaching professor of entrepreneurship at the Tepper school and executive director of the Don Jones Center.

“We are both still professors in our schools, but we are bringing the tech and the business disciplines together to collaborate,” he said.

In addition to Blum and Mawhinney the new center will be governed by a council of deans that includes Randy Bryant from the School of Computer Science and Robert Dammon from the Tepper School of Business and will be led by Provost Mark Kamlet. An advisory board is also being formed.

The new center will also continue to operate the Project Olympus incubator space on Henry Street near campus, Blum said. She noted the space for students to test out their ideas has been instrumental in building the startup community at CMU.

When she started Project Olympus six years ago, Blum said one of the things that struck her was that CMU was training great students and then exporting them everywhere but here.

“I asked them why they were leaving and they told me if they went to Silicon Valley they could get funding and through those funders they would have the contacts and they could try new ideas,” without a fear of failure, she said.

Through Project Olympus she wanted the students to have the freedom to try and the ability to make important connections here, so they would be less likely to pick up and leave.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Monday, November 19, 2012

Qeexo Touchscreen Technology Opens Doors to More Gestures With Knuckle, Fingernail Sensitivity

A new technology developed by Qeexo for mobile touchscreens can help smartphones and tablets identify if a user is interacting with their devices via a fingernail, a knuckle, or a fingertip. Many touchscreen todays, by way of capacitive touch technology, can only register input on the display via a fingertip.

Carnegie Mellon researchers have made some small hardware changes to a Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone that allows the touchscreen to identify and register these three new inputs. The modified Samsung flagship smartphone is able to differentiate between the three different touchscreen inputs thanks to a small vibration sensor and some smart software.

While registering and understanding that the screen is being poked at by your knuckle, fingertip, or nail in and of itself is not really interesting, the interesting part is when you take into account the number of new gestures that can be unlocked. For instance, New Scientist is reporting that a right click or long press can be done by using your knuckles.

The tech is now being commercialized by Qeexo and the company is saying that it is in discussions with smartphone-makers to embed the sensor and bring this new technology to consumers.

Smartphone-makers have been researching on different ways users interact with the touchscreen. On the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Samsung is experimenting with the active digitizing S Pen stylus so that users can hover over the screen to pull down drop down menus. On Nokia’s latest Windows Phone 8 Lumia offerings, the company is partnering with Synaptics to bring a hyper-sensitive touchscreen that works with fingernails and gloves, though additional gestures and functionality is not enabled with that mode.

Article courtesy of GottaBe Mobile

Thursday, November 8, 2012

2012 Global Entrepreneurship Week: Nov. 12 - 16

Carnegie Mellon’s fourth annual Global Entrepreneurship Week (Nov. 12-16) features a series of events celebrating CMU’s entrepreneurial and innovative culure. Events include a panel discussion with young entrepreneurs, an elevator pitch competition, a panel discussion about the worst startup mistakes, a startup job fair, a social entrepreneur luncheon and a social innovation showcase. Read more about these events on the GEW website or join the conversation on Facebook.

GEW is sponsored by CMU spinoff Duolingo in partnership with CMU’s Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship, the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club, the Institute for Social Innovation, Project Olympus, the SCS Entrepreneurship Club, ScottyLabs and the Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Club. The Donald H. Jones Center and Project Olympus are part of Greenlighting Startups, a portfolio of six campus incubators uniquely designed to speed CMU faculty and student innovations from the research lab to the marketplace. CMU’s entrepreneurial culture has helped to create more than 300 companies and 9,000 jobs over the past 15 years.  Read more about Greenlighting Startups.

Schedule of Events:
Monday, November 12
Young Entrepreneurs Panel Posner 152, 12:30 - 1:20pm
Elevator Pitch Competition Register by email to Posner Hall Simon Auditorium, 5:00-7:00pm
Tuesday, November 13
Start Smart Panel: Worst Startup Mistakes Moderated by David Lehman Gates 6115, 5:30-7:00pm
Wednesday, November 14
Think Like an Angel Sponsored by BlueTree Allied Angels NSH 3305 and 3001, 5:30pm
Think Like an Angel is a real competition that will allow you to improve your ability as an entrepreneur, interact with real entrepreneurs and professional investors, earn up to $1,000 in prizes, and be crowned champion. By registering for this event, you will join Angel teams with students from across campus and evaluate real startups to see if they deserve an investment from your Angel fund.
Spots are limited. This event "sold out" in 72 hours last year. Registration is required. You will be notified if you have been assigned to a team. A briefing will be held for selected participants on November 9th from 12:00 - 1:00 pm in Posner, Room 146. Attending the briefing session is mandatory. Click here to register

Thursday, November 15
Startup Job Fair NSH Perlis Auditorium, 3:00-7:00pm
Friday, November 16
Social Entrepreneur Luncheon Ian Rosenburg, Lee R. Kimball II of Thread Hamburg Hall 1000, 12:00-1:15pm
Social Innovation Showcase Hamburg Hall Hallway, 5:00-6:30pm

Article courtesy of the CMU Piper

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bossa Nova Robotics Boldy Sets New Direction

Martin Hitch, CEO of Bossa Nova Robotics, is a showman, and he needed to be at this week’s RoboBusiness 2102: he announced to a packed room that his company was cutting in a new direction with a new product, and that the company’s former cash cow, kids’ robotics (500,000 units), had been sold. Okay, now what?

The new direction is to be personal robotics. Think Serge from the sci-fi TV series Caprica or, the image Hitch chose as his visual metaphor, Rosie, the robot housemaid from the animated sitcom, The Jetsons (1962-1963). The point being that personal robots, ones that live with us and do our bidding, are the wave of the future and Bossa Nova intends to pioneer that space.

Hitch’s next bit of showmanship was to announce Bossa Nova’s first personal robot, and to invite it to join him on stage. If the machine had stuttered, belched and collapsed trying to join him, it would have been a huge buzz kill for everyone involved in the building of Bossa Nova’s inaugural personal robot, and a disaster photo op for the throng of engineer paparazzi following its every move.

The robot, named mObi [sic], put on a tour de force performance. In fact, there were three of them, each guided by a handler engineer to coax each forward; engineers that Hitch said hadn’t slept for days getting mObi ready this, its world coming out party. Getting a thumbs up from his engineers at the back of the meeting room, the showman made the announcement.

Quite sleek and beautifully designed with an iPad for a head, mObi swept forward to everyone’s delight, followed by still cameras, video cameras, and Smartphones recording its every move.

“We’re talking about the robotic extension of your iPhone,” said Hitch, “with the robot giving you information like the weather. But instead of looking down at your phone, you’ll be interacting with the robot, through gestures and voice recognition.”

mObi is a ballbot: technology based on Carnegie Mellon University’s pioneering Ralph Hollis, and patented in 2010. A ballbot is a dynamically-stable mobile robot designed to balance on a single ball as its single contact point with the ground. The ball is its locomotion, making mObi   omnidirectional and agile. Such stability enables mObi to navigate narrow, crowded and dynamic environments.

Bossa Nova, itself a spin-off venture from CMU (2004), went back to the CMU well for Hollis’ invention. Betting the farm on ballbot, after a more than successful run at kids’ robotics, showed a lot of derring-do—a quality seemingly in short supply in much of today’s robotics ecosystem. Bossa Nova’s announcement is bold and confidently decisive and seemingly totally fearless.

Hitch claims that Bossa Nova will use its years of expertise in building robots for kids that are market savvy and price-point aware in order to build its new line of personal robots. He intends to have the mObi for sale in 2013.

Article courtesy of Robotics Business Review

Monday, October 1, 2012

Biomedical engineer is developing heart-tissue regeneration process

Contrary to the pop-song lyric, time cannot heal the damaged heart.

Impaired by disease or injury, the heart and other internal organs neither replace themselves as happens with the salamander's tail nor repair themselves the way human skin and bones do.

That's where Carnegie Mellon University's Adam W. Feinberg makes his entrance with a novel strategy that uses biological materials he's developing to mend a broken heart.

He's developing a heart-tissue regeneration process inspired by the growing human embryo -- the only stage in human life when the complex architecture of heart muscle tissue actually is created. Replicating those principles without using actual embryo tissue to avoid controversy, he's developing a repair kit of artificially produced protein framework and genetically engineered cells to repair heart injury and disease.

The futuristic idea of using biological materials mimicking the embryo, and using the process in other areas of the body, is drawing attention.

Mr. Feinberg, an assistant professor with a doctoral degree in biomedical engineering, has received a $2.25 million National Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Award, to be paid over five years, to develop biomaterials and procedures to engineer muscle tissue for repairing the heart. He's working on a similar repair process for the cornea.

He's one of 81 researchers nationwide this year -- and the first CMU researcher -- to receive funding through the NIH's High Risk-High Reward program created in 2007. The award allows researchers to pursue visionary science with potential to transform scientific fields and hasten the process of converting research into improved health, a university news release states.

Vijaykumar Bhagavatula, interim dean of CMU's College of Engineering, praised Mr. Feinberg's research vision and drive to push the research envelope.

Mr. Feinberg's article -- published this year in the Wiley interdisciplinary review publication Systems Biology and Medicine -- says engineered tissue grafts hold tremendous promise to regenerate a variety of tissues and organs in the body, with added opportunity "to patch the diseased or damaged region before the remaining, intact tissue begins to undergo pathological changes."

Researchers worldwide are focused on tissue regeneration, including those at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Their traditional top-down approach involves using actual extracellular matrix that's made by removing all cells mostly from pig tissue to produce the protein scaffolding that supports tissue. Other researchers are experimenting with synthetic matrices.

What might sound like science fiction, Mr. Feinberg and his research team are creating heart matrix from scratch, putting it together from the bottom up in their CMU laboratory.

The developing embryo's matrix consists of fibrous proteins -- collagen, elastins and other supportive structures -- in a unique pattern that uses growth factors and other elements to make cells form tissue, muscle and the entire heart. Once the heart is fully developed, the matrix changes its pattern to support the tissue but loses the ability to regenerate damaged muscle.

Mr. Feinberg will study formation of the embryo's matrix by using fluorescent labels to mark proteins and observe them under a powerful 3-D microscope. Results, downloaded into a computer, produce a 3-D model of how the matrix forms during cardiac development. That's the process he hopes to replicate.

"We mimic the way cells make these protein fibers," he said. Cotton or polyester fibers are spun to form clothing, but cells build protein fibers on the surface of their membranes. He's mimicking that process to create sheets of matrix comparable to that in the embryonic heart.

"We will be ultimately applying this basic research to model how cells interact with the extracellular matrix in multiple tissue types, including cornea and cardiac muscle," he said. "Future medical applications include improved drug discovery and screening platforms, novel tools for biological investigation and engineered tissue grafts for disease and trauma repair.''

Making muscle cells -- human cardiomyocytes that form the heart -- soon will be under way in his lab.

He's working to coax adult-derived stem cells that behave like embryonic stem cells to become heart muscle cells. But getting those cardiomyocytes to turn from a pile of cells into healthy heart muscle that can contract and pump blood remains the big challenge. Once he has the building blocks that mimic embryonic tissue, he'll seed the artificial matrix with the created cells to generate heart-like muscle tissue that eventually could be used to repair the heart or gauge how the tissue responds to drugs.

"I am extremely excited about this award because it will allow me to continue pursuing leading edge research designed to help regenerate and repair heart muscle and improve wound healing in a variety of biomedical arenas,'' Mr. Feinberg said.

Christine L. Mummery, a developmental biologist and chairwoman of the Leiden University Medical Center's Department of Anatomy & Embryology in The Netherlands, said she's "a great fan of Adam's research."

"He is a very innovative engineer who is able to combine his knowledge of materials with cells of the heart in such a way that building synthetic heart tissue is a step nearer," she said, noting its potential beyond heart repair.

"This is often the reason that new drugs fail to reach the clinic or are withdrawn -- negative side effects on the heart," Ms. Mummery said. "Having synthetic heart tissue in the lab that is able to undergo normal stretching and contraction of the real human heart will ultimately be a great help in dividing new drugs into those that are safe and those that could have a high risk."

Harvard University bioengineer Kevin Kit Parker said Mr. Feinberg "was a spectacular post-doctoral fellow" in his research group with "great expertise in material science."

"CMU is lucky to get him, and NIH was wise to give him the grant. It's wise use of taxpayers' dollars," he said. "Adam adds another piece to the puzzle of a very elite community of regenerative medicine researchers.

"There's a high probability of him being a leader in the field, and in that regard he will distinguish himself," Mr. Parker said, noting that Mr. Feinberg is "one of three or four people in world qualified to do the research. "It's a narrow population of people with an understanding of biomaterials, and Adam is one of them."

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Finally, a traffic light that reduces pollution and congestion

Pittsburgh announced the success of a highly intelligent traffic signal system in East Liberty this week that is shortening commuter times while reducing emissions on congested city streets.
The technology was created through the Traffic21 Initiative at CMU's H. John Heinz III College in coordination with CMU's Robotics Institute. It works with the help of cameras, which sense traffic volume at each intersection, and technology that adjusts the timing of the lights to facilitate the flow of traffic through intersections.
The pilot project, initiated last June, placed the smart lights along Penn Avenue, Penn Circle South and Penn Circle East.  Among the benefits were a 40 percent reduction in vehicle wait time, a 26 percent reduction in car travel time and a 21 percent cut in vehicle emissions, the Traffic21 study reported.  
The strength of the system is the signals' ability to communicate with other traffic signals while collaboratively adapting to traffic conditions in real time using concepts from the field of artificial intelligence and traffic theory, explained Stephen Smith, director of the Intelligent Coordination and Logistics Laboratory in CMU's Robotics Institute. 
"I'm proud of CMU's team, which developed this first in-the-world technology, and am equally proud of the partnership approach typical of Pittsburgh that made this pilot possible," said Dr. Jared L. Cohon, president of CMU, during a press conference on Monday.
Traffic21 was launched in 2009 with funding from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. The Heinz Endowments' Breathe Project and the Richard King Mellon Foundation provided funding for the pilot as well.  
"We are now beginning to see how Pittsburgh can be positioned to be a leading city on an international scale in demonstrating how low-cost, easy-to-implement technological solutions can reduce traffic congestion, vehicle fuel consumption and emissions while also improving safety and air quality," said Henry Hillman, Pittsburgh businessman and philanthropist.

Article courtesy of Pop City

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Aquion secures $10M loan guarantee from USDA

Advanced battery maker Aquion Energy received another incentive for its planned manufacturing facility in Westmoreland County, this time in the form of a $10 million loan guarantee through the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program.

Announced late Monday afternoon by Sen. Bob Casey’s office, the loan guarantee is expected to help the company finance equipment purchases and renovations to the facility. Earlier this year, Aquion said it planned to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility to build its sodium-ion battery packs. In June, the company received a $15 million loan facility to help fund growth.

The company has said that, at full capacity, the facility should create about 500 jobs.

The company has 29 jobs listed on its Website for everything from human resources assistant and millwright to maintenance machinist and senior chemical process engineer.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Monday, September 17, 2012

Duolingo Raises $15M Series B Round Led By NEA, Will Expand To More Languages And To Mobile Soon

Duolingo, the language learning and crowd-sourced translation service founded by reCAPTCHA founder and Carnegie Mellon professor Luis von Ahn, just announced that it has raised a $15 million Series B round led by NEA, with participation from Union Square Ventures. The service never took any angel funding, but it raised a $3.3 million Series A round lead by Union Square Ventures last October. Ashton Kutcher and author Tim Ferris also participated in that round. As von Ahn told me in an interview earlier this month, the company plans to mostly use this new round of financing to expand its team in order to support more languages. Duolingo will also launch mobile versions of its service soon.

The idea behind Duolingo is to teach users a new language, but also have them translate online texts. The service currently mostly uses texts that are freely available on the web to provide its users with real examples of a given language, but it’s also using these language learners as volunteers to provide crowd-sourced translations. Just like reCAPTCHA — which von Ahn sold to Google — is both a way of distinguishing bots from humans, as well as a way to crowd-source optical character recognition, Duolingo also combines two very different, but equally useful, services into one product.

Currently, von Ahn told me, the service gets about 250,000 active users per week. The majority of these users come from the U.S. and 20 percent come from Latin America. This, for the most part, is a function of the languages the site currently offers (Spanish, French, German, and English). What’s interesting here is that users from Latin America use the service for far longer than their American counterparts (45 minutes per day vs. 30 minutes per day). As von Ahn, who was born in Guatemala, rightly noted, learning in a new language is often more of a hobby for people in the U.S., while it’s for bettering your life in Latin America.

One interesting aspect of the site is that virtually all of the exercises a user sees are chosen by an algorithm that constantly evaluates a user’s abilities. The team is also constantly tweaking the algorithm based on the data it accumulates from Duolingo’s users.

The fact that Duolingo is completely free, says von Ahn, is one of the reasons why the site is growing so quickly. In past interviews, he also often noted that Duolingo users learn about as well as users who use Rosetta Stone, which is often unaffordable for users in developing countries. Von Ahn plans to expand the number of languages supported by the site to 20 or 30 over the next few years.

Right now, the focus of Duolingo is more on the language-learning aspects of the service than translations. Soon, however, users will be able to upload their own texts and have Duolingo’s users translate them. That’s also how the company plans to monetize its service, as it will charge users for these translations. Duolingo says the quality of these crowd-sourced translations is comparable to those of professional translators.

Article courtesy of Tech Crunch

Monday, September 17, 2012

Duolingo receives $15 million round of funding

Duolingo, an Oakland-based startup founded by Carnegie Mellon University assistant professor of computer science Luis Von Ahn, has raised $15 million in Series B funding from New Enterprise Associates and Union Square Ventures. The funds will go toward hiring and promoting the service internationally.

Duolingo is a free language learning service that uses participants' answers to translate Web pages. Since the service was officially launched in June, it has grown to 250,000 users and now offers English, Spanish, French, German and Portugese language lessons. Later this year, the company will offer lessons in Italian and Chinese. It also plans to release an iPhone app.

Harry Weller, general partner with New Enterprise, said the organization is encouraged by what Duolingo has accomplished so far and he has high expectations for the future.

"Duolingo's founders have fused a very ambitious mission -- making the Web accessible to everyone -- with an elegantly architected solution that simultaneously fuels worldwide language learning and targets a massive $30 billion language translation market. We view this as an opportunity to partner with an exceptional founding team in a space we're very excited about," he said in the release.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friday, September 7, 2012

CMU startup adds robotics to water

On a recent, hot Friday afternoon members of the Platypus team were gathered around a pond in Schenley Park below the Carnegie Mellon University testing their technology.

Platypus, a robotics company founded by six researchers at the CMU Robotics Institute, has developed a fully autonomous watercraft that they hope to introduce to various uses in environmental monitoring.

“It’s a tool to do what you want,” said Balajee Kannan, project scientist at CMU and chief financial officer at Platypus.

The boats consist of a vacuum Styrofoam hull outfitted with underwater sensors, a fan assembly for propulsion, electronics compartment for a microprocessor that gather the sensor data, and an enclosure to house the Android-based smartphone that runs the whole thing.

The company, which formed over the summer, is working on commercializing the technology. The boats can collect information on depth, temperature, Ph levels, dissolved oxygen and electrical conductivity. The last one is typically a surrogate for testing total dissolved solids.

On this recent Friday the team’s controls expert, and systems and software engineer at the Robotics Institute, Abhinav Valada was testing the system’s algorithms that are used to detect gradient in the water. If there was effluent in the water the boats would be able to see the channels in the water and determine where the effluent came from, he said.

Sure, people can do some of this type of testing, he said, “(but) this boat can do the same and get it faster.”

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pittsburgh researchers prepare for space surgery

Before humans can take long expeditions to Mars and beyond, and even back and forth to the moon, one problem must be solved.

In the weightlessness of space, an appendectomy, removal of a gall bladder, cuts or wounds, or even the pulling of a tooth would contaminate the spaceship with blood, tissue and bodily fluids. Gravity, as it turns out, is an important surgical tool that helps to confine bodily fluids.

But a team of local researchers is working to solve the problem. Its astro-surgical tool, known as an Aqueous Immersion Surgical System, uses water pressure in a watertight containment area to control bleeding and prevent blood, fluids and tissue from floating away. With no blood bank available in space, the device also could recover an astronaut's blood during surgery for reuse in the patient.

James E. Burgess, a neurosurgeon at Allegheny General Hospital; James Antaki, a biomedical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University; doctoral student Jennifer A. Hayden; and George M. Pantalos, a professor of biomedical engineering and surgery at the University of Louisville, are combining talents and expertise to refine a prototype initially designed to control blood during brain and spinal surgeries. Only later did they realize the idea provided a solution of conducting surgeries in space.

Here's the basic concept: A clear dome without a bottom is attached watertight to the skin, creating a seal similar to wearing swim goggles. The dome includes tubes and controls to add pressure from a sterile saline solution to control bleeding or flush the solution away if it turns cloudy from blood or bodily fluids. In that way, the surgeon's view is preserved while added pressure controls bleeding, much like gauze packed into a wound.

The device also includes watertight ports through which surgical instruments are used to do the surgery beneath the dome. Open surgery, laparoscopic or arthroscopic surgeries, or even the stitching of wounds would be possible with the system, the researchers said.

Inside spacecraft, a larger clear container with arm ports for the surgeon would be used over the smaller dome to provide a backup should the domed device fail.

About 2003, Dr. Burgess came up with the idea to develop a watertight surgery system to control bleeding during brain and spinal surgeries. He said ruptured vessels can make it difficult to control bleeding or have a clear view of the surgical site.

Needing help with the engineering, he approached Mr. Antaki with the idea. They began work on a prototype, but Mr. Antaki was unable to land National Institutes of Health grants for the project. He said NIH officials found the idea to be "innovative beyond the point of feasibility."

"Inventors love their inventions and think they are great," said Mr. Antaki, who holds a doctoral degree in biomedical engineering. "But convincing skeptics and others is not as easy."

After a string of NIH rejections, he searched a list of government agencies that awarded small-business grants, and his eyes landed on NASA. It almost was a eureka moment.

"I realized that in outer space, zero gravity was a bigger problem, so let's pursue a NASA grant," he said. "In my humble opinion, I think [the new device] is essential. I can't imagine going into space and stitching up a wound or gash or doing a tooth extraction -- anything involving blood -- without a containment system."

With that idea, Mr. Antaki contacted his friend, Mr. Pantalos, who had worked with NASA to study heart function and blood pressure during space missions and the impact that returning to Earth had on heart health. Mr. Pantalos, who also holds a doctoral degree, tested his technology aboard NASA's zero-gravity C-9 aircraft at the Johnson Space Center Reduced Gravity Program at Ellington Field, southeast of Houston.

The plane, nicknamed the "Vomit Comet," accomplishes weightlessness by a parabolic path through the sky, similar to a roller coaster, producing weightlessness during quick descents. It's not a pleasant ride for anyone prone to motion sickness.

In the meantime, Mr. Antaki received an application from Ms. Hayden, who had done research on surgical tools for Ethicon, the Johnson & Johnson company that works on surgical solutions, before deciding to seek a doctoral degree in biomedical engineering. He thought she'd be the ideal candidate to work on the project as a topic for her doctoral dissertation.

The research team is preparing to make a major step in development of the device and prove that the concept can work. The project currently has no outside funding, but NASA is offering in-kind assistance by providing research time on the zero-gravity aircraft.

On Oct. 2-5, Mr. Pantalos, Ms. Hayden and Dr. Burgess will take four flights on the aircraft to test the technology. On the final two flights, Dr. Burgess said, he plans to do surgical procedures on a pig's heart to test whether the system can contain the fluids during zero gravity.

Mr. Pantalos said he did 27 missions on the zero-gravity aircraft for his previous project. "It's great fun," he said. "It's kind of like in the movie, 'Hook,' when Peter Pan discovers that he can fly. It's a magical experience."

More research and development will be necessary as the team works to resolve all technical problems, but Mr. Antaki said the project is advancing nicely with hopes that NASA eventually will fund the project.

"I'm totally convinced that it is safe and effective," he said.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friday, August 31, 2012

CMU leads research on combat injuries

Carnegie Mellon University is leading a Department of Defense-funded team looking at ways to treat pain associated with combat injuries.

Jeffery O. Hollinger, a biomedical engineering and biological sciences professor who heads CMU's Bone Tissue Engineering Center, is directing the research team.

The goal is to create polymer-based treatments to prevent heterotopic ossification — the unwanted growth of bone and tissue resulting from amputation procedures. Those formations create pain and discomfort in the area where a prothesis would connect to the limb, Holliner said in a news release.

CMU professor Krzysztof Matyjaszweski has developed a nanostructural polymer composite that would prevent hetertopic ossification from occurring in a patient's soft tissue, Hollinger said.

The university is working off a three-year, $2.93 million grant from the Department of Defense to work with researchers at the U.S. Military Academy, the University of Maryland and the Naval Medical Center to produce a therapeutic solution.

Heterotopic ossification is, of course, not limited to the military. More than 90 percent of people who get hip replacements in the U.S. also show signs of the problem, CMU said.

"We see this collaborative research as a win for both military and civilian populations," said J. Kenneth Wickiser, director of the Center for Molecular Science in the Department of Chemistry & Life Science at the U.S. Military Academy. "And we see this particular research project as a great way to help us change our research paradigm at West Point."

There is a patent pending on CMU's therapy and, once the platform is lab tested, a clinical trial schedule will be developed, the university said.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

CMU doctoral student named one of MIT Technology Review's top 35 innovators under 35

Chris Harrison, a doctoral student in Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute, has been recognized by the MIT's Technology Review as one of the world's top 35 innovators under the age of 35, according to a university press release.

Mr. Harrison, 28, is working to develop new ways for people to interact with digital devices, particularly when they are mobile. His focus is finding alternatives to the keyboard and mouse people typically use to control computers.

Using combinations of sound and vision sensors, he has enabled people to control digital devices by tapping on tables, walls or their own skin.

"Chris has a vision of how interfaces to computing power need to change as our computing environment changes, and the technical skills for making his ideas work in the real world," Justine Cassell, HCII director, said in the press release.

Mr. Harrison was selected for the 2012 TR35 list by a panel of expert judges, the editorial staff of Technology Review and online.

Mr. Harrison will join other TR35 honorees in discussing their achievements Oct. 24-26 at the EmTech MIT 2012 conference at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass.

Earlier this summer, Mr. Harrison was selected as one of 40 recipients worldwide of a highly competitive 2012 Google Ph.D. Fellowship.

Google launched the fellowship program four years ago to recognize outstanding graduate students in computer science and related disciplines. Fellows are reimbursed for tuition and fees, receive a $32,000 annual stipend and work with a mentor from Google Research.

Also this year, he and a fellow HCII student, Robert Xiao, secured a $100,000 Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship on behalf of HCII.

A native of England who grew up in and around New York City, Mr. Harrison joined the HCII Ph.D. program in 2007 after earning his undergraduate and master's degrees in computer science at New York University.

Since then, he has produced a string of innovations, including:

• Lean and Zoom, a technology for automatically adjusting the magnification of a computer monitor based on a person's distance from the screen. CMU's QoLT Foundry has since commercialized it.

• Scratch Input, a means of controlling devices by tapping or stroking tabletops or whiteboards.

• Minput, which turns a small mobile device into its own computer mouse.

• Skinput, a method for controlling devices by tapping buttons projected on a person's own skin, which he helped develop while interning at Microsoft Research.

• OmniTouch, a Kinect-based system that turns almost any surface into a touchscreen.

• Touche, a new sensing technique he helped develop as part of a team at Disney Research, Pittsburgh, that enables objects to sense how they are being touched.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Joint Research Project To Improve Prostate, Liver Cancer Diagnosis and Prognosis

Carnegie Mellon recently received nearly $1 million from Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) program to develop digital image analysis tools that will guide physicians in identifying and treating aggressive prostate cancer tumors and pediatric liver tumors.

Robert F. Murphy, director of CMU's Lane Center for Computational Biology, will direct the two-year project, "Automated Biomarker Identification for Cancer Detection and Prognosis," which will bring together researchers at Carnegie Mellon with investigators at UPMC and Omnyx, LLC.

"Physicians treating prostate cancer and pediatric liver cancer tell us that they now have few, if any, tools to help them differentiate between tumors that demand aggressive treatment and those that don't pose an immediate threat to patient survival," Murphy said. "We expect to show that automated image analysis technology, developed by my group at the Lane Center and Gustavo Rohde's group in biomedical engineering, can be used to detect certain subcellular changes that could help physicians identify those dangerous tumors and determine the best ways to treat them."  

The new research project has a budget of $1.43 million, including $446,000 in matching funds from Omnyx.

The team also includes Drs. Anil Parwani and John Ozolek from UPMC's Department of Pathology. If the technology proves useful, it will be marketed through Omnyx, a joint venture of UPMC and GE Healthcare that has created an integrated digital pathology system.

The CURE program is administered by the state Department of Health and funded by the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco industry. Michael Wolf, Department of Health executive deputy secretary, said that this was the first year that CURE has awarded this type of grant to private industry along with research institutions. Since the inception of CURE, Carnegie Mellon has received nearly $14 million in funding, part of the more than $750 million in total CURE awards.

Article courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, August 10, 2012

Strip-based firm wants to bring its robot to U.S.

One month ago today, an orthopedic surgeon in Belgium performed the first partial-knee replacement on a patient using a hand-held "smart drill" developed by a team of robotics, mechanical engineering and software development specialists at Blue Belt Technologies Inc. in the Strip District.

If the success of that operation is any indication, the Navio PFS system could soon be introduced to the U.S.

Already approved for use in Europe, the Navio PFS system will be formally introduced to the entire European orthopedic community next month at the British Orthopaedic Association meeting in Manchester, England.

Then it's on to the U.S.

Blue Belt president and CEO Eric Timko says the company has already applied for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and hopes to have that by year's end "with full commercialization in the U.S. in 2013."

With the Navio system, the standard surgeon's orthopedic drill is placed inside a holder equipped with robotic and navigation software.

The combination gives the surgeon real-time information about the positioning and anatomy of the patient's knee joint, as well as three-dimensional visualization on a computer screen. That, in turn, helps surgeons avoid cutting excess bone or damaging surrounding tissue as they shape the bone so the implant will fit well.

"The system allows you to get it right the first time," said Costa Nikou, Blue Belt's director of software development.

Orthopedic surgeon Brian Hamlin, who practices at the bone and joint center at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC and is on Blue Belt's scientific advisory board, said the ability to correctly place the implant "will allow for durability and long-term success for your patients."

Currently, anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of partial-knee replacements have to be redone within a year, possibly because the alignment is wrong, or the implant has shifted, or simply because the patient is still in pain.

"Although we try to do it with precision and accuracy -- and I think we get reasonably good results -- with more precise and more accurate information, our outcomes will improve and more patients will have better long-term results," said Dr. Hamlin.

"Having that information from the software is quite valuable."

Mr. Timko said fewer than 500,000 partial-knee replacements are done worldwide each year, compared with 1.4 million full-knee procedures. But with the precision of the Navio system, he believes 20 to 30 percent of those full-knee operations could be done as a partial procedure. "Then you're looking at a market that is almost $900 million."

More important, he said, this is a platform technology that can be adapted and used for other orthopedic procedures -- "anywhere there's bone that needs to be shaped precisely," said Mr. Timko.

In the past year, Blue Belt was bought by the New York private equity firm HealthpointCapital and has grown from nine to 22 employees locally. Mr. Timko said the company plans to move production to Minneapolis later this year because of the wealth of vendors and suppliers there, but the research and development team, comprised largely of graduates from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, will stay here.

While another company already has an interactive robotic arm on the market that can do knee replacements, Mr. Timko believes "our technology will jump leaps and bounds ahead of them" at what he says will be about one-third the cost for the equipment.

"This is a tool for the mid-sized hospital, the community hospital," Mr. Timko said. "The goal with us is that the surgeon who does 10 [partial-knee replacement surgeries] a year will have the same outcomes as the guy who does 100 a year."

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Graphene coating transforms fragile aerogels into superelastic materials

The researchers, Kyu Hun Kim, Youngseok Oh, and Mohammad F. Islam at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have published their paper on the mechanical benefits of a graphene coating on CNT aerogels in a recent issue of Nature Nanotechnology. "We demonstrate the transformation of a nanotube network from fragile to superelastic simply via ‘nanocoating,’" Islam told "Typically, coating adds corrosion resistance, lubrication, aesthetics, alteration of surface chemistry, sealing, etc., but not mechanical property change." While a normal gel consists mostly of liquid material with a cross-linked network that gives it its solid-like structure, an aerogel is created by replacing the liquid material in a gel with a gas. Researchers do this by drying the original gel at a critical temperature. The resulting aerogel is a lightweight material made of 99.9% air by volume, yet one that is also dry, rigid, and strong like a solid. In the current study, the researchers worked with CNT aerogels, which (in addition to the air) are made of dispersed nanotubes about 1 micrometer long. CNT aerogels hold their shape due to molecular interactions at the nodes, the points where the nanotubes cross each other. However, when these aerogels are compressed by up to 90% of their original size, they collapse or become permanently deformed, limiting potential applications.

To overcome this inelasticity problem, the researchers demonstrated that one to five layers of graphene coating enables a CNT aerogel to withstand more than 1 million compressive cycles and return to its original shape after compression release. The ability to withstand this compression turns the aerogels into superelastic materials, while at the same time allowing them to maintain their other properties such as porosity and conductivity. The researchers think that the graphene coating imparts this superelasticity to the aerogel by strengthening the aerogel’s nodes and struts, both of which support the aerogel’s network structure. In non-coated aerogels, the struts can bend and freely rotate about the nodes when compressed, which increases the contact area between nanotubes and forms new nodes. When the load is removed, the new nodes remain since more force is required to remove the nodes than to form them.

In contrast, the stronger struts in graphene-coated aerogels cannot easily rotate about the nodes when compressed. Although new nodes are formed in the coated aerogels as well, the graphene coating can remove these nodes when the load is removed. “Both CNT aerogels and graphene-coated CNT aerogels form ‘new’ nodes when compressed,” Islam explained. “We think that the graphene at the nodes gets compressed and crumpled when the graphene-coated aerogels are compressed. When the load is removed, nanotube aerogels do not recover original shape because there is no restorative force to ‘break’ the new nodes that formed during compression. In contrast, the compressed and crumpled graphene flakes provide the restorative force (i.e., act as springs) that is needed to break these new nodes in graphene-coated aerogels.” CNT aerogels that can undergo high levels of compression and later spring back to their original shapes could open the doors to new aerogel applications. CNT aerogels already have attractive features, such as the inherent flexibility of aerogel synthesis that allows researchers to control their shapes and sizes, and superelasticity makes these materials even more attractive. “CNT aerogels, particularly single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) aerogels, have a high surface area, are electrically conducting, have large pores, and have fairly good thermal dissipation properties if you consider that the amount of material in them is really small,” Islam said, adding that his team has recently published papers on the aerogels’ heat transport properties and a surface area close to the theoretical limit. “Because of their properties, CNT aerogels can be used as a scaffold to make composites, sieves, ultralight heat sinks in high gravity applications, electrodes, and catalyst supports. Typically, nanotubes are incompatible with polymers and tend to phase-segregate. By using aerogels as a scaffold and backfilling with polymer, nanotubes can remain well-dispersed in the polymer matrix. This can significantly improve mechanical enhancement.” The researchers are currently investigating other areas of CNT aerogels, in addition to superelasticity. “We are currently working on a few projects,” he said. “We are using SWCNT aerogels to make electrically conducting composites. We are also looking into making mechanically strong polymer composites. With our collaborators, we are exploring the electrochemical properties of SWCNT aerogels. We are growing metal nanoparticles on these SWCNT aerogels for use as filters for remediation of harmful chemicals from water. Also we are using them as porous 3D conducting substrates for tissue growth. “I think the modulus and strength of these nanotube aerogels need to be improved without decreasing the porosity. As you can imagine, the aerogels can be made significantly stronger by just increasing the volume fraction of nanotubes in them but this will reduce the porosity.”

Article courtesy of Phys.Org

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

CMU spinoff's toys teach technology by making it fun

An imagination geared toward making robots from cardboard boxes can quickly fade once the lure of playtime is replaced with a fear of science and technology learning.

But a team of Carnegie Mellon University researchers are betting that a toy designed to bring cardboard friends to life could be the tool that makes creating technology just another part of play.

The Hummingbird -- a kit featuring electronic sensors, motors and everything else required to turn a craft project into a robot -- was unrolled for commercial sale in July after six years of research. The kit, which was developed through CMU's CREATE Lab, also features simple programming software that allows students who are just learning the ins and outs of technology to customize their robots with distinct sounds, movements and other defining features. The kits are being sold for $119 through a CMU spinoff company, BirdBrain Technologies.

"We want students to become inventors of technology rather than users of technology," said Illah Nourbakhsh, CMU robotics professor who leads CREATE Lab, in a press release. "Hummingbird feeds a student's natural curiosity about technology by enabling her to incorporate robotics into something she is making that is meaningful or useful."

Initially created for CREATE Lab's Arts & Bots program -- an initiative to encourage interest in technology among middle school students -- Hummingbird has been through several iterations before reaching its current stage, said CREATE Lab senior research associate Emily Hamner.

The original idea was to create robots that express emotions and feelings to draw interest from young girls. The idea was that girls would keep a diary and the robot would act out feelings expressed in their entries.

After a series of workshops with girls at the Sarah Heinz House, the idea of sharing diary entries was soundly dismissed, although everyone seemed excited by the notion of an emotive robot.

"They liked that a robot could be expressive and tell stories. That's much different from a robot that launches Ping-Pong balls," Ms. Hamner said.

With emotional expression, dancing and general flexibility in movement being some of the key requests from students, CREATE Lab narrowed down what types of tools and equipment could be used to help students create the robots of their desires.

BirdBrain CEO and CREATE Lab alumnus Tom Lauwers said each kit contains DC motors and a master controller to manage movement but also features motion-detecting sensors and servos to allow for specific ranges of movement (raised arms or eyebrows), sound detectors and color-changing LED lights, which are typically used to change eye color.

"Everyone knows red eyes means you're angry," Mr. Lauwers said.

Early tests with students at St. Louise de Marillac Catholic School in Upper St. Clair and The Ellis School in Shadyside, which both participate in the Arts & Bots program, demonstrated a range of ideas that surprised researchers and instructors.

Human anatomy and physiology students at The Ellis School used the kit to build a model of the human arm using flexible plastics and servos that moved elbow and wrist joints.

"A lot of the girls said it helped them see where muscles attached," said teacher Terry Richards in a press release. "They really had to think about where the muscles could attach on their models. Even in high school students aren't usually introduced to this technology unless they're on the robotics team."

Zee Poerio, a teacher at St. Louise de Marillac, said building a replica of a mythical Greek monster engaged students in ancient studies in a way that extended even beyond the school year. The Gorgon coin featured tri-color LEDs to create glowing eyes that change from blue to red, distance sensors that recognized when students were near, and a servo that wagged the monster's tongue. Students only programmed the coin to make a roaring sound in response to certain actions this year, but were offering suggestions to have it tell the myth of Medusa next year.

Outside the classroom, she said students began noticing the use of electronic sensors in devices all around them.

"One student made the observation about the distance sensor on the automatic soap dispenser in the restroom and came to the conclusion that it needed to be adjusted to a shorter distance so soap wouldn't be wasted. A younger student had an "aha" moment after activating the distance sensor on the Gorgon robot and said, 'Now I know how those sliding glass doors magically open when you walk up to them or when you go into a store, there's a distance sensor in there, right?' " she said in an email.

In addition to schools and organizations around the city, Hummingbird kits are being used at Marshall University in West Virginia and in programs in Brazil, the United Kingdom and South Africa.

If the response from early testers is an indication of the future, the kits could take off in a big way.

"At the end of the school year I polled students about what they wanted to learn more about next year, [and] more robots was a popular response from boys and girls at all levels," Ms. Poerio said.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mars landing ‘gold’ for NASA

NASA’s newest robotic rover Curiosity touched gently to the surface of Mars early Monday to begin looking for evidence of life, thrilling researchers in Pittsburgh and elsewhere who had a hand in the $2.5 billion adventure.

David Wettergreen, a research professor in CMU’s Robotics Institute who has aided several NASA projects including recent tests on Curiosity, was among countless scientists and researchers around the globe glued to their chairs on Sunday and early Monday as the largest rover ever sent to Mars sailed to the surface for a picture-perfect landing. Wettergreen was working late when Curiosity touched down shortly after 1:30 a.m. Monday.

“I took a break in the middle of writing to watch the landing. It was exciting,” he said. He said that some of the technology Carnegie Mellon University researchers developed for use in Curiosity could ripple into scientific efforts around Earth for years.

Curiosity was NASA’s seventh landing on the red planet; many other attempts by the United States and other countries to zip past, circle or land on Mars have gone awry.

The arrival was an engineering tour de force, debuting never-before-tried acrobatics packed into “seven minutes of terror” as Curiosity sliced through the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph.

In a Hollywood-style finish, cables delicately lowered the rover to the ground at a snail-paced 2 mph. A video camera was set to capture the most dramatic moments and give earthlings their first glimpse of a touchdown on another world.

Celebrations by the mission team were so joyous over the next hour that NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Charles Elachi had to plead for calm in order to hold a press conference. He compared NASA’s team to Olympic teams.

“This team came back with the gold,” he said.

Curiosity’s goal is to scour Mars for basic ingredients essential for life including carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and oxygen.

Eventually, it will beam high-resolution, panoramic color photographs and data back to Earth.

The nuclear-powered rover is packed with scientific tools, cameras and a weather station. It sports a robotic arm with a power drill, a laser that can zap distant rocks, a chemistry lab to sniff for the chemical building blocks of life and a detector to measure dangerous radiation on the surface.

Wettergreen said Curiosity is spurring excitement among student scientists.

But like the earlier NASA technologies that ushered in the digital age, Wettergreen said students and researchers are looking at how technologies developed to aid Curiosity in navigating the Martian landscape can be applied closer to home.

Mining, under-sea operations and even autonomous self-driven vehicles are just a few of the areas they targeted.

The potential seems real to students, given local researchers’ links to Curiosity.

About two dozen CMU graduates are among the scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that coordinated 10 years of work on Curiosity’s mission.

Wettergreen said the basis for Curiosity’s navigation software was developed about two decades ago by Tony Stentz, director of the National Robotics Engineering Center, a component of CMU’s Robotics Institute. Prior versions of the software guided a pair of smaller rovers that landed on Mars in 2004.

And several months ago, Wettergreen and his colleagues at CMU were asked to perform traction testing on Curiosity’s wheels. NASA wanted to know whether Curiosity, which is about five times larger than previous Mars rovers, would be able to navigate sand dunes in the Gale Crater on Mars.

“They wanted to know more about the climbing capability of the wheels. At the time, I was thinking this was a good sign because they were getting more and more confident about being able to pinpoint the landing,” Wettergreen said.

During the next several days, officials expect Curiosity to send back its first color pictures. After several weeks of health checkups, the six-wheel rover could take its first short drive and flex its robotic arm.

The landing site near Mars’ equator was selected because signs of past water are everywhere, meeting one of the requirements for life as we know it. Inside Gale Crater is a 3-mile-high mountain, and images from space show the base appears rich in minerals that formed in the presence of water.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

CMU's new Pedo-Biometrics Lab--your feet say more about you than a fingerprint

When it comes to the science of identifying who we are, our feet are uniquely suited to the purpose.
Ottawa-based Autonomous ID has partnered with CMU and has invested $1.5 million a year to establish a Pedo-Biometrics Research and Identity Automation Lab here. The lab, to be located on campus, will expand the university’s research in the field of biometrics beyond the study of the iris to our feet.
Pedo-Biometrics represents a new frontier in the field, an area of research that has been developing scientific techniques over time to identify that we humans are, in fact, the people we say we are. Traditionally the identification has been done through fingerprinting or scans of the iris, explains Marios Savvides, Electrical and Computer Engineer at CMU.
Scientists have known for years that feet, as well as gait, are unique to each person. Sensors placed in the soles of shoes can check the pressure of the feet, monitor the gait and a create a master file that identifies each person. These changes can also be monitored as we age.

Monitoring aspects of the foot may also prevent or assist in the diagnosis diseases such as diabetes,  Parkinson’s and dementia, says Savvides.
A sole insert can more easily facilitate the identification process in high security situations. Entering into a monitored and secure area, such as a military base or nuclear power plant, could be as easy as a car passing through an EZ-Pass exchange on the Turnpike, says Savvides.
The lab will develop a prototype for Autonomous ID, which has been working since 2009 to create an inexpensive ID system.
“This new frontier is very exciting,” says Savvides. “Looking at both the biometric side and the biomedical side and how they work together is the really exciting part.”

Article courtesy of Pop City

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Retailing with a robot: Carnegie Mellon professor's software package can keep track of inventory

Priya Narasimhan has a vision: a robot helping shoppers find everything on their shopping list in stores such as Giant Eagle or Costco. Walking through the Carnegie Mellon campus bookstore on a recent Wednesday, she was accompanied by just that -- a 31/2-foot robot resembling R2D2.

It's the latest project to come out of the university's robotics institute. Ms. Narasimhan, a CMU professor and businesswoman, invented AndyVision, a robot, digital screen and information software that together enable communications among customers, the retailer and the robot.

Ms. Narasimhan said the idea for AndyVision, funded by CMU's Intel Science and Technology Center, came out of her own frustrations with shopping in grocery stores.

"You go into stores and you get frustrated because you can't find what you need or you leave feeling shortchanged because you bought all the wrong things," she said.

The current prototype of the robot, known affectionately as ScotBot, can navigate autonomously on wheels around the store, taking photos with its high-resolution camera. It recognizes items based on their shape, color and location, and its visual-recognition technology notices when something is missing, misplaced or low in stock. Eventually, its makers plan to link the robot with store owners' mobile devices or laptops, providing them with real-time inventory updates.

Customers also can browse a large touch screen at the front of the CMU store. They can see a 3-D image of merchandise that is on sale and scan a QR code from the screen onto their mobile phones to get the discount. Ms. Narasimhan also wants to use a three-dimensional store image to help shoppers map the location of every ingredient they need to bake a cake, or see where the guacamole is when they buy tortilla chips.

Like many roboticists, Ms. Narasimhan must balance a dream of robotics with smart business. Though she said she wants retailers' needs to determine which technologies she incorporates into AndyVision, it could turn out to be yet another endeavor whose software sells better than the robot itself. Before it can reach the marketplace, major costs, time and research barriers remain.

CMU's Intel has spent $200,000 on the project to date, helping Ms. Narasimhan's team buy materials and paying the salaries of four graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. The science center has devoted at least $2.5 million a year to various projects since 2011, part of a five-year commitment. This fall, Ms. Narasimhan will pilot ScotBot by letting it work alone in the CMU campus bookstore. If that's successful, she hopes to run pilot programs at retailers such as Costco and grocery stores over the next year, and to sell the system to retailers after that.

Unlike in the defense robotics industry, there are no research and development contracts available for retail robotics. Researchers must demonstrate that a robot can perform in other environments before retailers will even consider it, said Paolo Pirjanian, CEO of Evolution Robotics in California.

"The retail industry are not early adopters. They're laggers when it comes to this technology," he said. But once one retailer signs on for new tech, "then everyone wants to jump on."

Retailers do strive to keep up with the latest technological improvements to best serve their customers, Kathy Grannis, senior director of media relations at the National Retail Federation, said in an email. But she could not speculate on how many would embrace something like AndyVision because it's not currently being used in stores.

Consultants from Boston Retail Partners said if a technology can help save on labor costs, as Ms. Narasimhan hopes her robot will, it can make a difference for retailers. Labor is the second-highest controllable cost for grocers, after refrigeration, they said. Much of that labor is devoted to counting goods several times a day. But Perry Kramer, vice president of the consulting firm, said grocers have some of the lowest profit margins in retail, making them cautious about adopting new technologies.

Mr. Kramer and Brian Brunk, a partner at the consulting group, both said AndyVision's software could help improve customer service by linking information about the location of goods with customers' cell phones. But buying the AndyVision software without the robot might be more attractive to some retailers, who prefer to use known, cheaper technologies, they said.

Ms. Narasimhan, whose two previous robotics ventures succeeded as companies (she is founder and CEO of YinzCam, which enhances viewing of sports events on mobile devices), said she doesn't know yet if retailers will want to buy AndyVision with ScotBot or just rely on cameras placed on shelves or carts. That kind of technology is already ubiquitous: The California company Datalogic ADC, for example, mounts cameras in checkout lines and on shelves in some groceries to track items missed at checkout.

She said the robot's roaming capabilities provide retailers with the added advantage of constant, real-time information about inventory.

"We are enamored and attached to the concept of the robot," said Ms. Narasimhan. "But from a very practical standpoint, we realize it may not be feasible everywhere."

Martin Hitch, CEO of Bossa Nova Robotics, said if robots succeed in retail, they'll find a path into homes and into the mainstream as their cost slides.

"I don't think there's a lack of personal robots because there's a lack of ideas," he said. "I think there's a lack of personal robots because the cost is prohibitive."

Catherine Mott, CEO of BlueTree Allied Angels in Pittsburgh, an angel-investing company, said the robotics industry's long-term returns make investment less attractive. Angel investors expect 10-times growth on investment in five years. Venture capitalists can't wait longer than 10 years for their money to grow. That means they're more likely to invest in software than in research to advance robots with longer-term projections for success.

"What's unfortunate is that some of the large, game-changing technologies require so much capital for proof of concept that it's harder to get them to the marketplace," she said. "Many robotics companies are a technology looking to find a problem instead of starting with a problem that they can solve."

But Ms. Narasimhan knows what the problem is -- she's lived it. The question is whether her team has given the problem more technology than it needs to be solved.

She said it's possible that if Intel doesn't continue funding research to perfect ScotBot, she will sell the software directly to retailers, allowing them to make the choice about whether to buy a robot or just cameras.

Seema Patel, CEO of the Pittsburgh company InterBots, which makes robots to assist children with autism, thinks robots will remain confined to niche markets -- at least for the foreseeable future.

Jim Ostrowski, vice president of product development for Datalogic, guessed it would take 10 to 20 years to see robots in stores and homes.

For now, it's products like iRobot's $300 automated vacuum cleaner that are selling big -- 6 million units to date.

Ms. Patel said that might be as far as robotics goes: "I don't know that we'll ever have Rosie Jetson, but we might have a really smart dishwasher or self-cleaning toilets."

Still, many roboticists are hopeful that ScotBot and friends will find their way into homes, malls, schools and hospitals one day.

And Mr. Ostrowski said he still thinks the dream of a C3PO-filled world is worth aspiring to -- because one day, robots may do more than count inventory. They might stock the shelves or carry crates, eliminating the "dull and dirty" tasks from daily life.

Or they may already be here.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wildly innovative CMU researchers receive nod from Obama

Two Carnegie Mellon University researchers received the highest honor in the land from President Barack Obama this week.
Luis Von Ahn, 33, associate professor of Computer Science, was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, bestowed upon professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. John Kitchin, an associate professor of chemical engineering, was also honored.
Von Ahn has been repeatedly feted for his innovative research in human computation as it relates to machine translation, which has set the standard for human-computer cooperation. Google acquired his online puzzle tool, reCAPTCHA, a  ubiquitous presence online today. His most recent project, Duolingo, helps people to learn a second language through online text translation. 
Kitchin and his team developed an electrochemical separation method for separating oxygen from air at ambient pressure and temperature, work that is advancing the future of clean energy through CO2 capture.
The duo were among 96 recipients announced by the White House. Von Ahn was among 20 nominated by the National Science Foundation. Kitchin was nominated by the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy.
In other award news, William “Red” Whittaker, a professor in CMU’s Robotics Institute, received the 2012 Simon Ramo Medal this summer by IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization.
Whittaker, the force behind the Tartan racing team that developed a driverless SUV, and the lunar moon race, has developed more than 60 robots through the years, many that work in inhospitable environments, places such as contaminated nuclear plants, abandoned mines, active volcanoes.
The medal, sponsored by Northrop Grumman Corporation, recognizes Whittaker for his pioneering contributions to mobile autonomous robotics, field applications of robotics and systems engineering.
His current focus is Astrobotic Technology, a CMU spinoff firm that is developing space robotics technology to support planetary missions and organizing a commercial venture to land a robot on the moon in 2015. He also founded two other spinoffs--RedZone Robotics and Workhorse Technologies--and the Robotics Institute’s National Robotics Engineering Center.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Friday, July 20, 2012

Universal Display and Plextronics Announce Strategic Alliance

Universal Display Corporation, the leading OLED patent licensor and supplier of materials and technologies for energy-efficient OLED displays and lighting, and Plextronics, Inc., a leader in the development and manufacture of printed electronics technologies, announced today they have entered into a strategic alliance to accelerate the development and commercialization of solution-based OLED material systems incorporating Plextronics’ hole injection and hole transport materials with Universal Display’s phosphorescent OLED emissive layer materials.  The companies entered into a three-year joint development agreement, and Universal Display made a $4 million investment in Plextronics.

“This agreement is an important step in Plextronics’ efforts to further advance the development and commercialization of its Plexcore® materials for phosphorescent OLED applications,” said Andy Hannah, President and Chief Executive Officer of Plextronics.  “Plextronics has worked closely with Universal Display to develop initial Plexcore® HIL products for Universal Display’s UniversalP2OLED® platform.  The results of these efforts were compelling to the point it made sense to expand the relationship to include hole transport layer materials in order to achieve the next level of performance.”

“After several years of collaborating with Plextronics, a leading developer of solution-based materials for OLED and other organic electronic devices, we are very pleased to strengthen our relationship and expand the development of next-generation, solution-processible OLED material systems for displays and lighting,” said Steven V. Abramson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Universal Display.  “By combining our UniversalP2OLED® printable, phosphorescent OLED material systems with Plextronics’ hole injection and transport materials, our goal is to develop high-performance, solution-based OLED material systems that can enable the implementation of ink-jet, nozzle and other potentially cost-effective, solution-processing manufacturing techniques.”

To see how Universal Display is changing the face of the display and lighting industries with its UniversalPHOLED®, white OLED and flexible OLED technologies, please visit the company at  To learn more about how Plextronics and its Plexcore® hole-injection and hole transport materials help improve the performance of OLED displays and lighting, please visit

Article courtesy of Techburgher

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chicago company serving diverse professionals buys Careerimp; CivicScience raises $2.86M

Pittsburgh startup Careerimp was purchased by Chicago-based Professional Diversity Network (PDN), a major provider of networking websites and job boards for culturally diverse professionals. 
The price was not disclosed.
A CMU spinout, Project Olympus and AlphaLab company, Careerimp developed the successful resume optimization tool,, used by both job seekers and career service providers. 
The company’s Pittsburgh office will remain in Startuptown, staffed by four people; two staff members, including CEO Ayan Kishore, have moved to Chicago, reports Mona Abdel-Halim of CareerImp. 
Careerimp products will be maintained under its current name and branding. Careerimp is hoping to find a strategic partner to take over the Regional Internship Center (RIC) of Southwestern, Pa., which it currently manages.
“They (PDN) were looking for something that would bolster their job board,” says Abdel-Halim. “They target different demographics and populations. There’s a lot of synergy between our companies.”
PDN’s goal is to impact access and opportunity for diverse professionals as they grow their careers. With more than 1.9 million members, PDN offers a free array of online resources for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, women, veteran, gay, transgender and differently abled professionals. 
“Careerimp is a great example of how students with a great idea can begin to create a successful business while still in school,” said Kit Needham of Project Olympus, CMU. “We are very proud of their success and hope our students follow their example.”
In other startup news, Strip District-based CivicScience has raised $2.86 million from Boston-based New Atlantic Ventures and Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises.  The company has also doubled its staff to 12, including one in Detroit, as a result of the funding round.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

CMU-created headlights avoid rain, snow glare

What driver hasn't experienced this danger? Nighttime in a downpour or snowstorm. The headlights, especially high beams, flicker, reflecting off of the raindrops and snowflakes, greatly reducing visibility. Clenching the steering wheel, the driver leans toward the windshield in an attempt to see the roadway through the blinding glare.

Soon there could be sight of the end of the struggle.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute are developing a "smart headlight system" that improves nighttime visibility during rainstorms or snowstorms by redirecting light between raindrops and snowflakes.

Srinivasa Narasimhan, a professor of robotics, is leading a research team that uses a computer, camera and projector to reduce the amount of light shined on particles of precipitation -- be it rain, snow or hail.

The camera takes continuous photographs of raindrop or snowflake positions a few yards ahead of the vehicle, where reflection is most severe. Based on the position, the computer calculates where the drop or flake will be milliseconds later so the light avoids the precipitation.

The prototype already works in a controlled setting. The goal is to shine light that avoids 70 to 80 percent of the precipitation, while losing only 5 or 6 percent of the luminosity of the head lamp. When light does hit a raindrop or snowflake, the driver sees a long streak of light. When the light bypasses it, the raindrop, if it can be seen at all, looks more like a thin black thread. The net effect is to provide the driver a better view of the roadway.

With the system in place, and with apologies to Gene Kelly, the driver is seeing in the rain.

"This will be useful for the driver but it could be more useful for the car approaching," Mr. Narasimhan said, noting that it works both ways. It shines light where the raindrops aren't. "Or you can say that it's shining light between the raindrops," he said. "It's the same thing."

During a demonstration last week at the Robotics Institute, the team used a standard projector, a camera and a computer, which eventually will be incorporated into a smaller headlight projection unit that will reduce the lag time, or latency period, required to process the photographs and shine light to the predicted spots between the raindrops. The shorter the lag time the better the results. Mr. Narasimhan said the goal is to reduce the latency period from 13 to 8 milliseconds.

Eventually, LED lighting combined with image sensors, all operated by a computer chip, could reduce the size and cost of the smart headlight system.

"The goal is being able to avoid enough drops to reduce the stress of the driver who's looking at the flickering of light," he said.

Another goal is a system that also can focus light on road signs or lines on the road. If the lines are too faint, the projector-style headlight could illuminate the entire lane to show the driver the way. It eventually could involve infrared radiation to detect pedestrians, deer or other animals moments before the driver typically would spot them.

Remaining challenges include gauging the path of raindrops and snowflakes when the vehicle is moving, especially at faster speeds, and how best to see through splashing water or snow, which has chaotic motions that are harder to predict. Blizzards and torrential rainfall could force the system to reduce light to a level that poses a danger for the driver. In those cases, the system could be programmed to revert to normal headlight function until conditions improve.

Beneficiaries of the technology would include older drivers with reduced vision and reflexes, Mr. Narasimhan said.

The technology's potential, like the view through the raindrops, is becoming more apparent. It could be available in a few years.

"The underlying science is there, but it's not yet in the form of a gadget that you can buy," he said. "By combining the technology and reducing the size of the headlights, I think we can think about this commercially."

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

CMU startup aimed at capturing online viewers' attention

In May, more than 180 million U.S. online users watched 36.6 billion videos, according to comScore Inc. That's hours of silly feline antics, TV shows and music videos that captured the precious attention of viewers.

A team from Carnegie Mellon University is in the process of developing a system to help online channels capture and keep more of those viewers as they poke around for something fun to see.

The startup company, neonlabs, eventually could rapidly process tens of thousands of videos for a client and spit out recommendations on the best thumbnail image to use for each one -- the right image to appeal to people's unconscious visual perceptions.

Eventually the company could charge a fraction of a penny per thumbnail recommendation, with the sheer volume of videos being posted on the Internet creating a market that would generate enough revenue to support a viable business.

This isn't exactly where the project originally began.

Initially, researchers were looking at applying how the brain takes visual information and makes choices, specifically as it relates to the design of packages.

Some preferences seem to be intrinsic to being human, said Michael J. Tarr, professor of cognitive neuroscience and co-director of CMU's Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. People, for example, tend to like shiny things over spiky, rough ones. Other visual reactions to common objects are specific to an individual's experience or influenced by factors such as age, interests and culture. "It may also be that context matters a lot," said Mr. Tarr.

But while those may play a role in shoppers' decision on which teapot or box of cereal to buy, companies already have other kinds of systems to test the best designs and the best marketing campaigns for those kinds of physical products.

In part by using a $50,000 grant from a new National Science Foundation program "Innovation Corps" meant to help commercialize scientific innovations, the team has worked to figure out other ways to use the research.

Companies like YouTube and Hulu were looking for ways to keep users on their sites longer, said Sophie Lebrecht, a postdoctoral fellow with CMU's Tepper School of Business and the neural cognition center.

There's money in keeping an audience and having opportunities to share those viewers with marketers. Tucked in and around all the videos Americans watched in May, they saw more than 10 billion video ads, reported Reston, Va., digital tracking firm comScore.

Online video websites may put up thousands of videos daily and they don't have time to field test each one. Thumbnail images -- the images that viewers use to select a video -- typically represent one frame of hundreds or thousands of possibilities from, say, the latest episode of "The Today Show" or the Modern Mom channel.

"People are making rapid decisions on what to post," said Mr. Tarr.

That led to the idea of building a service that can process a selection of videos on an as-needed basis and charging per thumbnail generated. Under that strategy, neonlabs will build a database that combines information on people's innate preferences as well as data from past behavior. It could also allow fine-tuning for, say, choosing the image most likely to appeal to 25-year-old males, if a client is targeting that audience.

"We're leveraging all the data we can collect beforehand," said Mr. Tarr. "It only works because people are relatively consistent."

The recommended thumbnails only need to improve viewership slightly on the current system to pay off. Even 1 percent or 2 percent better would be a tremendous advantage across the huge number of videos, said Mr. Tarr.

Sites might eventually consider offering the neonlabs process to those posting videos who are willing to pay a little extra for a recommendation to increase click-throughs. "It could be a value-added service that someone like a YouTube offers," he said.

Individuals putting up cute cat videos and scenes from the school play aren't likely to be the audience interested, said Ms. Lebrecht. "It's all the videos that they would monetize."

Other members of the neonlabs team are Babs Carryer, embedded entrepreneur at CMU's Project Olympus, and Thomas Kubilius, president of South Side-based Bright Innovation.

In addition to the National Science Foundation assist, the team has had help from Innovation Works, a South Oakland-based tech incubator, and CMU's Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation.

At the moment, they are continuing to talk with potential clients about how to craft the right service. Proving they have a viable product also will likely require getting data from companies and demonstrating how their recommendations would work.

The startup hasn't set a deadline for taking on commercial projects. "You often can't predict. It depends on the marketplace," said Mr. Tarr.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Aquion secures $15M loan facility to fund growth

Aquion Energy’s plans to grow and manufacture state-of-the-art batteries in western Pennsylvania received another boost this week to the tune of $15 million in a venture loan facility.

Horizon Technology Finance Corp. (Nasdaq: HRZN) and Silicon Valley Bank are committing up to $10 million and $5 million respectively, the institutions said in a written statement.

“We appreciate the confidence Horizon and SVB have demonstrated in Aquion,” said CEO Scott Pearson in a written statement. “This venture loan facility was the right financing solution for us to bolster our liquidity, providing the additional financial strength needed to further our innovative battery technology and continue to successfully execute our growth strategy.”

With this type of deal, Horizon and SVB give a loan to Aquion and then receive interest and warrants, which are similar to an option and allow the lenders to buy shares at the company’s current valuation at a future time.

The deal was competitive, said Jerry Michaud, president of Horizon. He noted Aquion is a high-profile company in its space and that Horizon had looked at three or four other companies but opted not to invest in them.

Horizon, based in Farmington, Conn., specializes in financing venture or private equity backed, development-stage companies. Silicon Valley Bank, based in Santa Clara, Calif., focuses on technology, life science, cleantech, venture capital, private equity and premium win businesses. This isn’t the first local company Horizon has worked with: Other local investments include South Side-based Precision Therapeutics.

“We do find the Pittsburgh area to be an interesting market,” Michaud said. “Unlike the obvious markets of Boston and Silicon Valley, which are very big markets for us, in Pittsburgh we find more unique technology. Not the average software or bioscience. It’s something where the Pittsburgh area brings the value to the technology.”

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

CMU translation software backed by Union Square Ventures, Ashton Kutcher

A Carnegie Mellon University tech star's latest venture has attracted enough attention to score funding from a Hollywood screen star.

CMU announced Tuesday that Duolingo, a language translation program created by computer scientists Luis von Ahn and Severin Hacker, has received funding from New York-based Union Square Ventures and actor Ashton Kutcher. Mr. Von Ahn said the total investment was $3.3 million.

Union Square Ventures focuses primarily on technology investments and has invested in Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare and Zynga.

Mr. Kutcher, who replaced actor Charlie Sheen in the starring role in the CBS comedy "Two and A Half Men," has put his money on well-known tech startups such as Foursquare and peer apartment rental service AirBnB.

Duolingo, which uses a combination of computer exercises and real-world texts from the Internet to teach new languages, merges correctly translated sentences into entire documents of translated works. The company has been in beta stage since November and will eventually go on to translate commercial documents in addition to what's on the Internet.

"So far, the reception for Duolingo has been great," von Ahn said in a press release.

He said about 30,000 of the 100,000 people who have used the service so far have become regular users who stay on the site for at least 30 minutes per week.

Mr. von Ahn won tech sector fame in 2007 after creating reCAPTCHAs, the online puzzles that require users to type words and phrases in order to identify themselves as real people to access certain sites. The typed phrases, which come from standard books, are used to create digital books.

In 2009, Von Ahn sold reCAPCHA Inc., to Google for an undisclosed amount.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Carnegie Mellon's Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund Awards Grants to 10 "Greenlighting Startups" Companies Across the US

Carnegie Mellon University's Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund (OFEF) has awarded $500,000 to 10 startup companies from across the U.S. to assist them in growing their business ventures. Announced last year, the fund was established by CMU alumnus and Flip Video Camera creator Jonathan Kaplan and his wife, Marci Glazer, to provide early-stage business financing and support to alumni who have graduated from CMU in the last five years. The companies, whose locations range from New York to Silicon Valley, operate in a variety of industries, including medical, technology, consumer and educational fields. Following CMU's focus on solving real-world problems, the companies' objectives include everything from reducing hospital-acquired infections and preventing vision loss in children to improving math and science education and making the wait for a restaurant table less frustrating.

"Carnegie Mellon graduates have what it takes to create great companies," said Kaplan, CEO of The Melt and five-time entrepreneur. "But without money and mentoring these young adults can often take jobs instead of taking risks. I want them to dream big and create the next great product or service just like I did."

OFEF is part of CMU's Greenlighting Startups initiative, which is designed to speed CMU faculty and student innovations from the research lab to the marketplace. Since Kaplan announced his fund last year, CMU has received more than $15 million to support Greenlighting Startups.

"Jonathan is truly a visionary, both as an entrepreneur and a philanthropist," said CMU President Jared L. Cohon. "His generous gift has spurred the continuing growth of Greenlighting Startups, allowing us to provide further support to students and alumni who are creating the types of companies and jobs that serve as the country's economic engine."

CMU's entrepreneurial culture has helped to create more than 300 companies and 9,000 jobs over the past 15 years, and CMU spinoffs represent 34 percent of the total companies created in Pennsylvania based on university technologies in the past five years.

The OFEF provides $50,000 in matching funds to each recipient, who also gain access to other funding sources, receive personalized mentoring and attend an annual OFEF business workshop. The university will provide legal and accounting support for OFEF recipients. Peter Stern, a CMU classmate of Kaplan, president of Bitly and a serial entrepreneur, will be providing advisory support for the fund, as well as serving as a mentor to one of the OFEF award recipients. The fund will select award recipients biannually.

Mentors will be assigned to each OFEF award recipient, including select CMU alumni. In addition to Kaplan and Stern, CMU alumni mentors such as Jonathan Schwartz, the former CEO of SUN Microsystems and current founder and CEO of CareZone, and Alan Chung, four-time entrepreneur and current founder and CEO of Perka, Inc., will be providing counsel to the chosen startup companies. Mentors also will include serial entrepreneurs who are based at Carnegie Mellon, including CMU Vice President of Research Rick McCullough, who has founded two companies, and OFEF Managing Director Dave Mawhinney, a professor of entrepreneurship and four-time entrepreneur

Article courtesy of MarketWatch

Thursday, June 14, 2012

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis Announces Grant to Help Create New Apprenticeship Program Entitled, "Making It In America"

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale and Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder welcomed today's announcement by United States Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis of the awarding of a grant to further pursue the development of a new apprenticeship training program entitled, "Making It In America".

The announcement was made at a press conference held at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Both Bloomingdale and Snyder thanked Secretary Solis as well as Jared Cohon, the President of Carnegie Mellon University, and Joseph G. Belechak, the President of the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, for their important roles in helping move this visionary project forward.

"The awarding of this grant is a very important step forward in connecting the skills of Pennsylvania and America's workforce to the needs of start-up companies at the earliest stages; to promote and encourage these emerging companies to utilize Pennsylvania workers in building their companies instead of moving jobs overseas," Bloomingdale said, in thanking Secretary Holis and the other leaders.

"This is about moving our workforce development more rapidly into the 21st century by building partnerships and relationships between skilled workers, scientists, engineers and leaders of emerging companies. This is an opportunity to both retrofit and retool our industry and workers. Keeping it made in Pennsylvania, and eventually, actually exporting the ingenious products of the future, that are globally used. It is also about helping universities and leaders of startup companies apply the practical skills and experience of workers in speeding new innovations and technologies to the workplace and to market," Bloomingdale said.

"The future is now and we want to be sure our workers and our unions in manufacturing, building and construction, communications, energy, transportation and infrastructure are fully prepared to produce and to build the industries and companies of the future," Snyder added.

"The collaboration we are building upon today between unions, startup entrepreneurs and Carnegie Mellon University may very well become the framework for workforce development programs across the United States," Snyder said.

"We plan on delivering our best and brightest to ensure that the strong unions of Pennsylvania continue their tradition of being leaders in training and playing an active role in economic development in our state and our country. Technology does not have to kill jobs. It can truly create jobs. Our goal is to be a strong part of the ever-changing work force," Snyder concluded.

Article courtesy of MarketWatch

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Carnegie Learning President Named Outstanding Entrepreneur by the Pittsburgh Venture Capital Association

The Pittsburgh Venture Capital Association has honored Dennis Ciccone, president of Carnegie Learning, with the 2012 Outstanding Entrepreneur Award. Recognized as a prolific entrepreneur, Mr. Ciccone led a national venture capital firm and guided several Pittsburgh-based start-ups through high growth and successful acquisition.

Mr. Ciccone is currently leading Carnegie Learning, a developer of adaptive mathematics instruction for middle school, high school, and higher education students. He joined the company as chief executive officer in January 2005 and, in the first fiscal year of his leadership, revenue grew by 50 percent. Carnegie Learning was acquired by Apollo Group APOL +0.40% in September 2011 and continues to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Before joining Carnegie Learning, Mr. Ciccone was a founder and the managing partner of Lycos Ventures, a $70 million fund investing in start-up companies providing internet content and services to the Lycos search engine web site. He also served as vice president of mergers and acquisitions for Lycos, Inc. In that capacity, Mr. Ciccone held a seat on the Board of Directors of Carnegie Learning and several other Lycos Ventures portfolio companies. In the late 1990's, he was president and chief operating officer of WiseWire, an internet company purchased by Lycos in 1998. Earlier in his career, Mr. Ciccone worked for 12 years with Simon & Schuster in New York as Director of Sales and Marketing.

"I appreciate the value of Pittsburgh's venture capital community in helping the regional economy to transition and grow over the last 20 years, and I am pleased to have contributed to the success of the entrepreneurial spirit in Pittsburgh," said Dennis Ciccone. "I have been fortunate for the opportunity to support and grow some exciting ideas alongside very smart, hard-working teams of technologists and business minds."

A native of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Mr. Ciccone was honored with the award at Pittsburgh's Duquesne Club on June 12 along with Donald Jones, managing director of Draper Triangle Ventures who received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his influence on innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders throughout Western Pennsylvania.

About Carnegie Learning, Inc. ( )

Carnegie Learning is a publisher of innovative, research-based mathematics software and textbooks for middle school, high school, and post-secondary students, aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Providing differentiated instruction in schools across the United States, Carnegie Learning is helping students to succeed in math as a gateway to graduation, college, and the 21st century workforce. Carnegie Learning, a wholly owned subsidiary of Apollo Group, Inc. APOL +0.40% , is located in Pittsburgh.

Article courtesy of MarketWatch

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tool-wielding robots crawl in bodies for surgery

Imagine a tiny snake robot crawling through your body, helping a surgeon identify diseases and perform operations.

It's not science fiction. Scientists and doctors are using the creeping metallic tools to perform surgery on hearts, prostate cancer, and other diseased organs. The snakebots carry tiny cameras, scissors and forceps, and even more advanced sensors are in the works. For now, they're powered by tethers that humans control. But experts say the day is coming when some robots will roam the body on their own.

"It won't be very long before we have robots that are nanobots, meaning they will actually be inside the body without tethers," said Dr. Michael Argenziano, the Chief of Adult Cardiac Surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

Argenziano was involved with some of the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration clinical trials on robotic heart surgery more than 10 years ago. Now he says snake robots have become a commonly used tool that gives surgeons a whole new perspective.

"It's like the ability to have little hands inside the patients, as if the surgeon had been shrunken, and was working on the heart valve," he said.

But Argenziano and experts in robotics say the new creations work best when they're designed for very specific tasks. "The robot is a tool. It is no different in that sense than a scalpel. It's really a master-slave device," he said.

Howie Choset has been researching and building robots, particularly snake robots, at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University for years.

Choset believes that his snake robot and others like it help reduce medical costs by making complex surgeries faster and easier. Choset says his new design is smaller and more flexible than earlier models: The diameter of the head is less than the size of a dime.

The size of surgical robots allows surgeons to operate with far less damage to the body, helping the patient heal faster. For example, instead of opening the entire chest up during heart surgery, a small incision is made, and the robot crawls inside to the proper spot.

Dr. Ashutosh Tewari of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York has used robotic tools to perform thousands of prostate operations. He said the precision of the tiny robotic tool is vital not just to cutting out cancerous tumors, but to seeing exactly what nerves to leave intact.

Tewari said he's most excited about the potential for surgical robots to do things humans can't do. He said the variety of sensors available for surgical robots keeps expanding, even as they get smaller. He said they may one day be able to test chemicals or blood in the body, or even the electrical connections in nerves.

Argenziano noted that robots aren't a magic cure. "The robot is good at certain things and it's not good at other things," he said. Some studies have found that the cost effectiveness of surgical robots varies greatly. In smaller hospitals, the high cost of purchasing and maintaining a robot may not make sense.

Choset has also built larger snake robots designed for search and rescue, or just exploration. They can climb poles or trees and then look around through a camera in the head, and slither through places humans can't reach.

"We sent our snake robots into these caves off the coast of the Red Sea to look for evidence of ancient Egyptian ships," he said. "To me archaeology is like search and rescue, but everyone's been dead for 5,000 years," reducing the pressure.

Another expert at Carnegie Mellon stresses that there's still an enormous gap between humans and even the most high-tech robots. Manuela Velosa noted that robots have been built that excel at one or two tasks - but not at the variety of tasks humans perform without even thinking.

Velosa has been building robots that ask humans for help when they don't know what to do, as well as teams of robots that play soccer against each other. Sometimes, the robots surprise her.

During one soccer game against robots from another university, the Carnegie Mellon team scored on a particular play. That sent a positive signal to the robot's computers, which are designed to reward success and discourage failures in the game.

Her robots then tried the play again - and scored again. It turned out they had discovered a programing flaw in the other team of robots, just like some sports teams find a flaw in their opponents.

In the second half Velosa's robot's kept using the same play, scoring every time, and thus reinforcing the tendency to try the play over and over. The robots crushed the other team.

"It was programmed by me, but it looked to me as if they learned," she said. "I believe we are much closer to having robots be able to coexist with humans. The beautiful thing is you see the robots learning.

Article courtesy of The Seattle Times

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

IBM Completes Acquisition of Vivisimo

IBM (NYSE:IBM) today announced it has completed the acquisition of Vivisimo, a leading provider of federated discovery and navigation software that helps organizations access and analyze big data. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Vivisimo software automates the discovery of big data, regardless of its format or where it resides, providing decision makers with a federated view of key business information necessary to drive new initiatives. The combination of IBM and Vivisimo software accelerates IBM's big data initiatives to help clients analyze the volume, variety, and velocity of big data for strategic advantage.

IDC estimates the market for big data technology and services will grow at an annual rate of nearly 40 percent to reach $16.9 billion by 2015. IBM is uniquely positioned to address this opportunity with the industry's broadest portfolio of capabilities including software, hardware, services, and innovations developed by IBM Research such as stream computing and IBM's Watson system.

"Game-changing insights are locked inside big data and clients want an easier way to unlock their full potential," said Arvind Krishna, general manager, Information Management, IBM Software Group. "This acquisition of Vivisimo will help clients uncover new data and combine it with existing information assets for analysis that leads to smarter business decisions. No other vendor provides this depth and breadth of information management and analytics for big data."

Visimimo will be integrated into IBM's big data platform which can analyze any data in motion or at rest. The platform enables clients to develop a new class of applications that perform advanced analytics on data in their native form, optimize workloads, and apply security and governance to big data.

Vivisimo brings over a decade of experience and innovation in data navigation technologies for big data. The technology is distinguished by its unique index and search capabilities that uncover data from multiple repositories, making it valuable to clients in any industry.

Vivisimo has more than 140 clients in industries such as government, life sciences, manufacturing, electronics, consumer goods and financial services. Clients include Airbus, U.S. Air Force, Social Security Administration, Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Navy, Procter & Gamble, Bupa, and LexisNexis among others.

With the closing, approximately 120 Vivisimo employees will join IBM's Software Group. IBM will incorporate Vivisimo technology into its big data platform and sell Vivisimo products individually.

Article courtesy of IBM

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New electric car conversion kit will charge your car (and wallet)

That old Honda in your driveway — maybe it's in need of a valve job? Transform it with an electric conversion. A team at Carnegie Mellon University here in Pittsburgh has come up with an all-included kit to make your 2001-2005 Civic a zero-emission battery car. Converting an existing car instead of buying a new one is good for the planet, and the old beater will have a new lease on life.

Your mechanic can probably install the kit in two and a half days. It’s not a difficult job, and you can sell the used engine and transmission on Craigslist. That’s the good part. Now here’s the bad part. The conversion kit costs $24,000, plus the cost of the Civic (if you don't already have one). Your total bill is likely to come in at $30,000. And you’re not eligible for the $7,500 tax credit that new EV buyers get. In fact, buying a new Nissan Leaf is actually cheaper than converting a 7-year-old used Civic.

Conversions are likely to catch on first in the fleet market, where what matters most is the long-term cost of keeping vehicles on the road. I wish the economics of personal EV conversion worked out better because it makes sense on many levels.
As Felix Kramer of CalCars points out, waiting for the automakers to field new EVs is going to take a long time. “There will be an insignificant impact in terms of petroleum reduction from the new plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles for more than 15 years — even if they come in at a rate 10 times faster than hybrids came into the market,” Kramer said. “That’s because we have 250 million vehicles in the United States and 900 million in the world.” Kramer also points out that the cars already on the road have a lot of “embedded energy,” and that about 15 percent of the total energy used by a car or truck in its lifetime was expended to build it.
“We’re not manufacturers or price optimizers,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, who co-directs Carnegie Mellon’s ChargeCar project. “The cost would come down if we could buy 100 kits at a time.” Indeed they would. And that’s the central issue and Catch-22 here: The price comes down with volume, but the volume isn’t going to grow much with such a difficult cost of entry.
H. Ben Brown, a project scientist at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute and the other co-director of ChargeCar, told me the kit is comprehensive, including the electric motor, control electronics (including an electric heater and pumps), 10.5 kilowatt-hours of lithium batteries, a computer display unit that offers information on battery health, and all the adapters you’ll need to fit the parts into a Civic. You have to supply the car and find a mechanic to install it all — or do it yourself.
The pack isn’t huge, but it fits into the Civic’s spare tire well and costs only about $5,000, which is cheap for lithium. Charging takes 10 hours on 110-volt house current, but you could half that by installing a 240-volt garage unit. The team has converted a pair of Civics, and get approximately 40 miles of range from them.
“It’s difficult to get the price any lower,” said Brown. “On the positive side, your impact on the planet is small compared to that of building a new vehicle.”
Converting cars to electric could be a big business, and some companies, such as ALTe, have been trying to make it such. Michigan-based ALTe has developed a turn-key plug-in hybrid conversion for fleet and niche vehicles. For the Ford F-150, the most popular vehicle on American roads, they take out the inevitable V-8, and replace it with a four-cylinder engine, an average of 22-kilowatt-hour battery packs, and two 60-kilowatt electric motors. As with other plug-in hybrids, there is 25 to 40 miles of electric-only range. The company says there are 33 million light- and medium-duty trucks on the road, and converting them to plug-in hybrid results in an 80 to 200 percent fuel economy improvement.
ALTe, founded by a trio of Tesla Motors refugees, focuses on converting 3- to 5-year-old Ford vehicles. The downside, as with Charge Car, is the price — an average of $30,000. The category is heating up, though, thanks to the entry of VIA Motors, which is focusing on plug-in hybrid conversions of large GM vans, trucks and SUVs. It says its price for converting a Silverado will be about $79,000 “in volume.” It really needs big orders to make it work, and it might get them, thanks to a tight relationship with GM (former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, pictured above, is an advisor and spokesman).
Both VIA and ALTe are focusing on the fleet market — consumers might come later. VIA says that over eight years of typical ownership, you’ll save $23,000 with one of their 100-mpg conversions, and those are the kind of numbers that hit home with fleet managers. Actually, the more you drive, the more you’ll save.

Article courtesy of MNN

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Visual Perception System Unconsciously Affects Our Preferences

When grabbing a coffee mug out of a cluttered cabinet or choosing a pen to quickly sign a document, what brain processes guide your choices?

New research from Carnegie Mellon University's Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC) shows that the brain's visual perception system automatically and unconsciously guides decision-making through valence perception. Published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the review hypothesizes that valence, which can be defined as the positive or negative information automatically perceived in the majority of visual information, integrates visual features and associations from experience with similar objects or features. In other words, it is the process that allows our brains to rapidly make choices between similar objects.

The findings offer important insights into consumer behavior in ways that traditional consumer marketing focus groups cannot address. For example, asking individuals to react to package designs, ads or logos is simply ineffective. Instead, companies can use this type of brain science to more effectively assess how unconscious visual valence perception contributes to consumer behavior.

To transfer the research's scientific application to the online video market, the CMU research team is in the process of founding the start-up company neonlabs through the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps).

"This basic research into how visual object recognition interacts with and is influenced by affect paints a much richer picture of how we see objects," said Michael J. Tarr, the George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and co-director of the CNBC. "What we now know is that common, household objects carry subtle positive or negative valences and that these valences have an impact on our day-to-day behavior."

Tarr added that the NSF I-Corps program has been instrumental in helping the neonlabs' team take this basic idea and teaching them how to turn it into a viable company. "The I-Corps program gave us unprecedented access to highly successful, experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who provided incredibly valuable feedback throughout the development process," he said.

NSF established I-Corps for the sole purpose of assessing the readiness of transitioning new scientific opportunities into valuable products through a public-private partnership. The CMU team of Tarr, Sophie Lebrecht, a CNBC and Tepper School of Business postdoctoral fellow, Babs Carryer, an embedded entrepreneur at CMU's Project Olympus, and Thomas Kubilius, president of Pittsburgh-based Bright Innovation and adjunct professor of design at CMU, were awarded a $50,000, six-month grant to investigate how understanding valence perception could be used to make better consumer marketing decisions. They are launching neonlabs to apply their model of visual preference to increase click rates on online videos, by identifying the most visually appealing thumbnail from a stream of video. The web-based software product selects a thumbnail based on neuroimaging data on object perception and valence, crowd sourced behavioral data and proprietary computational analyses of large amounts of video streams.

"Everything you see, you automatically dislike or like, prefer or don't prefer, in part, because of valence perception," said Lebrecht, lead author of the study and the entrepreneurial lead for the I-Corps grant. "Valence links what we see in the world to how we make decisions."

Lebrecht continued, "Talking with companies such as YouTube and Hulu, we realized that they are looking for ways to keep users on their sites longer by clicking to watch more videos. Thumbnails are a huge problem for any online video publisher, and our research fits perfectly with this problem. Our approach streamlines the process and chooses the screenshot that is the most visually appealing based on science, which will in the end result in more user clicks."

Today (May 23), Lebrecht will join the other 23 I-Corps project teams in Palo Alto, Calif., for the final presentation of each team's I-Corps journey from basic science idea to real-world business application. She will present neonlabs' solution, outlining the customer landscape, competition and business model.

Carnegie Mellon is well known for its entrepreneurial culture. The university's Greenlighting Startups initiative, a portfolio of five business incubators, is designed to speed company creation at CMU. In the past 15 years, Carnegie Mellon faculty and students have helped to create more than 300 companies and 9,000 jobs; the university averages 15 to 20 new startups each year.

"CMU has been an amazing place to build neonlabs," Lebrecht said. "There's a great intellectual community and facilities here as well as people unbelievably experienced in tech transfer and startups who have been so incredibly generous with their time."        

Article courtesy of Execdigital

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wombat Security Technologies Introduces New Release of PhishPatrol, its Industry-Leading Anti-Phishing Email Filter

Wombat Security Technologies today announced the release of a new version of PhishPatrol®, a highly sophisticated e-mail filter designed to strengthen a business’s current filtering system by catching many of the phishing emails missed by leading anti-spam/anti-virus software. Tests have shown that PhishPatrol catches many of the targeted phishing (“spear phishing”) attacks, including many zero-hour attacks that would otherwise go undetected by leading anti-spam/anti-virus filters. PhishPatrol’s outstanding results are made possible by cutting-edge predictive technology initially developed by Wombat’s co-founders at Carnegie Mellon University. This technology has been further enhanced at Wombat to combine multiple layers of analysis that look at each email from a number of complementary perspectives.

Industry analysts have recognized the need for organizations to focus on identifying and filtering out phishing emails given the significant and growing costs of these attacks. PhishPatrol is designed to enhance an organization’s existing anti-spam and anti-virus filters by leveraging a multi-layered approach. Each layer analyzes emails based upon a number of contextual attributes which range from structural email elements, linguistic features, and reputation mechanisms that in combination are very effective at identifying a full range of phishing attacks. The latest release of PhishPatrol also incorporates a new user interface that enables administrators to easily configure the product and view detailed reports and statistics.

“Current high-profile attacks on government and private sector organizations demonstrate that existing e-mail filters continue to miss a large percentage of phishing emails,” said Wombat’s President & CEO, Joe Ferrara. “In particular, research shows that these filters have a really hard time catching customized spear phishing attacks aimed at smaller groups of employees. Yet, these attacks are often the most successful and the most damaging.”

Today’s leading anti-spam/anti-virus filters fail to catch many phishing emails because they continue to rely primarily on manually maintained “blacklists” and email signatures. These blacklists and email signatures are generally known to be hours, if not days, behind.

“Research shows that 50 percent of users who fall for phishing attacks read their email within 2 hours from the time it reaches their inbox and this percentage reaches 90 percent within 8 hours”, said Dr. Norman Sadeh, Wombat’s co-founder and Chief Scientist. Therefore, a lag of even just a few hours can have devastating consequences for users.”

Wombat’s PhishPatrol works alongside existing anti-spam/anti-virus filters to strengthen the results and enhance a company’s defenses.

Two Lines of Defense against Phishing Attacks
Organizations that really want to protect themselves against cyber-attacks and sophisticated phishing schemes should adopt a two-pronged approach by (1) implementing an effective anti-phishing filtering solution and by (2) teaching employees how to recognize and avoid phishing emails, because no filtering solution will ever be able to catch everything. By deploying PhishPatrol in combination with Wombat Security’s award-winning Security Training Platform, security officers can rest easy knowing that they’ve done everything they can to protect their companies from phishing attacks — from enhancing their email filters to raising the preparedness of their workforce.

A free 60-day trial of PhishPatrol is available today. For more information about PhishPatrol or the Wombat Security Training Platform, please visit

Article courtesy of Virtual-Strategy Magazine

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Knopp Biosciences and Carnegie Speech expand; Pittsburgh's job prospects brighten

Growth spurts at two Pittsburgh-based companies are driving hiring at Knopp Biosciences and Carnegie Speech.
Drug discovery and development company Knopp Biosciences, working on a breakthrough drug for Lou Gehrig's disease, recently announced executive hires and a company expansion.  Knopp has doubled its research and development lab space to 20,000 feet, now occupying almost two floors at 2100 Wharton Street.  
The company grew from 15 to 27 in 2010 and now employs 33, having hired mostly Ph.D.-level biologists and medicinal chemists who have relocated to Pittsburgh.
Joining the team is Steven Boyd, Ph.D., formerly of Array BioPharma and Abbot Laboratories, who will lead the newly launched chemistry effort. Ian Reynolds, Ph. D., formerly of Merck & Co. and the University of Pittsburgh, is leading the expanded biological research effort.
In other expansion news, Carnegie Speech has appointed Paul Musselman as its new CEO and moved to a larger, new space on Liberty Avenue. The firm has also closed on a $3.4 million series B round of financing, led by Golden Seeds, contributions from New York Angels and returning investor group Osage Venture Partners. 
Musselman joins Carnegie Speech with more than 15 years of executive management and global experience at major technology firms including Intel Capital, IBM, Net Perceptions, Misys and Amdocs. 
The companies growth comes at a time of good news for jobs in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh job growth in March was the strongest of any city in the U.S. outside of Texas. The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment and unemployment figures for March 2012 reveal a bright job growth picture for the region and the lowest unemployment rate in three years. 
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for March 2012 was 6.7 percent, the lowest rate since February 2009's rate of 6.5 percent. Only three benchmark regions - Minneapolis, Boston, and Richmond - had lower unemployment rates in March, according to PittsburghToday.

Article courtesy of Pop City

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

CMU's Luis Von Ahn tackles languages with Duolingo, wins prestigious Google prize

CMU's Luis von Ahn, the wiz behind the ubiquitous computer puzzle reCAPTCHA, was awarded a $35,000 Google-sponsored prize for his work in bridging human and computer understanding.
The computer science professor will be honored as the outstanding young computer professional of the year with the Grace Murray Hopper Award by the Association for Computer Machinery (ACM).  
Von Ahn, 33, earned his doctorate in computer science at CMU in 2005 and joined the faculty in 2006. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006, and a Packard Fellowship and Sloan Research Fellowship in 2009. Last year, Spanish Foreign Policy magazine named him the most influential new thought leader of Latin America and Spain.
His latest venture is a company that he founded, Duolingo, In typical von Ahn fashion, the CMU spinoff accomplishes several things at once, helping people to learn a foreign language while simultaneously translating text and teaching foreign languages to others. It is in limited-beta testing.
For example, a user may learn English by learning how to translate the New York Times into Spanish, he explains. "It kills two birds at once. The Spanish speaker is helping other people who don't speak English to read the New York Times. The twist is while you are learning a language, you're also translating useful stuff from the web."   
Many translation tools don't work well because it's not a task well-suited to computers,  he adds. With Duolingo, translations are done by humans and not a computer, which is much better.
More than 400,000 people are already on the waiting list to use Duolingo.

Article courtesy of Pop City

Monday, May 7, 2012

When I Think About My Computer, I Touch Myself

No, eww, I don’t mean in the Divinyls sense — I’m talking about touching real-world objects like chairs or doorknobs, or even parts of your own body, say your ears, to signal your computer or other computing devices. A team at Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University is working on just that: new detection technology capable of recognizing much more than the current “either you’re touching something or you’re not” model.

Disney calls its technology Touché, and describes it as “a novel Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing technique that can not only detect a touch event, but simultaneously recognize complex configurations of the human hands and body during touch interaction."

Capacitive sensing by itself refers to conventional on/off touch mechanics. When you touch your smartphone today, for instance, it’s a binary relationship — you’re either touching the screen or you’re not. Touché, by contrast, can detect touch interaction across multiple frequencies (ergo the term “swept”), creating what Disney calls a “capacitive profile” containing significantly more information. With a capably programmed recognition engine, Touché can tell the difference not only between touching or not touching, but gestures performed on real-world objects, say pinching a doorknob as opposed to grasping it.

Disney says the technology would have all sorts of applications, from enhancements to existing touchscreen tech to broadening the way we interact with everyday materials. To illustrate the concept, researchers present several scenarios: The first, involving a doorknob, supports up to five interactions, including one-finger touch, two-fingers pinching, a “circle gesture” (thumb and forefinger encircling the knob) and full-on grasping. A second involves a person sitting at a table: Touché is able to detect whether the person has one or two hands on the table, as well as whether the person is using hands or elbows (a dream come true for manners-obsessed parents!).

In a third, Touché is used to illustrate the ability to detect one or multiple fingers touching or pinching a phone-like object, though it’s worth noting Apple and Sony already employ this sort of interfacing with existing capacitive technology. Sony’s PS Vita, for instance, uses a multi-touch capacitive touchscreen in concert with a rear touchpad that together can detect multiple finger input as well as gestures like pinching (two fingers, one on each screen).

But what’s arguably the most exciting about Touché is the fact that the tech doesn’t require metallic objects. In the demo video (above), a person with sensors attached to both arms and communicating to a computer wirelessly via Bluetooth demonstrates Touché’s ability to detect multiple forms of input, whether touching fingers from both hands (Touché can distinguish the number as well), clenching them together (recognized as “grasping”) or holding them over both ears (recognized as “cover ears”). Even wilder: Touché can make liquids touch-sensitive, recognizing input ranging from detecting one or more fingers in water to finger depth (touching the bottom of a water tank, say) and even a fully submersed hand.

What sort of practical applications are we talking? Disney says to imagine using Touché to train a child to spoon cereal from a bowl with utensils instead of fingers, or controlling a mobile music player — launching, adjusting volume, track selection — by performing different touch gestures on your body. Furthermore: Door handles that display messages (on a window-like screen) or that turn off the lights and lock up based on the way you touch the handle? A couch that turns on the television when it detects someone sitting, then dims the lights as they gradually recline? All possible, posits Disney.

Next stop: Disney will present the technology at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2012), taking place in Austin, Texas from May 5-10.

Article courtesy of TIME

Friday, May 4, 2012

Here's The Game-Changing Technology That's Going To Kill Rosetta Stone

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon have invented software that promises a significant improvement in English-speaking ability in just 10 hours.

The software, Carnegie Speech, is already widely available. Their CEO, Paul Musselman, told us their technology is superior to other programs because it can actually identify speech problems and tailor the program to the customer.

Musselman is the newly-appointed CEO of the company, which just raised $3.4 million in series B financing.

Current language-learning softwares, the most famous being Rosetta Stone, just train people to mimic pre-recorded speeches.

The technology works by picking up a persons' speech patterns with a microphone and identifying the areas where they struggle most. Then, it creates an instantly-customized program.

Customers include international airline pilots, who need language skill to be certified, hospitality workers and customer service representatives.

"English is exponentially the largest foreign language in demand worldwide," Musselman told us. "This technology is a game-changer."

The software costs $300 for an individual or $2000 for a business or college.

Article courtesy of Business Insider

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

HIRING! Carnegie Learning announces major expansion, joins NBC Learn for "Election Math"

Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Learning is on the brink of major growth that will double the company's size by next year. And that's just the beginning.
The company has teamed up with NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, to produce "Decision 2012: Election Math." The partnership combines CL's innovative, research-based math instruction with national election events and trends to help improve student math performance.
Students will learn all about the numbers behind the election process, statistical feats such as predicting winners through sampling, analysis of voting-age populations, demographics, electoral college dynamics and turnout, to name a few. 
"It’s a student-centric site that students can access," says Dennis Ciccone, CEO of CL. "An exploration of how we can work together and get students interested in the mathematics of the elections."
The company growth and new initiatives are a direct benefit of the purchase of Carnegie Learning by the Apollo Group last year, the parent company of the University of Phoenix and the second largest education company in the world. 
Since then, Apollo has invested heavily in CL. Plans call for hiring 35 in the immediate future and 70 more in 2013, which will double the size of the company in time from 110 employees to more than 200, mostly in Pittsburgh, says Ciccone. 
Jobs are in the areas of sales, marketing, technology development, programming and educational content developers. CL has leased additional space in the Frick Building, but is considering a move.   
"We're pretty excited about all of it," says Ciccone. "They (Apollo) bring a global presence to us. They looked all over the world for the best learning platform and they chose us. They're also very adaptable to new technologies."
The news bodes well for Pittsburgh, which is becoming known as a national research center for science and learning, due in part to ongoing research at CMU.  Pittsburgh stands to benefit from the educational shift away from more traditional learning methods and textbook teaching toward online education, Ciccone says.
The region may consider establishing a research and development center for the educational software industry here. 
"It's a global opportunity," says Ciccone. "For Pittsburgh, it’s a new frontier. This is one of the unique places in the U.S. where university researchers are studying how children learn."

Article courtesy of Popcity

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A hotbed of innovation: What's new at Carnegie Mellon

Carnegie Mellon is a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship. Here, students and faculty are inspired to create technologies that will change the world. From dorm rooms to laboratories, from business to computer science, from undergrads to senior faculty, CMU stimulates innovation and incubates first-time entrepreneurs.
Walking through campus, one witnesses the buzz of creation as clusters of students brainstorm in science labs, around whiteboards, hover over computers during lunch, or race to their next class.  One sees faculty deep in discussion with each other, with students. What are they talking about?  Could they be on the brink of the next big thing? Wouldn’t you like a front row seat to the creation of these businesses?
Last week, I had the privilege of luring back to campus a seasoned entrepreneur alum (computer science, 1999) who had been my student 13 years ago: Joshua Baer, four-time entrepreneur, three successful exits, more than 50 private equity investments in startups, and Austinpreneur. Josh came back to CMU to give back, literally. Over the course of several days, he saw 30 pitches of projects from current students, alumni-based startups in the region, and faculty projects that we hope to turn into startups.
Josh’ visit to campus gave me a good excuse to line up the best and the brightest so he could see what’s new at CMU. Here’s a sample of what he saw:
A software system to manage all the disparate information inherent in large buildings. The technology is being developed by Burcu Akinci, a professor/researcher in civil and environmental engineering, along with a promising PhD student, Xuesong (Pine) Liu.
A startup by serial Pittsburgh entrepreneur, Rick Cancelliere, and Matt Stadler, a PhD alum in chemistry. The duo have teamed up to create Treatspace, which finds and corrects online facts about doctors. Their pitch includes data that incorrect online information affects 100% of physicians.
A new craft beer brewing facility by two undergrads, Matt Katase and Asa Foster who are bucking the trend of doing a tech startup. The pair are barely of drinking age but they are nuts about craft beer and believe that with their skills and passion they can brew and sell beer that appeals to their generation. With recipes for beers like white chai ale, The Brew Gentlemen make a strong business case that Pittsburgh is a fantastic opportunity to do this.
ComVibe, founded by Tepper alum, Kariithi Kilemi, sells software to property managers that reduces tenant turnover, accelerates tenant acquisition, and increases the lifetime value of a tenant. ComVibe has received funding and support from Idea Foundry and AlphaLab, and is growing fast with pilot projects at several large property managers.
Resunate, another alumni company, co-founded by Ayan Kishore, who graduated with a masters from Human Computer Interaction Institute, and Mona Abdel-Halim, who graduated with an MBA from Tepper and a masters in public policy from Heinz. Also an AlphaLab company, Resunate has developed software for resumes that echoes the online dating world by telling the job seeker how their resume will score in an applicant tracking system. Resunate allows the job seeker to optimize their resume for computer-generating algorithms so they can get through the online system of an employer.
Anthony Palma, finishing up his masters from the Entertainment Technology Center, and his project – a game development studio, Kermdinger Studios, which focuses on online comedy games. Anthony spent the last year developing his idea in the non-classroom but highly creative environment that the ETC provides.
Shoefitr, founded by three engineering alums, including Matt Wilkinson. The company has been through AlphaLab and raised some decent seed financing. Shoefitr also has revenues, and Matt was looking a little bleary eyed as he talked, having just got off the plane from one of the fastest growing countries in the world where he inked a deal with a large online shoe retailer. Shoefitr has very cool technology that uses a 3-D image of a foot plus information about current shoes to tell the shoe buyer what shoes and brands will fit best. This solves the huge problem of returns faced by online stores.
Enes Hosgor, using his PhD research in engineering, to create EEMe, a software platform that helps the energy efficiency industry gain needed information about the homes that can benefit the most from energy efficient renovations. Partnering with local energy efficiency expert, Tim Carryer, and his company, GreenoverGreen, and the collection of regional energy auditors that comprise DEAWP (Diagnostic Energy Auditors of Western PA), Enes is on the way to pilot test his system in the field.
Saving the hottest for last, Josh concurs that post-doc Sophie Lebrecht has the largest opportunity even if she is the earliest stage. Sophie has developed technology that can predict consumer preference based on visual images. Her project, NeonLabs, is currently funded under the new Innovation-Corps program by the NSF. Sophie and her team (which includes Mike Tarr from the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, and me as mentor) is currently exploring how to apply her technology to the world of online videos and the thumbnail images that provide the gateway to the video and to the advertisement, which is often the revenue model for the video company.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Friday, April 13, 2012

Carnegie Mellon Scientists Create Mimic of Disease-Fighting Cyclic Peptide

Carnegie Mellon University chemists have created a synthetic form of a cyclic peptide known for its remarkable ability to combat a wide variety of pathogens, including HIV and SARS. Synthetic peptides like the one developed at Carnegie Mellon could provide an exciting new class of pharmaceuticals aimed at combatting hard-to-treat diseases. Furthermore, the manufacturing technique developed by Associate Professor of Chemistry Danith Ly could further the study of cyclic peptides by making the molecules easier and less expensive to produce.

Peptides are short chains of amino acids joined together by peptide bonds. They can be arranged in a linear chain or in a ring that is held together at the center by cross-linked bonds. Scientists have explored the therapeutic potential of peptides for decades.

“The problem with peptides is that they’re small and floppy and, when they bind, they don’t bind with high affinity or selectivity. If you take a linear peptide and inject it into the bloodstream the half-life is less than two minutes,” said Ly, who is a member of Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Nucleic Acids Science and Technology. “Nature gets around this by making peptides circular. In addition, if you inject a cyclic peptide into the blood stream it doesn’t get chewed up and degraded. Its half-life is 40 hours or more.”

Cyclic peptides are some of the most fascinating peptides found in nature — most venoms are cyclic peptides, and many plants used in traditional tribal medicines contain cyclic peptides. These peptides are thought to have great therapeutic potential, but due to their elaborate structure, they have been difficult to recreate in large quantities.

In the current study, the Carnegie Mellon researchers focused on RTD-1, a cyclic peptide held together by three disulfide bonds. Found in rhesus macaques and baboons, it has a broad range of antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral capabilities. Most notably, RTD-1 has been shown to inhibit HIV from entering cells, offering the primates immunity from HIV and AIDS. Early humans also had RTD-1, but a genetic mutation some nine million years ago caused humans to stop producing the peptide.

“RTD-1 is part of the innate immune system of macaques and baboons, and at one time it was part of our immune system,” Ly said. “If we can reproduce this peptide, we possibly could treat a wide range of infections to which humans were once immune.”

Ly and colleagues created a mimic of RTD-1 using the building blocks of natural and synthetic nucleic acids called peptide nucleic acids. While the outside of the mimic peptide maintained the same amino acids as the original, the researchers replaced the complex disulfide bonds at its center with simpler bonds called noncovalent Watson-Crick hydrogen bonds. These are the same bonds that are found in DNA and RNA. By changing the bond formation, the researchers created a peptide that could be easily, and inexpensively, manufactured on a large scale.

They then tested the efficacy of the mimic RTD-1 by mixing the peptide with E. coli, listeria, staphylococcus and salmonella — bacteria that RTD-1 typically protects against. The mimic proved to be effective in killing each of the types of bacteria tested by the researchers, which included both gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial strains. Furthermore, the mimic peptide worked by binding to the bacteria’s cell membrane, not its DNA or RNA, decreasing the probability that the bacteria could develop resistance to the peptide.

The researchers plan to see if the mimic RTD-1 is effective against other types of pathogens, including antibiotic resistant bacteria. They also plan to apply their method to manufacture mimics of other cyclic peptides.

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the DSF Charitable Foundation.

Srinivas Rapireddy, Linda Nhon and Robert E. Meehan from Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Chemistry and Center for Nucleic Acids Science and Technology; Jonathan Franks and Donna Beer Stolz from the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Dat Tran and Michael E. Selsted from the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine also contributed to this study. Their results are published in the March 7 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Article courtesy of Carnegie Mellon News

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Voci™ Raises $3.12M to Expand Customer Base

Voci™ Technologies Inc. announced today that it has secured $3.12 million in Series A financing. The financing round was led by the Pittsburgh Equity Partners, with participation from existing investors including the BlueTree Allied Angels, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Innovation Works.

“Voci has produced impressive results in a short period,” commented Steve Robinson, Managing Partner at Pittsburgh Equity Partners. “We see tremendous growth potential for speech recognition in the enterprise analytics business and for Voci in particular due to their differentiated solution and high-caliber team of entrepreneurs.”

Voci introduced the world’s first commercial speech recognition appliance, V-Blaze™, last September. The system has roots in early work on accelerated speech recognition done at Carnegie Mellon. Voci’s implementation extends the technology using patent-pending techniques to overcome deficiencies that hindered the academic approach for commercial applications. V-Blaze accurately converts audio files to text orders of magnitude faster than any other speech recognizer, auto-transcribing 100 hours of live audio in one hour, and delivers scanning of up to 1000s of words at over 300x real time with exceptional accuracy.

Voci empowers enterprises to monitor customer interactions while the customer is on the call, initiating real-time alerts for intervention to address customer problems, prevent fraud, and improve cross selling based on live conversations. The Voci recognizers’ speed coupled with an affordable price liberates enterprises to analyze 100% of the recorded call center data to derive Voice of Customer insights to improve operations.

“We are pleased that our newest investor has recognized the commercial validation of Voci’s proprietary hardware-accelerated speech technologies and our innovative team focused on the fastest-growing segment of the business intelligence market,” said Anthony Gadient, Voci’s president and CEO. “We look forward to benefitting from Pittsburgh Equity Partners’ experience as we enter this next chapter in Voci’s growth.”

Article courtesy of MarketWatch

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Astrobotic Announces New Robot Design, New Lunar Mission

Astrobotic Technology has unveiled a new design and name — Polaris — for its lunar rover, which will prospect for potentially rich deposits of water ice, methane and other resources at the moon's north pole.

Astrobotic, a Robotics Institute spin-off founded by Robotics Professor William "Red" Whittaker, is pioneering commercial lunar exploration with expeditions that deliver payloads for space agencies and corporate customers.  It also seeks to win the Google Lunar X Prize, which will award more than $20 million to a privately funded team that lands and operates a robot on the moon by December 2015.

The company's plans call for Polaris to be launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX from Cape Canaveral in late October 2015. Four days later, Polaris will land at the lunar north pole during its summer, when patches of ground that are in cold shadow most of the year get brief illumination. This is where ice will be found closest to the surface and when the solar-powered robot will get sufficient sunlight for operations. Polaris will search for ice for the next 12 days until sundown in early November.

The Apollo expeditions only visited six spots along the Moon's equator, so the water, methane, carbon monoxide and other volatiles frozen at the poles went unnoticed for decades. Recent orbiting satellites and a NASA probe that impacted near the south pole showed that polar regions offer resources that could speed human settlement of the solar system. These resources can be turned into rocket propellant to refuel spacecraft for their return trip to Earth. Lunar propellant also can be shipped to Earth orbit to fuel Mars-bound crewed expeditions at less cost than launching propellant from the ground, Astrobotic says.

Polaris carries up to 175 lbs. (80kg) of payload, such as a drill and instruments to analyze samples from the drill. To find the best spot to drill, two sensors will look for signs of hidden ice beneath the surface layer of dry soil. A neutron spectrometer will measure the number of neutrons given off by the first yard of soil beneath the rover; a dip in the reading indicates neutrons coming in from space are being absorbed by hydrogen (in water or methane) in ice beneath the robot. A near infrared spectrometer will look for variations in surface temperature that may hint at ice below.

Polaris is adapted from a lunar excavation machine that Astrobotic has been prototyping under a NASA contract granted in 2010. After Polaris and other prospecting robots find the highest ice concentrations, excavation robots will remove the covering layer of dry soil to recover the ices and deliver them to a plant that turns them into rocket propellant.

The new polar mission supplants Astrobotic's earlier plan to land a robot near an Apollo landing site.

Article courtesy of Carnegie Mellon News

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Interbots' adorable Popchilla brings smiles to autistic children

When Interbots CEO Seema Patel started receiving phone calls from autism researchers, she realized just how powerful the potential was for robotic toys. 
The East Liberty startup, born out of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center, immediately shifted from work on the interactive robot Quasi and began designing interactive robots for children with autism spectrum disorder.
Research shows that children with autism have an easier time interacting with robots and animals than people, explains Patel. Parents were telling us that their children, who never spoke with strangers, were talking to our robot.  Robots aren't as intimidating.
"That's when it hit home for us that we had to make it happen somehow," she says.
Interbots created Popchilla--a bluish chinchilla-like critter--as a robotic tool for autistic children and their therapists. The company is currently hoping to raise at least $1 million to manufacturer 5000 Popchilla toy robots. 
In addition, Interbots is developing iPad app games. The most recent app, Popchilla's World, teaches social skills and routines through fun and play.
In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, the East Liberty startup has launched a Kickstarter campaign with the hope of raising $25,000 this month to create more apps.  
The first game, "Touch and Say," released last July, continues to do well, says Patel.  The game has been downloaded more than 45,000 times and has a recurring user rate of 95%, which is high.
"There is a community of people dedicated to using the apps with children and they're using them often," she says. 
For now, the company will remain at five employees with one intern.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Accel Diagnostics puts medical diagnosis on a fast-acting chip

A novel diagnostic tool developed by a CMU spinoff hopes to give doctors a fast and inexpensive way to diagnose life-threatening diseases.
Accel Diagnostics was founded by Dr. Alberto Gandini, CEO, and Dr. James Antaki, a professor of biomedical engineering at CMU. The AlphaLab startup recently received a GAP grant from CMU to complete work on a beta version of the handheld tool, the size of a credit card, which is capable of accurately diagnosing one of several proteins in patients.
What makes pScreen unique is it is the only test available for these proteins that is entirely disposable, says Gandini. Known as a "lab on a chip," the tool hopes to tap into the $14 million point-of-care diagnostic market.
"The test is it is low in cost and easy to access anywhere, so it can be used outside the laboratory setting or in remote areas," he adds. "It can be used in a pharmacy, at home or in a doctor's office." 
The procedure involves a simple finger prick. The biosensor platform, a sensitive immunoassay, detects protein biomarkers to diagnose a variety of proteins which accurately assess risk of heart attack, miscarriage and osteoporosis within 15 minutes.
In some cases it's critical for a physician to receive an immediate result. It also allows physicians to discuss a diagnosis, react more quickly on a course of treatment or discuss subsequent medical evaluations with the patient on the spot, says Gandini.  
A native of Milan, Italy, Gandini came to Pittsburgh by way of Houston, where he was a  research assistant professor of physics at the University of Houston, Texas.  He is currently a research scientist at CMU where he received his MBA at Tepper School of Business and met Antaki. Saliman Mukhtar is also working with the team.
The FDA approval process will follow. 

Article courtesy of Popcity

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Blue Belt Technologies Announces New Pittsburgh Facility

PITTSBURGH, April 3, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Blue Belt Technologies, Inc., a Pittsburgh based medical device company commercializing the next generation of "smart" surgical instruments providing precise robotic control for initial use in orthopedic procedures, is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house event on April 3, 2012 to celebrate the opening of a new state-of-the art facility in Pittsburgh, PA.

In addition to continued internal product development, the facility will allow for manufacturing and support of initial European clinical sites, and represents another phase in Blue Belt Technologies' evolution. The space is configured to optimize cross-functional interaction during development and commercialization efforts.

"This new and exciting space allows for an expansion of personnel, facility and capabilities to support our continued progression towards commercialization in both Europe and the United States," says Eric B. Timko, President and CEO of Blue Belt Technologies.

The event will be held at the company's new location at 2828 Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh's Strip District. Blue Belt personnel will be providing guests with up-close demonstrations of the company's Navio(TM) PFS System, performing simulated unicondylar knee replacements. Additionally, guests will be given tours around the new office and manufacturing space while enjoying appetizers. Blue Belt Technologies is excited to be celebrating this event with its investors, shareholders, vendors, partners, employees and friends.
Article courtesy of MarketWatch

Friday, February 24, 2012

Blue Belt Technologies Receives CE Mark for Navio PFS System

Blue Belt Technologies, Inc., a medical device company focused on developing the next generation of "smart" surgical instruments providing precise robotic control for use initially in orthopedic procedures and then for other surgical specialties including neurosurgery, spinal and otolaryngology ("ENT"), announced today that it has received CE Mark for the Navio PFS System.

The Company's initial market application in Europe is for Unicondylar Knee Replacement ("UKR") which is commonly known as partial knee replacement. A partial knee replacement is surgery to replace either the inside (medial) or outside (lateral) compartment of the knee with an implant. Partial knee replacements are bone-sparing and have been shown to provide better surgical outcomes for patients with cartilage damage contained to a single compartment when compared to total joint replacement. The majority of partial knee replacement surgeries are currently performed using instruments which can be inconsistent and lead to high revision and retreatment rates.

Blue Belt's Navio PFS System incorporates patented technology to provide additional control to surgeons via an intelligent, handheld, cutting tool coupled with powerful surgical planning and navigation software. The Navio PFS System provides the surgeon with a layer of safety and enhanced accuracy while performing bone shaping tasks through less invasive incisions. Jess Lonner, M.D., who is an Associate Professor of Orthopedics at Thomas Jefferson University and Co- Chair of Blue Belt's Scientific Advisory Board, said, "There is a growing role for partial knee replacement surgery as patterns of arthritis become better understood, particularly given the changing demographics and expectations of our patients. The capacity for pairing conservative unicondylar bone preparation with a unique level of precision sets the Navio PFS System apart from conventional technologies and should contribute to rapid functional recovery and enhanced durability."

Eric B. Timko, President and Chief Executive Officer of Blue Belt Technologies went on to say, "We are very pleased to receive CE Mark for the Navio PFS System. This initial clearance represents a significant milestone for Blue Belt and our efforts to become a leader in the field of Unicondylar Knee Replacement by providing the physician with a robotic instrument that provides for an accurate and consistent placement of the UKR implant, leading to a better outcome for the patient. We are excited to begin executing on our commercialization strategy in Europe and introducing the Navio PFS System to the physician community."

Article courtesy of HEALTHPOINTCAPITAL

Thursday, February 23, 2012

RedZone Robotics closes on $8.5M


RedZone Robotics Inc. has raised $8.5 million from Switzerland-based FourWinds Capital Management and Pittsburgh-based Smithfield Trust Co. 

With this investment, it brings the round, which started late last summer, up to $34 million. FourWinds, through its Waste Resources Fund, led this stage of the round with $6.5 million and Smithfield put in $2 million.

RedZone plans to use the series C funding to further expand its products and geographic reach, the company said.

“It was our plan to bring a water expert onto the board and to open up additional funds for our series C,” said RedZone CEO Eric Close. With the investment from FourWinds, the company achieves both goals.

As part of the deal, Valerie Daoud Henderson of FourWinds joins the RedZone board. FourWinds specializes in global commodities and natural resources investing with expertise in areas including water and waste.

When the company closed on the first part of the round in September, Close said, the team was looking for an expert water investor but just didn’t know who it would be.

As far as the business, Close said it is going well and the company is up to a total of 85 employees and has a “very, very aggressive plan” in place. He added the company is continuing to hire.

The company has developed robotics that can inspect underground infrastructure as well as gather and interpret data that allows municipalities and other organizations to make informed maintenance decisions.

RedZone continues to add customers, Close said, and is now in more than 250 municipalities worldwide.

“It’s a very good time for RedZone,” Close said. “The needs are enormous.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. needs to spend between $13 billion and $20.9 billion annually between 2000 and 2019 on wastewater infrastructure needs.

In this time of tight budgets, the spending is questionable, so wasterwater managers must make strategic decisions, and Close says his technology can help.

“New technology has clearly shown to be vital to advancements in every industry throughout the world, unfortunately the extent of technological innovation seen in other industries has bypassed our aging wastewater industry, which has for too long remained out of sight and therefore out of mind,” said Henderson of FourWinds in a written statement. “We are excited to now be a part of the continued growth and success of RedZone.”

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tech Talk: Courting international startups

Entrepreneurship is the answer to Portugal’s economic woes. This means that Portuguese entrepreneurs have to get their startups beyond the border and into some broader markets. In Portugal startups face the constraints that come with being in a small geography. Of course, the rest of Europe is one opportunity. Another is Brazil (common language). But the US is the vast opportunity ocean. So a third option is Pittsburgh.
Why Pittsburgh?  Pittsburgh is a great soft landing base from which to expand throughout the US. In general, Pennsylvania has a lot in common with Portugal. The two are about the same size and same population. Whereas we have Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as the two anchor cities, east and west, Portugal has Lisbon and Porto, south and north. Pittsburgh offers a climate of innovation, partnership and support of entrepreneurship that foreign startups cannot find in other cities. Plus landing some startups that already have customers, revenues and a clear US market entry strategy could be important to us and to our regional economy. We pay attention to these companies, working closely with them to understand their needs, which in turn drives value creation. In other US cities, such foreign startups might be one of many, and they risk getting lost in an over-populated entrepreneurial ecosystem. So, last week, several Portuguese companies visited Pittsburgh to explore setting up operations here. Who are these companies? They are software; they are healthcare; they are social media:, FeedZai, Observit, and TreatU (featured last fall in New Venturist).
Why Portugal?  It starts with the Carnegie Mellon-Portugal Program, which links CMU to the nine major technical universities in Portugal (located in Aveiro, Coimbra, Lisbon, Madeira, Minho, and Porto). In addition, a Portuguese government-sponsored initiative called the University Technology Enterprise Network (UTEN) partnered with CMU, Harvard, MIT, and UT Austin to stimulate entrepreneurship in this small but vital country. UTEN brought several of us involved in entrepreneurship at CMU over to Portugal during 2011 to give seminars and workshops. These trips made us aware of two fundamental things:
1. The Portuguese have entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial spirit in abundance; but
2. The Portuguese do not inherently know how to position themselves for the hyper-competitive US market. 

Several posts on New Venturist plus profiles of Portuguese entrepreneurs emerged from these realizations. As entrepreneurs we recognized the need, knew that we could solve the problem, and so we started something new: a CMU-Portugal Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) program. And CMU embraced this program as a pilot for future relationships around entrepreneurship in other countries. CMU has a vast international reputation, and increasingly an international presence. So perhaps Portugal is the first of other such EIR programs that foster entrepreneurship around the globe and increase an international contingent of startups in Pittsburgh?
The Portuguese were here
For the Portuguese onsite last week, my colleagues, Tara Branstad (of CMU’s tech transfer office) and Dave Mawhinney (of the Don Jones Center for Entrepreneurship), and I set up meetings with immigration attorneys, lawyers specializing in international corporations, regional resources, funders and, most importantly, one-on-one interactions with potential customers, investors, and strategic partners.
Two key events framed the visit. Last Wednesday evening, AlphaLab hosted Innovation Happens, which is a regular program to introduce startups and big companies. Managed by fellow entrepreneur Sean Ammirati and several others, this event featured the four Portuguese companies, plus another company, Orka, founded in Bosnia by a PhD student in the CMU-Portugal program. Each company speed pitched for five minutes as groups of potential industry partners, funders, and fellow entrepreneurs moved from table to table to listen to all five. The next Innovation Happens event will be held on March 29 at AlphaLab (more info and to register at
Last Friday afternoon, the visit closed with a reception at CMU and an International Showcase where the four Portuguese companies, plus two companies by students in the CMU-Portugal program, presented investor pitches hoping to secure some seed capital to come to Pittsburgh for more than a visit.
The companies in a nutshell:

  • TreatU solves the problem of chemotheraphy side effects in breast cancer by providing a novel drug delivery mechanism that both bombs the tumor and starves it to death.
  • Observit has a comprehensive video surveillance software system and has penetrated 25% of shopping centers in Portugal and has begun to make inroads in Brazil.
  • FeedZai solves big data problems with Pulse, a real-time data management software system, targeting utility and energy companies.
  • Orka provides solves problems of document management through an enterprise-level content management platform.
  • leverages an existing partnership with Vodaphone in Europe to provide a fast and fun way to discover friends nearby using geo-location and social networking on both smartphones and legacy phones.
What’s next
We sent the companies home to Portugal on Saturday with lots of things to consider: Do they set up a corporate entity in the US? In Pittsburgh? Who is on the ground here? How do they springboard from Pittsburgh across the nation? The entrepreneurs have follow-up phone calls, Skype calls, emails and mailings to conduct. They have to talk to their shareholders, boards and founders. They have a lot to think about because we, Pittsburgh, knocked their socks off, entrepreneurially speaking!

Babs Carryer is an entrepreneur, New Venturist blogger, and deeply involved in entrepreneurship at CMU with Project Olympus, Don Jones Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Institute for Social Innovation)

Article courtesy of Popcity

Monday, January 30, 2012

Carnegie Mellon scientist wins international award for computational biology

The International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) has awarded its Overton Prize for outstanding accomplishment to Ziv Bar-Joseph, associate professor in Carnegie Mellon University's Lane Center for Computational Biology and Machine Learning Department.

The Overton Prize is awarded annually to an early- to mid-career scientist who has made a significant contribution to the field of computational biology. In recognition of the award, Bar-Joseph will give a keynote address this July at the annual International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology in Long Beach, Calif.

Bar-Joseph, who joined CMU's School of Computer Science (SCS) faculty in 2003, applies machine learning, statistical algorithms and signal processing techniques to the analysis of high-throughput biological data. He has led international research efforts that have identified genes important to human cell division, including a subset associated with cancer cells, which have uncovered new insights into gene regulatory networks.

In a study published last year in the journal Science, he and his colleagues observed methods that have evolved to organize cells during nervous system development. The same methods, they concluded, could be used to improve the deployment of wireless sensor networks and other distributed computing applications.

"It's stunning how he is able to handle such a diverse set of technical methods," said Burkhard Rost, president of the ISCB. "He's a perfect example of a new generation of scientists."

Alfonso Valencia, chair of the ISCB Awards Committee, added that the committee members were impressed not only by the quality of Bar-Joseph's scientific contribution, but by the novelty of the approaches he has developed.

"I am very pleased that Ziv has been chosen for this very richly deserved honor," said Robert F. Murphy, director of SCS's Lane Center for Computational Biology. "Ziv's work represents an outstanding example of computational biology research: the use of novel and appropriate machine learning methods in deep collaborations with accomplished experimental biologists to yield significant biological results."

Article courtesy of EurekAlert

Friday, January 27, 2012

Carnegie Mellon University team seeking piece of electronic textbook market

Apple Inc.’s entrance into the electronic textbook market may provide a boost for one area company trying to get off the ground.

A team at Carnegie Mellon University is developing a Web-based platform that allows publishers to take their static PDF digital books and instead allow users to highlight, make notes and hold discussions around the content.

Called Classroom Salon, the project’s team is seeking $500,000 in seed funding and finalizing its incorporation, with plans to spin out of CMU this summer and take on the $3 billion publishing industry.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Greenlighting Startups and CMU Portugal present: An International Showcase

Date: Friday, February 10
Time: 4:00 pm Networking Reception GHC 4405

          5:00 pm Showcase kick-off in Rashid Auditorium (GHC 4401)

Location: Rashid Auditorium, Gates-Hillman

Get a glimpse of the international entrepreneur-ship scene with presentations by early-stage growth companies seeking partnerships in the United States.


Six CMU Portugal Companies will be showcasing their startup companies.

In July 2011, Carnegie Mellon Portugal and UTEN Portugal programs established a pilot Entrepreneurship in Residence program (EIR). The EIR consists of five Portuguese companies including Dognaedis, TreatU, FeedZai, ObservIT, and The purpose of the EIR is to help Portuguese companies enter the U.S. market. The EIR consist of a seven month period of one-on-one workshops, training and consultation sessions with various mentors from Carnegie Mellon University.

Over the seven month period, the EIR is broken down into three Phases. Phases I and II prepares the companies to develop pitches to potential investors and customers, provides information on topics such as knowing your market and competition, university relationships, differentiation and segmentation, and partnerships for development and distribution. Phase III consists of the Portuguese companies traveling to Pittsburgh, PA to participate in a “Business Week” which allow them the opportunity to make their pitch to potential clients, customers and investors. Additionally, the Portuguese businesses will be paired with specific U.S. companies of interest to discuss potential business options as it relates to sales, customers and investment.

Phase III is tentatively planned for February 2012.

A flyer for the event can be downloaded here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Christopher Bettinger named Top 35 Innovators under 35 by the MIT Technology Review

As a graduate student at MIT, Christopher Bettinger created strong, rubbery polymers that mimic natural tissue and can be tailored to break down after anywhere from two months to two years. For Bettinger, the hardest part was making sure the molecular building blocks of his polymers were interconnected enough to yield a material that held its shape but not so strongly interconnected that the result was brittle. He initially used the new polymers to make scaffolds for laboratory-grown tissue. Now, as an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Bettinger is using them to produce degradable catheters and drug-delivery systems that he's testing in animals.

As part of his postdoctoral work at Stanford in 2009, Bettinger also created a biodegradable semiconductor for electronics used in temporary medical implants. Simple electronic circuits constructed from biodegradable materials could lead to drug-delivery devices and nerve-regeneration scaffolds that a doctor would trigger with radio frequencies from outside the body. Once therapy was complete, the devices would disappear without a trace.

Article courtesy of Technology Review

Thursday, January 19, 2012

CMU researchers find simple treatment for intestinal bacteria

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have come up with a simple treatment that may thwart one of the world's most virulent infections.

Somshuvra Mukhopadhyay and Adam Linstedt found that administering manganese protected mice against the devastating Shiga toxin, a type of infection that kills more than 1 million people a year worldwide, mostly children in developing nations. The Shiga toxin is secreted by some strains of the bacteria Shigella, and more recently has begun to show up in strains of E. coli bacteria.

It was at the center of the outbreak of diarrhea and kidney damage caused by contaminated food in Germany last year.

The CMU findings grew out of basic research on how cells process different substances. The Shiga toxin is produced by a tiny organism known as a bacteriophage, which infects certain bacteria and incorporates its genes into the bacteria's genome.

The organism has evolved the ability to avoid the cell's normal machinery for disposing of unwanted substances. In a report being published Friday in the journal Science, the CMU team found that manganese restores the ability of the bacterial cells to get rid of the Shiga toxin.

Laboratory mice that were given lethal doses of the toxin were completely protected by the manganese. Researchers said in an interview that this might one day allow doctors to treat patients with antibiotics and manganese to kill off the bacteria and block the Shiga toxin.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Modular robot toys get it together at CES

The reality is everyone here loves robots--at least judging by the crowd of people at the Modular Robotics booth today.

Modular Robotics is a Boulder, Colo.-based startup that has created a robot construction kit that lets kids--or adults, judging from those here--build a robot by snapping together powerful cubes, or what the company calls Cubelets.

Each Cubelet has a different function. Black ones, for instance, are sensors, and the colorful ones are "thinking" Cubelets that react to the senors. You control your robot with hand gestures.

You can start simple and add blocks to give your robot specific functions. You can make your robot drive when your hand comes near it. You can build one that knows to stop before it gets to the edge of a table. You can construct one that chases things.

"By snapping the cubes together and building a physical robot, you are also building its brain," said Eric Schweikardt, who's the design director and creator of the product. "Kids can build robots that have specific behaviors."

A long journey
Building the company has hardly been as easy. The idea grew out of Schweikardt's PhD thesis when he was an architectural student at Carnegie Mellon University. After his project got attention from a blogger, people got in touch and wanted to buy the Cubelets. So, he and his advisor, Mark Gross, who still teaches part time at Carnegie Mellon, set out to commercialize Schweikardt's creation.

They won a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, set up in Boulder, and Schweikardt went about learning how to make a product and build a business.

"Hardware is just really hard," Schweikardt said.

Building the prototype was the easy part, he said. The challenge was figuring out how to do it all in a way that could make the robots affordable. The prototype for a single Cubelet was $340. He needed it to be $10 in order to make a viable business. (A kit of six now sells on Modular Robotics' Web site for $160.)

A friend, Bunnie Huang, organized a geek tour to China, and in 2008 Schweikardt and 10 or so others went off to the country--all with various prototypes in hand--to learn the ins and outs of dealing with factories. They toured 30 factories, and Schweikardt scoped them out not just for quality but for human rights records and environmental concerns. He was also superconcerned about his product getting ripped off. So in addition to getting a good lawyer, he made sure the parts of each Cubelet would be made in separate factories, eight in all.

But the assembly all takes place in a house-turned-office in Boulder.

"Engineers are upstairs, and the living room and dinning room is for assembly," he said.

The company has taken "beta" orders that it has used to help fund the company, which now has 14 employees in all. It has tried (with some success) to hide from the press because it has on occasion been bombarded with requests it can't fulfill. Now, it's taking pre-orders for delivery in a few months.

Schweikardt says he has the manufacturing processes in place so that the company can amp up production by 10 times over the course of this year should demand be what he expects. The company hopes to make 14,000 units a month by the end of year.

Coming to CES, he said, is a coming out of sorts for his quirky Cubelets, since now the company wants the business.

Article courtesy of CNET

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Life Technologies Introduces the Benchtop Ion Proton(TM) Sequencer; Designed to Decode a Human Genome in One Day for $1,000

Life Technologies Corporation LIFE +8.43% today announced it is taking orders for the new benchtop Ion Proton(TM) Sequencer that is designed to sequence the entire human genome in a day for $1,000.

The Ion Proton(TM) Sequencer, priced at $149,000, is based on the next generation of semiconductor sequencing technology that has made its predecessor, the Ion Personal Genome Machine(TM) (PGM(TM)), the fastest-selling sequencer in the world.

Up to now, it has taken weeks or months to sequence a human genome at a cost of $5,000 to $10,000 using optical-based sequencing technologies. The slow pace and the high instrument cost of $500,000 to $750,000 have limited human genome sequencing to relatively few research labs.

Baylor College of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, and The Broad Institute, have each signed up for multiple Ion Proton(TM) Sequencers and will be the first customers to adopt this transformative technology.

Breaking the Cost and Time Barrier for Genomic Sequencing

"A genome sequence for $1,000 was a pipe-dream, just a few years ago," said Dr. Richard Gibbs, Director of the Human Genome Sequencing Center, Baylor College of Medicine. "A $1,000 genome in less than one day was not even on the radar, but will transform the clinical applications of sequencing."

"Cost, speed and accuracy are key elements in the use of DNA sequencing for both disease-gene discovery and clinical utility," said Dr. Richard Lifton, Chair of the Department of Genetics, Yale School of Medicine. "The technological advances in the new Ion Proton(TM) instrument promise to be game-changing for both research and clinical applications."

"We are excited about the paradigm-shifting potential of the new Proton Sequencer, which projects to sequence a human genome in just a few hours with only one run on a single machine," said Dr. Chad Nusbaum, co-director of the Broad Institute's Genome Sequencing and Analysis Program. "The platform's speed and power promise to enable both large-scale research and new clinical applications."

The Power of Benchtop Sequencing for All Applications

Between the benchtop Ion PGM(TM) Sequencer and the benchtop Ion Proton(TM) Sequencer, the Ion Torrent technology can cover any application. The Ion PGM(TM) Sequencer is ideal for sequencing genes, small genomes, panels of genes, or performing gene expression profiling, for as little as $99 a chip. The Ion PGM(TM) Sequencer's speed, simplicity and scalability also make it an ideal platform to extend into diagnostics. Life Technologies will seek FDA clearance for the Ion PGM(TM) platform in 2012.

The Ion Proton(TM) Sequencer is ideal for sequencing both exomes - regions in the DNA that code for protein - and human genomes. The Ion Proton(TM) I Chip, ideal for sequencing exomes, will be available mid-2012. The Ion Proton(TM) II Chip, ideal for sequencing whole human genomes, will be available about six months later. In addition, the Ion Proton(TM) OneTouch(TM) system automates template prep and a stand-alone Ion Proton(TM) Torrent Server performs the primary and secondary data analysis.

"Just six months after our first semiconductor sequencing chip was released, people used it to solve the German E. coli outbreak, sequencing the toxic strain in just a couple of hours," said Dr. Jonathan M. Rothberg, the Founder and CEO of the Ion Torrent division. "Now, six months later we're developing a chip that's 1,000 times more powerful than that to sequence an entire human genome in about the same amount of time. That's the power that semiconductors bring to sequencing."

Empowering Every Lab; Freedom from Informatics Bottleneck

The Ion Proton(TM) Sequencer and Ion Reporter analysis software are designed to analyze a single genome in one day on a stand-alone server - eliminating the informatics bottleneck and high-capital, IT investment associated with optical-based sequencers. The optical-based sequencers require costly IT infrastructure to analyze the large volume of data generated by running batches of six or more genomes at once. The approach drastically slows analysis, which can take weeks to complete and creates the bottleneck in the process.

Simpler Data Interpretation

Another major challenge in whole genome sequencing is the interpretation of the genetic data for use in diagnostic and treatment decisions. To solve this problem, Ion Torrent has sponsored a collaborative effort with Carnegie Mellon University to develop open-source software that will help clinicians interpret and understand genetic data for meaningful application. Ion Torrent is also collaborating with Yale Medical School to identify best practices for diagnostic development and gene discovery as a model for genome sequencing in a clinical setting.

"The huge variation in human genome sequence between individuals has always been an obstacle to understanding how to use sequence information to improve human health," said Dr. Robert F. Murphy, director of the Lane Center for Computational Biology in Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, who will lead the multidisciplinary CMU team. "We believe new machine learning approaches will enable interpretation of personal genome sequences to help doctors diagnose and guide treatment in the near future."

All products referenced are for Research Use Only, and not intended for any animal or human therapeutic or diagnostic use.

About Life TechnologiesLife Technologies Corporation is a global biotechnology company dedicated to improving the human condition. Our systems, consumables and services enable researchers to accelerate scientific and medical advancements that make life even better. Life Technologies customers do their work across the biological spectrum, working to advance the fields of discovery and translational research, molecular medicine, stem cell-based therapies, food safety and animal health, and 21st century forensics. The company manufactures both molecular diagnostic and research use only products. Life Technologies' industry-leading brands are found in nearly every life sciences lab in the world and include innovative instrument systems under the Applied Biosystems and Ion Torrent names, as well as, the broadest range of reagents with its Invitrogen, GIBCO, Ambion, Molecular Probes and TaqMan® products. Life Technologies had sales of $3.6 billion in 2010, has a workforce of approximately 11,000 people, has a presence in approximately 160 countries, and possesses one of the largest intellectual property estates in the life sciences industry, with approximately 3,900 patents and exclusive licenses. For more information on how we are making a difference, please visit our website: .

Article courtesy of MarketWatch

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The man who wants to translate the Web

I want to translate the Web into every major language: every webpage, every video, and, yes, even Justin Bieber's tweets.

With its content split up into hundreds of languages -- and with over 50% of it in English -- most of the Web is inaccessible to most people in the world. This problem is pressing, now more than ever, with millions of people from China, Russia, Latin America and other quickly developing regions entering the Web. In this TED talk, I introduce my new project, called Duolingo, which aims at breaking the language barrier, and thus making the Web truly "world wide."

We have all seen how systems such as Google Translate are improving every day at translating the gist of things written in other languages. Unfortunately, they are not yet accurate enough for my purpose: Even when what they spit out is intelligible, it's so badly written that I can't read more than a few lines before getting a headache. This is why you don't see machine-translated articles on CNN.

With Duolingo, our goal is to encourage people, like you and me, to translate the Web into their native languages.

Now, with billions and billions of pages on the Web, this can't be done with just a few volunteers, nor can we afford to pay professional translators. When Severin Hacker and I started Duolingo, we realized we needed a way to entice millions of people to help translate the Web. However, coordinating millions of contributors to translate language presents two major hurdles. First, finding enough people who are bilingual enough to help with translation is difficult. Second, motivating them to do it for free makes this next to impossible.

The idea behind Duolingo is to kill two birds with one stone by solving both of these problems simultaneously. We accomplish this by transforming language translation into something that anyone can do -- not just bilinguals -- and that millions of people want to do: learning a foreign language.

It is estimated that over one billion people worldwide are learning a foreign language, with millions doing so using computer programs. With Duolingo, people learn a foreign language while simultaneously translating text.

When you learn on Duolingo, the website gives you exercises tailored specifically to you that teach you every aspect of the new language. You may be asked to translate a sentence, to pronounce or listen to a phrase, or to describe what you see in an image.

Some of the sentences you translate come from real websites. By having multiple students translate each sentence, and then choosing the best one, Duolingo produces translations that are as accurate as those from professional language translators.

Because you create valuable translations as a side effect, learning on Duolingo is 100% free: no ads, no hidden fees, no subscriptions. Duolingo entails a new business model that allows anyone online, regardless of socioeconomic status, to have access to education.

For example, the leading language-learning software sells for over $500, which is beyond the means of the majority of the world's population. If language education is offered free of charge in exchange for students' performing useful tasks, those who cannot afford to pay with money pay with their time -- time that would have been spent learning anyway.

This is how I want to translate the Web. Now go on and sign up for Duolingo.

Article courtesy of

Saturday, January 7, 2012

CMU Technology Featured at World-Famous Electronics Show

Carnegie Mellon professors and researchers will be among those discussing their research and products at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Jan. 10-13), the world’s largest and most well-known technology tradeshow.

CMU’s Quality of Life Technology (QoLT) Foundry will feature five CMU start-ups and several other innovations and partner collaborations will be on display at booth #3011.

The start-ups in attendance will be:

  • First Person Vision: a wearable device developed under the guidance of Takeo Kanade and Martial Hebert to share seeing of who, what and where a person is looking;
  • VibeAttire: technology embedding sensors into everyday clothing to transduce music and other sounds into synchronized vibrations a user can feel;
  • Fitwits: a hands-on learning and interactive gaming system to inspire healthy eating and lifestyle changes;
  • Tiramisu Transit: the real-time, crowd-powered bus-tracker app for iPhone or Android, developed in conjunction with CMU’s Traffic21 Initiative; and
  • Origami Robotics: the company will debut Romibo, a build-it-yourself robot for therapy, education and fun.

“Through their QoLT Foundry, the Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center (ERC) has developed an exemplary review and vetting process to move university-based research to commercialization,” said Barbara Kenny, the National Science Foundation program director overseeing the center’s grants. “We’re pleased to see the QoLT ERC bring these engineering innovations, spin-off companies, and translational research projects more directly into the public eye.”

Several members of the QoLT Center’s leadership team have been invited to participate in expert panel discussions at the Silvers Summit — a conference on Jan. 10 devoted to technological innovations for improving human longevity and vitality held in conjunction with the CES.

QoLT’s Executive Director Jim Osborn leads the panel “On the Road, On the Go: Mobilizing Your Product Development Efforts to Keep Up with the Fastest Growing Population Group.” Daniel P. Siewiorek, Curt Stone and Aaron Steinfeld are panel participants for additional sessions at the conference. Siewiorek, current acting director for QoLT, is also a presenting judge for the summit’s first annual Sterling Awards honoring the top products that have enhanced and empowered the lives of older Americans.

At the CES’s Digital Health Summit, Kristin Hughes, an associate professor in the School of Design, will deliver a talk on gaming for obesity prevention entitled “Game on!” The summit is a two-day conference focusing on consumer-based health and wellness innovations that sit at the convergence of technology and healthcare. Hughes is a Founder of Fitwits — a fun system of educational health games and services designed to enable individuals, families, peer groups and communities customized opportunities for action towards healthy eating and lifestyle changes.

Modular Robotics, another CMU startup founded by Mark Gross, professor of computational design, and Eric Schweikardt, who earned his Ph.D. in architecture in 2008 at CMU, will also have a booth at the CES. Modular Robotics makes fun robot construction kits for kids. Modular Robotics will be at booth #73007. For more on Modular Robotics go to and check out their “Cubelets” video at

Carnegie Mellon is one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial universities in the U.S. Its students and faculty have created more than 300 companies and 9,000 jobs in the past 15 years. Earlier this year, the university launched its Greenlighting Startups initiative, a portfolio of CMU incubator groups designed to speed innovation from the research lab to the marketplace.

Article courtesy of Silvers Summit

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

RE2, Inc. Wins Phase II SBIR

RE2, Inc. announced today that it has been competitively selected to develop a two-arm Highly Dexterous Manipulation System (HDMS) for the U.S. Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) under a Phase II Army Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) competitive contract.

Robotic systems for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) currently include a single manipulator to perform critical tasks such as inspection, detection, and neutralization of explosive devices. These manipulators are often limited in their dexterity, reach and lifting capacity. The goal of the dual-arm HDMS technology is to provide the robot operator with capabilities that far exceed currently fielded single-manipulator robots. These capabilities include inspection in tight and cluttered spaces, manipulating wires, opening bags or packages, unscrewing lids on containers, and other abilities to provide access and information while operating at a safe distance.

“The direct benefit of the HDMS technology to Army personnel is significantly increased performance and capability over currently fielded manipulators for both teleoperated and semi-autonomous use on small unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs),” stated Jorgen Pedersen, president and CEO of RE2. “These manipulation improvements directly correlate to a reduction in time-on-target and overall mission time, resulting in increased safety of all mission personnel.”

RE2’s core area of expertise is intelligent mobile manipulation. RE2 has prime contracts with various branches and organizations of the U.S. military (i.e. Navy, Army, Air Force, and DARPA) to develop advanced manipulation systems that interoperate with both existing and future robotic platforms. RE2 specializes in innovating manipulators, end-effectors, and manipulation control systems. RE2 has a successful track record of transferring and transitioning those innovations to the field as products.

“We have spent the past decade honing our research and development efforts to ensure that we are constantly advancing the state of the art of robotic manipulator capabilities,” stated Dr. Patrick Rowe, vice president of R&D at RE2. “This opportunity to develop, test, and fabricate a dual-arm HDMS is extremely exciting for our team as we push the envelope of manipulation and intuitive control systems.

Article courtesy of Robotics Technology Consortium