Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday December 23, 2014

How to Create a Tech Startup Scene If You're Not in Silicon Valley

"If you work in the tech sector or are otherwise attentive to it, you probably already know something that I didn’t learn until recently: Pittsburgh has one of the liveliest technology ecosystems in the country. It’s a tech mecca, along with places like Silicon Valley, Boston/Cambridge, Seattle, and Austin."

Read more at The Atlantic.

Thursday December 18, 2014

Veniam Picks Up $4.9M To Turn Buses Into Wi-Fi Hotspots

"Veniam, a company that leverages moving vehicles to bring more complete wireless Internet to municipalities, today announced that it has raised a $4.9 million Series A round of funding led by True Ventures, and participated in by Union Square Ventures."

Read more at TechCrunch.

Wednesday November 19, 2014

Pittsburgh's robot renaissance

"Pittsburgh is experiencing major economic growth due to a booming robotics industry."

See more at CNN.

Wednesday November 19, 2014

Ottomatika raises $2.6M

"Ottomatika Inc., a young Pittsburgh-area tech company, has raised $2.6 million from investors, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Ottomatika develops technology for advanced driving assistance and autonomous driving features."

Read more at The Pittsburgh Business Times.

Wednesday November 19, 2014

Duolingo launches app for Windows Phone

"Beginning Wednesday, Windows Phone users will now be able to download Duolingo's language learning app. The Shadyside-based startup said it has received thousands of pleas for a Windows Phone app via email and through the company's Facebook page."

Read more at The Pittsburgh Business Times.

Tuesday November 18, 2014

Aquion Energy completes $36.8M capital raise

"Aquion Energy Inc. has raised$36.8 million from a combination of new and previous investors, including Microsoft Founder Bill Gates and the corporate venture capital arm of Royal Dutch Shell Group of Cos. (NYSE: RDA.A) The Series E financing round was the second major capital raise by the Pittsburgh-based developer of energy storage units this year. In January, Aquion announced that it closed on $55 million."

Read more at The Pittsburgh Business Times.

Thursday November 13, 2014

Four CMU Innovations appear in Popular Science's annual "Best of What's New"

"Four inventions that trace their origins to Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science and, particularly, the Robotics Institute, have been honored by the annual Best of What's New Awards by Popular Science. This year's winners, published in the magazine's December issue, include LiveLight, a method for automatically editing out the boring parts of personal or security videos; the Flex System, a head and neck surgery tool based on snake robot research; 360fly, a panoramic video camera; and 3-D Object Manipulation Software, a photo editing tool."

Read more at The Pittsburgh Business Times and CMU.

Tuesday November 11, 2014

The iPhone Case That Can Call the Police

"A startup company in Pittsburgh called Lifeshel is working on technology designed to enable people facing assault or other emergencies to contact police in the smartest and fastest way possible. Their first product is a smartphone case and accompanying app that together provide what seems to be a promising deterrent technology."

Read more at The Atlantic.

Monday November 10, 2014

Panoramic Vision of 360fly

"From death-defying athletic adventures to other once-in-a-lifetime moments, imagine video that can capture it all — literally. Thanks to Carnegie Mellon University spinout 360fly, soon everyone will be able to catch life in the round, with interactive, one-shot, 360-degree panoramic videos."

Read more at CMU.

Wednesday November 5, 2014

Investment booms in Pittsburgh thanks to new venture fund

"In Pittsburgh in the first nine months of 2014, the $250 million in venture capital dollars flowing to growing technology companies outstripped the annual totals for each of the past five years, according to state-funded business accelerator Innovation Works."

Read more at Pop City.

Thursday October 30, 2014

Carnegie Mellon University's innovative ecosystem is influencing entrepreneurs in Portugal

"CMU Portugal Program created inRes, a very early stage startup acceleration program that brings resources from both sides of the Atlantic together.

The experience is supported by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), the Portuguese national funding agency for science, research and technology, and has partnered with Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, CMU's Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation, CMU's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and University Technology Enterprise Network Portugal (UTEN Portugal)."

Read more at CMU Homepage Stories.

Thursday October 23, 2014

CMU names 15 teams to work on I-Corp site

"On Thursday, Carnegie Mellon University announced 15 teams that have been chosen to work at the new CMU Innovation Corps Site."

Read more at PR Newswire and the Pittsburgh Business Times.

Tuesday October 21, 2014

RE2 awarded $400K, to create 100 engineering and manufacturing jobs

"Carnegie Mellon University spinoff Robotics Engineering Excellence Inc. -- also known as RE2 -- has been awarded a $400,000 Discovered in PA -- Developed in PA grant to help the company move from design to manufacturing."

Read more at the Pittsburgh Business Times website.

Saturday October 11, 2014

LightSide bought by global firm, hunkering down in Pittsburgh

"Oakland-based tech startup LightSide, which has made a name for itself as a writing tool for educators, was acquired by San Francisco-based Turnitin this month. The good news is LightSide will remain on Craig Street and will continue to build out its research team with the hiring of 25 people by the summer of 2015, says Elijah Mayfield, co-founder."

Read more at the Next Pittsburgh website.

Wednesday October 8, 2014

Carnegie Robotics nabs $23M defense contract to build landmine-seeking robots

"Carnegie Robotics LLC has been awarded a $23 million contract to build landmine-seeking robots for the U.S. Army, according to the U.S. Department of Defense."

Read more at the Pittsburgh Business Times website.

Tuesday October 7, 2014

CMU startup LightSide Labs acquired by California-based Turnitin

"Pittsburgh-based LightSide Labs has been acquired by Oakland, Calif.-based Turnitin in a deal that will keep the company's office in Pittsburgh and lead to more hiring, co-founder Elijah Mayfield said."

Read more at the Pittsburgh Business Times website.

Tuesday September 30, 2014

Hillman gifts CMU $5M for BrainHub

"Carnegie Mellon University has received $5 million from Henry L. Hillman to support BrainHub, the university's global brain research initiative. Launched in August, BrainHub was established to bring together global strategic partners from government, public, private and philanthropic sectors to develop innovative approaches to studying links between the brain and behavior."

Read more at the Pittsburgh Business Times website.

Tuesday September 29, 2014

Aquion Energy raises $24.6M

Aquion Energy, whose Aqueous Hybrid Ion (AHI™) battery systems are redefining energy storage systems, has raised and additional $24.6 million. With support from Carnegie Mellon University's Dr. Jay Whitacre the technology was spun out of Carnegie Mellon’s labs in 2009.

Read more at the Pittsburgh Business Times website.

Tuesday September 2, 2014

Why Innovesca is the Next Big Thing in Food Innovation

"Mary Beth Wilson is standing in a field of amaranth at Maggie Robertson’s farm in Sligo, PA. The amaranth is going to supply Innovesca’s first pilot run using its processing technology that enables the body to access and absorb more of the plant’s nutrients. Why is this important? Because amaranth is a nutrient-dense crop that grows like a weed in many regions but remains underutilized. And if the nutrients from a crop that is plentiful and underutilized can be optimized, the potential for solving problems in countries battling malnutrition–from the United States to countries in Africa—is groundbreaking...."

Read the rest of Leah Lizarondo's article at

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Qeexo Closes $2.3 Million in Series A Funding

Qeexo, an innovator in touch technologies, announced it has closed its Series A funding round, with $2.3 million led by Sierra Ventures. Qeexo will use the funding to accelerate market adoption of FingerSense, the company's groundbreaking mobile software, and first to distinguish between touchscreen input from a fingertip, knuckle, nail or stylus, elevating the user experience of mobile devices. 

FingerSense radically enhances the functionality and usability of mobile devices by enabling the touchscreen to distinguish between and respond differently to input from various parts of the hand or stylus. The patented technology analyzes the unique acoustic "signature" of physical objects to identify what is touching the screen. FingerSense is software only, and can be deployed on today's mobile devices without the added cost or space of additional hardware. The software gives manufacturers new opportunities to differentiate their smartphones and tablets and to delight customers.

"OEMs are always looking for software innovation that will radically improve the way devices are used, while adding power and simplicity simultaneously," said Sang Won Lee, Qeexo co-founder and CEO. "The current state of touch technology is not the pinnacle of the touchscreen experience. Multi-touch has been around since 2007 and we're elevating the touch experience beyond just swiping multiple fingers across the screen. FingerSense is the first solution in this new rich-touch era."

FingerSense was developed by an exceptional research team at Carnegie Mellon University, led by Qeexo co-founder and CTO Chris Harrison, named to Forbes' 30 Under 30 and MIT Technology Review's 35 Innovators Under 35. FingerSense is one of the first technologies from Ph.D. students to be spun out of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon.

"Qeexo is an example of taking innovations from the lab, refining them based on market need and opportunity, and bringing them into the public eye as commercial products," said Harrison. "We've always had an interest in touch technologies. But the disparity between our hands' capability in the real world and the digital world is significant, and researchers are constantly working to close that gap. We've made a great step in that direction with FingerSense."

The new funding will allow Qeexo to expand its engineering and business development teams and begin to deploy and raise market awareness for its patented FingerSense technology. The company is currently in discussions with a number of mobile device manufacturers to embed FingerSense into their devices or license the software.

Article courtesy of Digital Journal

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hardware Hacker Solves a Big Smartwatch Problem: Your Fat Fingers

Let’s just admit it, smartwatches are not that cool. At least not yet. Despite everyone—Samsung, Apple, even WIRED—wishing otherwise, the truth remains: Someday smartwatches might be great, but today is not that day.

You could blame the product’s false start on any number of reasons, but perhaps the biggest source of pain for smartwatch makers’ is embarrassingly human: Your chubby fingers. Today smartwatches are basically a dumber, smaller version of your smartphone.

Like all of our screen-based devices, they rely on multi-touch interaction; zooming, pinching, tapping and swiping to make things happen on screen. This works fine on a tablet or 5-inch display, but on a screen the size of an iPod Nano that continues to shrink? Not so much. “It’s a really limited and frustrating user experience,” says Chris Harrison, a professor in the Future Interfaces Group at Carnegie Mellon University. Harrison along with Carnegie Mellon PhD students Gierad Laput and Robert Xiao, have designed a new smartwatch concept that they hope will unlock the real potential of our increasingly tiny devices.

At a recent conference, the team  presented a prototype of a smartwatch that’s controlled by tilting, twisting or clicking the bezel of the watch. Think of it like a mini joystick that can be used in conjunction with a touchscreen. It’s a radical departure from the pinches and swipes we’ve grown accustomed to, and Harrison believes it could be a step forward in making  smartwatches, or small gadgets in general, actually do the stuff we want them to do.

That’s really the problem, isn’t it? Today there’s little a smartwatch does that your phone doesn’t already do better. “Right now the killer app is your smartphone buzzes when you get a text, and you look at your watch and it says your friend just posted on twitter,” says Harrison. “I think the killer app for smartwatches is still somewhat elusive.”

And for good reason. There’s a serious bottleneck when it comes to user experience on small devices. People aren’t enthralled with smartwatches because they don’t have interesting utility, and the watches don’t have interesting utility because the interactions designed into them don’t allow for it. “The space of interactive possibilities with mobile devices is woefully under-explored,” explains Xiao, a third year doctoral student. “Small devices are a challenge that we’ve never had to deal with in the past.”

It’s due time for a change in interaction vocabulary, the guys say. Throughout the past decade as our gadgets got smaller and smaller, we kept repurposing the same input that worked on screens ten times the size. It’s a legacy thing; touch screens have been so successful (and remain so) that it’s easy to employ the whole if it ain’t broke don’t fix it mantra. Problem is, when it comes to smartwatches, touchscreens are sorta broke.

Smartwatches have all sorts of constraints, namely size, that make using seemingly simple apps nearly impossible. “There’s not a good way to use a map application on smartwatches right now,” says Laput, a first year doctoral student. “Pinching and zooming is hard to do.”

With the Carnegie Mellon prototype, you can pan left and right to explore a map, use a twisting motion to zoom in and depress the face to access more information like store hours or reviews. Similarly, an alarm clock app shows the user twisting the bezel to scroll to a preferred time, while a rudimentary music app allows you to flip through artists with a panning motion, adjust the volume by twisting and play/pause by clicking. “That packs a lot of functionality into your fingertips,” says Harrison.

Perhaps the most telling demo app on the team’s smartwatch is a first-person shooter game that allows players to turn left and right by twisting and shoot by clicking. Trivial as it may be, it’s a rudimentary glimpse of what a standalone smartwatch app might look like. “The most important thing is being able to demonstrate that smartwatches can be used as a proper interactive device in their own right,” says Xiao.

The prototype is a pretty rough proof of concept, but it’s proof nonetheless. The 1.5 inch screen looks like it’s barely hanging on to its electronic components, and Harrison admits that the watch would need some serious industrial design improvements to make it usable. ”Ours would fall apart in one day if you wore it out in the real world,” he says.

In its current form, the smartwatch’s extra sensors make it bulky and prone to damage. There’s a reason that most gadget manufacturers have shifted to solid body construction. “Anything that moves has wear,” Harrison says. “And that’s definitely less attractive from an engineering perspective.” Getting this same functionality into a small, robust smartwatch would require sensors that detect force without using mechanical spring-like components.

Sensors like strain gauges, which detect pressure on a molecular level, already exist, it’s just a matter of incorporating them into a user-friendly design. “Right now, it would be a really tough sell because they’d increase the cost and size and battery consumption,” says Harrison. “But in five years? Who knows.”

Which leads us to the real question. How likely are we to see this sort of interaction in future smartwatches? If you look at the great circle of technology life, the best guess is, not for a while.  Commercial success often has a decades-long lag after the technological breakthrough idea is introduced. Harrison points out that both Apple and Microsoft had  tablet failures in the ’90s, and even though multi-touch was first explored in the ’70s, it wasn’t until Steve Jobs took a massive risk with the first iPhone that every other gadget maker realized the type of interaction was the wave of the future. Genius is always obvious in hindsight.

Changing behaviors in an existing platform is tough, which is why smartwatches seem particularly positioned for interaction disruption. Much to certain companies’ chagrin, most of us have yet to spend any real time learning how to use the things. For what it’s worth, Harrison isn’t even sure the world is ready for the smartwatch—at least not in its current form. “It may be that smartwatches and Google Glass go into hibernation mode for 10, 15 years,” he says . “And then they come out, and there’s pent up demand and the apps are just right and boom, it’s a huge success."

Article courtesy of Wired

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dr. Phil Campbell of Carmell Therapeutics

Blood clots are the body's way of keeping blood from continuing to flow out of a wound. But they also have components that begin the process of healing that wound.

Carmell Therapeutics has found a way to recycle human plasma discarded by blood banks, using it to create a bioplastic that can promote wound healing in difficult situations -- a sort of super blood clot.

Co-founder Phil Campbell, a native of Florida whose initial training was in animal science (B.S. and M.S. from Auburn University in Alabama), has spent years researching this product, which is now in clinical trials on humans.

Campbell earned a Ph.D. in physiology from Penn State University, with post-graduate training in orthopedics research, including tissue engineering, and is now a research professor in the Institute for Complex Engineered Systems within Carnegie Mellon University's Carnegie Institute of Technology, with joint appointments in Biomedical Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, the Molecular Biosensor and Imaging Center, and Biological Sciences.

The bioplastic he and his colleagues, Lee Weiss, Ph.D. and James Burgess, M.D., have developed could have important applications in wound therapy and other types of healing.

Please explain how your product works.

Three-quarters of the plasma harvested in this country is not transfused back into patients. Some is destroyed; the bulk is sold to fractionators who isolate components from it.

We recover that product. It's enriched with platelets and we take this material from different donors, pool it, and process it into bioplastic. It looks like a piece of plastic (sort of like a Gummi Bear), but it retains the biological activity of the original material.

Our product is an ultra-concentrated blood clot, with all the goodies that blood clots have that can help jump-start the healing process. Blood clots are not this can be used for a huge range of situations.

The first clinical trials, which will be finished in a couple of months, are using it for the lower leg, to promote healing and repair of compound fractures of the tibia, which don't heal very well normally.

You could also use it for burn patients on large open wounds, or for decubitus ulcers in diabetic patients, which are poorly healing skin wounds. You could possibly use it in dental applications. You can use it as a putty, as hard material or as a powder, depending on the situation.

What inspired you to start Carmell Therapeutics?

Back in 2004 or 2005, I was in the library at Carnegie Mellon and found an old book from the 1960s that gave examples of World War II technology development. They described making bioplastics from fibrin (protein that clots blood). They purified fibrinogen from human plasma and made it into a plastic that could be machined and drilled, and so forth.

What we know now that we didn't know in the 1940s is that plasma and platelets have all sorts of hormones (only recently discovered) that are important for wound healing.

In order to make the plastic, they cooked it, so they destroyed all the biological activity. They were just making an implant. What we tried to do was see if we could maintain most of the biological activity, and then find out if it had therapeutic applications.

That's what we've accomplished in the last 10 years. We were able to develop a manufacturing process to make plasma into a plastic using procedures that maintained its biological activity. That's what all our patents are for.

Now we have a product, and it's been in clinical trials for almost two years in Cape Town, South Africa. We chose South Africa because it's considered a Tier One country by the FDA, it has a long history of orthopedic-related research, and its approval process is relatively straightforward.

The clinical trial's primary goal is efficacy and safety -- the data supports these so far -- and when it's done, we can start the application process to move toward limited sales in South Africa, Canada or Europe. If we can start selling the product, we can accumulate additional clinical data, and then we can go to the FDA.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

When we started to become interested in what would be our first product, the problem was that every physician and surgeon we talked to said they could use it, whatever their specialty.

When you have a material that has such a broad application, it's not easy to focus on what's going to be your first product...You have one shot at this with any biological-based therapy, and you're guessing what's the best approach.

At that point, we had brought on Alan West as our CEO, and we also had a board, so there were multiple people involved in making that decision.

What resources did you take advantage when starting the company?

I'm at CMU, and they have a long history of supporting innovative business initiatives from their faculty. Faculty members at CMU are entitled to 20 percent of their time on their own; we (Weiss and I) could spend it on the company.

All of the primary discovery was through CMU and partly through Allegheny General Hospital (where Burgess is a neurosurgeon). That means the patents belong to the university, because we're technically employees, but they have very favorable terms for inventors.

CMU also allowed us to incubate the company on its campus.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners's Innovation Works came into it by giving us funding early in the process. CMU donated money, and the Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central PA also provided funding.

Where are you now?

We're located about a mile from the CMU campus, in the basement of the Central Blood Bank in Pittsburgh. The blood bank is a partner and investor as well.

What's the big differentiator for your company?

Unlike with synthetics, the body is already designed to break [our product] down. The body knows how to deal with a fibrin clot...It's not a foreign substance; it's made from human material.

Currently, the biological products being used are autologous (using the patient's own body as a donor). If you're a sick person, the quality of the blood is not good.

This product depends on getting plasma from the blood bank, and the donors are all healthy, living individuals.

What's next for Carmell Therapeutics?

We'll take the product to market as soon as possible. We're also developing new products. Our material can also be used for drug delivery to wound sites, and the beauty of it is that it's off-the-shelf.

We also envision using the material to make little plastic screws that can be placed in the wall of the heart. The screw can have a drug or microsensing device inside. We're doing animal studies with that now.

Article courtesy of Keystone Edge

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

VC Drive bringing investment quest roadshow to CMU

With a name like Drive, taking to the road is a no-brainer.

Drive Capital, a Columbus, Ohio-based venture capital firm with a newly raised $250 million fund to invest, is embarking on a spring RV university tour to scout for opportunities and will pull into Pittsburgh on April 15 to listen to pitches and offer feedback. Drive is looking for early- and growth-stage tech companies in the health care and consumer areas.

The Pittsburgh stop, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, is scheduled from noon to 4 p.m at the Morewood Gardens parking lot in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.

Drive’s crew on the 42-foot RV is to include Robert Hatta, talent partner, and Mark Kvamme and Chris Olsen, founders. Kvamme and Olsen are best known as Silicon Valley VCs, alums of Sequoia Capital which backed Funny or Die and LinkedIn. They’re also bringing entrepreneurs from a handful of Drive’s portfolio companies — CrossChx, Roadtrippers, FarmLogs and Channel IQ to offer their perspectives on startups.

Article courtesy of Pittsburgh Business Times

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

CMU's Electric Garage now offers the only public Tesla charging station in Pittsburgh

Need to recharge? Carnegie Mellon University’s Electric Garage is now home to a high-power wall connector for Tesla electric cars, joining eight existing vehicle recharging stations available for public use in the Oakland facility. All of the charging stations are available at no cost 24 hours a day on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Located at 4621 Forbes Ave., a former gas station now houses ChargeCar, a community-centered electric vehicle research project that wants to make electric vehicles practical and affordable enough to revolutionize urban commuting.  

“This is definitely the largest charging infrastructure of any institution in this half of Pennsylvania, and likely anywhere in the state,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, CMU professor of robotics and project director. “And the Tesla charger is the only one available to the public locally.”

Made possible through private donations, the Tesla High Power Wall Connector at CMU’s Electric Garage can provide 58 miles of range per hour of charge.

In January, Tesla’s first Supercharger station in Pennsylvania opened in Somerset off of exit 110 of the I-70/I-76 turnpike, a toll road connecting Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Superchargers can replenish half of the battery in as little as 20 minutes. The Somerset station supports the Tesla cross-country route that will soon enable Model S owners to drive from Los Angeles to New York without paying a cent to refuel.

Interested in joining the electric car revolution but can’t afford a new electric car? ChargeCar can help. In addition to lowering the costs for commercially-developed electric vehicles, the project helps people convert their cars in collaboration with local mechanics and garages. ChargeCar is hosting an open house from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday, April 4, during which gas vehicles converted to electric power and other electric vehicles will be on display.

Article courtesy of Popcity

Monday, March 31, 2014

Surgical Device Inspired By CMU Snake Robots To Be Marketed In Europe

Medrobotics Corp. has announced it will begin limited marketing in Europe of a robot-assisted surgical device that is based on the snake robot research of Howie Choset, Carnegie Mellon University professor of robotics.

The Flex System is a flexible endoscopic system that enables surgeons to access and visualize hard-to-reach anatomical locations. The system thus promises to extend the benefits of minimally invasive surgery – shorter hospital stays and recovery times – to a broader population of patients. The company initially has targeted the system for use in head and neck surgery, operating through the mouth.

Choset developed the surgical snake robot in collaboration with Alon Wolf, then a post-doctoral researcher and now a faculty member at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and Dr. Marco Zenati, then a professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, now at Harvard Medical School.  Choset, Wolf and Zenati co-founded Medrobotics as a Carnegie Mellon spin-off in 2005. 

Today, the company is based in Raynham, Mass and has obtained the CE Marking that enables it to initiate a limited commercial launch of the Flex System in select European markets.

Choset, the company’s acting chief technology officer and a partial owner, said he is gratified that the fruits of his research may soon begin helping patients. But he emphasized that the device never would have reached market without one crucial action on his part: letting go of his technology.

“Commercializing a surgical device is not something that a robotics professor such as myself can accomplish with grants to the university,” Choset said. “It requires a large, long-term investment that only a private company can bring together, as well as specialized medical device expertise. When it comes to making this technology available to patients, the company really did the heavy lifting.”

Choset said Pittsburgh was the ideal starting point for this technology because of the world-class expertise in the Robotics Institute and at Pitt. Likewise, it benefited from the entrepreneurial and marketing support of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse (PLSG), which initially invested in Medrobotics. Choset said he is grateful for their support and vision, most notably from the PLSG’s James Jordan, in carrying this technology from the lab to the market.

Choset is a leading expert on multi-jointed robots that resemble snakes. His research team has developed a series of robots capable of making their way through the rubble of collapsed buildings, climbing poles and crawling through pipes.

For the surgical device, Choset and his research team designed a probe that could bend, but remain rigid. It thus combines the features of a laparoscope – a rigid, straight viewing device often used in minimally invasive surgery – with an endoscope, which is a flexible, non-rigid device for peering inside the body.  

Physicians can use a joystick to steer the Flex System around organs or other obstructions. It employs a “follow-the-leader” technique so that as the device is extended into the body, the mechanical linkages that follow behind automatically conform to anatomical curves.

The head of the device features a high-definition video camera. Ports on either side of the camera can accommodate tools for cutting or grasping tissue. Though initially developed and tested for heart procedures, Medrobotics has focused its marketing on head-and-neck surgeries accessed through the mouth.

“The Flex System provides a unique platform to access and visualize surgical targets in difficult to reach locations, such as the oropharynx (the area connecting the mouth to the top of the throat) and endolarnyx (within the larynx),” said Dr. Marshall Strome, chairman emeritus of the Cleveland Clinic Head and Neck Institute and a Medrobotics medical adviser.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

From gold and silver to Pittsburgh's Liquid X Printed Metals

A Pittsburgh startup is performing a form of alchemy, converting gold and silver into ink that can be used in a variety of industries from automotives to consumer electronics to medical devices.
Liquid X Printed Metals, a spinoff of Carnegie Mellon University, has developed a proprietary technology to transform various metals into ink form, which is then deposited onto a wide variety of substrates. When heated at low temperatures, the ink converts to the base metal and exhibits comparable features such as high conductivity, thin and precise features, and excellent adhesion.
So, by using a high-tech form of ink jet printing, Liquid X inks can print a circuit that, when cured, conducts electricity. In the automotive industry, that technology "can replace miles of wiring with lightweight conductive materials," explains CEO Greg Babe, creating lighter weight and more energy-efficient vehicles.
Liquid X's technology is also highly cost effective.

"This technology eliminates waste," adds Babe. "We use significantly less metal and in many cases metal is expensive."
The company has patents pending and is preparing to launch its first commercial product in mid-2014. Liquid X is working with a variety of potential partners across the value chain, from end users such as touch screen manufacturers to makers of specialty glass and high-quality polymers, to printing technology companies.
Looking ahead, the company is developing its technology for use in 3-D printing.
Richard McCullough and John Belot founded Liquid X in 2010; Innovation Works was a recent investor. The company currently employs eight, and Babe anticipates adding jobs as the company grows.
Article courtesy of Keystone Edge

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Duolingo Raises $20M Series C Led By Kleiner Perkins

The popular language learning platform Duolingo today announced that it has closed a $20 million Series C round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. As Duolingo’s founder Luis von Ahn told me, the company plans to use this new funding to continue on its path to dominate the language-learning market.

Duolingo previously raised a Series A round led by Union Square Ventured in 2011 and a $15 million Series B round led by NEA in 2012. Duolingo also counts Ashton Kutcher and Tim Ferris among its investors. The company’s previous investors also joined in this new round.

Von Ahn told me Duolingo now has about 25 million registered and 12.5 million active users. That’s up from about 10 million the company reported by the end of last year. This means that more people now learn a language with Duolingo than in the U.S. public school system. Von Ahn attributes at least a part of this growth to Apple choosing Duolingo as its iPhone App of the Year, which marked the first time the company choose an education app for this honor.

As for why the company decided to raise a new round, von Ahn told me that he received quite a bit of inbound interest from venture capital firms. While he talked to a few, Kleiner Perkins felt like the ideal partner, not in the least because Duolingo will work with Kleiner partner Bing Gordon who will also join the Duolingo board as an observer.

The company also plans to use the additional funding to ramp up its hiring. Duolingo currently has 34 employees — most of them engineers and designers — but plans to get to 50 in the near future.

Duolingo will soon release a groups feature that will make it easier for teachers to use the service in their classes (and track their students’ progress). Duolingo also expects that large companies, which now often use Rosetta Stone and similar tools to train their workforce, will start using this groups feature.

Von Ahn has a track record of building successful products based on these hybrid approaches that bring together human collaboration and technology. With reCAPTCHA, which he sold to Google, he turned CAPTCHAs into something useful by combining them with OCR technology.

With Duolingo, he is building a language learning and translation tool that is based on these same principles. The service teaches you a language, but at the same time, you are also using some of the practice translations to translate real sentences for paying customers.

Last year, the company partnered with CNN and BuzzFeed, for example, to translate some of those company’s articles into Spanish, Portuguese and French. The company is working on similar deals with other publishers and both CNN and BuzzFeed have renewed their original contracts.

Going forward, this will obviously be a major source of revenue for the company, but von Ahn also expects that Duolingo will open its self-service portal for translations within the next two months.

Duolingo doesn’t have an immediate goal to break even, though. “We have revenue, and that’s good,” von Ahn told me, but his plan for now is to grow the user base Most importantly, though, von Ahn wants to increase Duolingo’s user base (and that, in return, will also strengthen the translation side of the service). “Our main goal going forward is to become the de facto way to learn a language,” he told me.

When the company asked users why they use Duolingo, many said they considered it a game that is both entertaining and useful. This isn’t something Duolingo set out to do, but based on these findings — and with Bing Gordon among its advisers now — the company plans to add more game elements to its service in the future.

One thing von Ahn says he won’t do in the future, though, is pay for advertising. It has never spent a single dollar on ads and doesn’t plan to do so anytime soon.

Article courtesy of TechCrunch

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Driverless Cars on the Rise

Thanks to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) ranging from adaptive cruise control to lane keeping assist and automated steering, today’s automobile is very nearly autonomous. The driver remains in control, of course, but built-in sensors, cameras and radars make it possible for the vehicle to take over much of the actual driving task. - See more at:
With new technologies, the fully autonomous automobile will one day be widely available. It’s just a matter of time, experts say, for the concept to move from a research and development exercise to full-scale production.

The Benefits Are Apparent

Human error is overwhelmingly to blame for the vast majority of automobile accidents today according to statistics cited by autonomous vehicle experts, and the economic cost of these accidents has been rising.
Thanks to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) ranging from adaptive cruise control to lane keeping assist and automated steering, today’s automobile is very nearly autonomous. The driver remains in control, of course, but built-in sensors, cameras and radars make it possible for the vehicle to take over much of the actual driving task.

For example, says Egil Juliussen, principal analyst for infotainment and ADAS at IHS Automotive in Chicago, more than 90 percent of traffic accidents are caused by human error, and in 2010, traffic accidents in the U.S. cost more than $300 billion, up from more than $230 billion in 2000. Moreover, Juliussen notes, this cost increase has occurred even as accident rates in the U.S. have been falling.

By contrast, self-driving cars are expected to save lives rather than put them at risk.

In October 2013, the Eno Center for Transportation, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., released a research paper called Preparing a Nation for Autonomous Vehicles: Opportunities, Barriers and Policy Recommendationswhich estimates 1,100 lives would be saved and there would be 211,000 fewer crashes per year if 10 percent of vehicles on U.S. roads (12.7 million) were autonomous. With 50 percent, or 63.7 million autonomous vehicles, the estimates jump to 9,600 lives saved and 1.88 million fewer crashes. With 90 percent, or 114.7 million autonomous vehicles, the Eno Center projects 21,700 lives saved and 4.22 million fewer crashes.

Google, which has been testing driverless vehicles since 2009, now has about two dozen self-driving Lexus RX450h sport utility vehicles (SUVs) traversing roads nationwide. To date, they’ve collectively logged more than 500,000 miles, and none has caused an accident while in self-driving mode, the company says.

Additionally, self-driving cars are inherently more efficient than human-driven cars, and thus could yield time savings and environmental benefits, the Eno Center notes. Because a self-driving car is better at gauging and utilizing roadway space, it could help to reduce traffic congestion. So could the autonomous vehicles’ safety benefits alone help reduce congestion, the Eno Center says, citing Federal Highway Administration research that attributes 25 percent of traffic congestion to crashes and other “traffic incidents.”

Reduced traffic congestion would also lower fuel consumption, ultimately lowering the vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Self-driving cars also could offer new freedom to the elderly and disabled who are unable to drive a vehicle themselves.

So, with the benefits of self-driving cars clearly apparent, research and development is expanding. Automakers including Audi, General Motors, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Tesla and Volvo are working on self-driving cars. And auto industry suppliers such as Continental Automotive Systems are working to develop necessary technologies, too.

Advances Will Be Gradual

“For the foreseeable future, the human has to be in the loop,” says Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “Autonomous technology is a lot more mature than what people think, and it’s happening much faster than anyone predicted,” he says.

CMU researchers including Rajkumar have been working on self-driving cars since the mid-2000s. In 2007, a team from CMU won the DARPA Urban Challenge, an autonomous vehicle race organized by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that involved driving 60 miles over a six-hour period on paved and unpaved roads at a decommissioned Air Force base. Of 125 initial teams competing, six completed the race, and their vehicles had to obey mock traffic rules in realistic scenarios—including red, green and yellow traffic lights at four-way intersections—divert themselves around blocked routes, and interact with fixed and moving obstacles such as other vehicles.

“It was a watershed moment,” Rajkumar says. “It was the first time it was demonstrated that vehicles could drive themselves, without anybody in them, following all the rules that you and I follow when driving—the first time in history autonomous driving in realistic conditions was no longer science fiction.”
Nevertheless, the auto CMU modified for the DARPA Urban Challenge was a 2007 Chevy Tahoe SUV that “looked like a science project,” Rajkumar says, with sensors conspicuously adorning its exterior and lots of additional electronic equipment inside the cabin.

Since 2011, the university has been working on a completely new platform, a model year 2011 Cadillac SRX crossover utility vehicle (CUV) that looks completely normal inside and out, having been modified with automotive-grade cameras, radars and light detection and ranging (LIDAR) systems that are like those now available factory-installed in many newer car models.
This was a technical milestone, too, Rajkumar says, because it proved that a normal-looking autonomous vehicle could operate in a high traffic density suburban environment with traffic lights and very complex intersections, as well as in a relatively simple highway environment.

Fully autonomous vehicles will be available in the 2020s, “when you could be reading a newspaper” while the car does all the driving, Rajkumar says.

“It’s a ‘when’ question, not an ‘if ’ question,” and the advance to full autonomy will come in multiple stages, says IHS’s Juliussen. In the first stage which extends through at least the next five years, he says, “the human can take over and drive.” But much later, around the year 2030, he speculates, there will come a stage when the human cannot take control, because the human-machine interface will have been removed, leaving only the machine to handle the driving task. Then everyone in the vehicle will be a passenger; there will be no driver.

By that time, he predicts, the advantages of self-driving cars will be self-evident: lower vehicle cost, improved safety, and greater convenience.

Juliussen notes that human-machine interfaces are expensive and that car prices will drop when you no longer need to add these complex systems to cars. “The cost of all the electronics and the software to perform the self-driving initially is going to be pretty high,” Juliussen says. But he adds that “as production increases and technology advances, that will drop fairly nicely.”
According to the Eno Center paper, though, it could take at least a decade for the cost of an autonomous vehicle’s added electronics to fall to $10,000. By comparison, just the LIDAR system on the roof of one of Google’s autonomous vehicles costs $70,000, and the additional cost of other sensors, software and engineering now can bring the total cost of an autonomous vehicle to more than $100,000, the Eno Center paper notes.

“It’s going to be a phased approach,” says Andy Gryc, automotive product marketing manager at QNX Software Systems Ltd., in Ottawa, Ontario, which has supplied technology to power autonomous systems since the 1990s—including technology for vehicles competing in the DARPA Grand Challenge, the agency’s first autonomous vehicle contest, in 2004. “How people define those phases is variable,” he adds, “but generically it’s from the vehicles providing some sort of assistance like adaptive cruise control, so the car can drive itself under limited circumstances (such as automated steering on highways), to autonomous driving under normal circumstances with the driver required to be on call, and then fully autonomous.”

Gryc says the lines between phase changes will be blurry. Two different automated driving systems could appear to be part of one phase or another. “I see it being more of a gradual introduction of technologies. Certainly, by 2020, I think we’re going to see close to fully autonomous vehicles,” he says.