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March 8: NSF Grant Boosts Carnegie Mellon Initiative To Commercialize Quality of Life Technologies


Byron Spice                  

NSF Grant Boosts Carnegie Mellon Initiative
To Commercialize Quality of Life Technologies

PITTSBURGH—An already promising initiative to assist start-up firms that commercialize technologies associated with the Quality of Life Technology (QoLT) Center is now expanding thanks to a three-year, $1.5 million Innovation Award from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Engineering Education and Centers.
The QoLT Center, an NSF Engineering Research Center jointly run by Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, develops intelligent systems to improve daily living, particularly for those people whose capabilities have diminished because of age or disability. The new grant will aid the QoLT Foundry, which helps start-up companies move these technologies to the marketplace.
"Quality of Life Technologies may be created with older people and those with disabilities in mind, but they often have broad applications that could enrich the lives of all people," said Rick McCullough, Carnegie Mellon vice president for research and principal investigator for the new NSF grant. "The QoLT Foundry already has spun off three firms based on QoLT-associated inventions, and we envision even greater success with the help of this new funding."
Established in 2008, the QoLT Foundry is directed by Curt Stone, a veteran entrepreneur who is an executive-in-residence at Carnegie Mellon. The additional NSF funding will allow the foundry to expand its programs by hiring people with experience as entrepreneurs within particular technology domains and to develop undergraduate and graduate internship programs.
Stone said the foundry is developing a methodology that injects non-technical, market-based considerations into technology and product development at a much earlier stage than traditional academic research, helping start-up companies emerge much faster than might otherwise be possible.
The three companies created with the help of the QoLT Foundry thus far are NavPrescience Inc., VibeAttire Inc. and Invynt LLC.
NavPrescience Inc., founded by Anind Dey, associate professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII), and Drew Bagnell, associate research professor of robotics, is developing GPS-based navigation devices that learn a driver's preferences and habits so it can personalize route suggestions and warn the driver regarding changes in normal routes. NavPrescience also has received assistance from Innovation Works' AlphaLab.
VibeAttire Inc., created by Aubrey Shick, a graduate student in HCII, is a vibrating vest that helps people feel music rather than just hear it by transforming acoustical sound from MP3 players or cell phones into vibro-tactile sensations. Originally intended for people with hearing problems, VibeAttire can help anybody enjoy an immersive musical experience similar to a live concert.
Invynt LLC is commercializing technology invented by HCII graduate student Chris Harrison, called "Lean and Zoom." This allows computer users to change magnification levels of images on a computer screen simply by moving closer to or farther from the computer monitor.
"We've evaluated more than 70 technologies associated with QoLT and many of them have commercial promise," Stone said. "With the greater resources made possible by the NSF, we think we can spin out even more of these as companies and create more than 100 jobs in the Pittsburgh area over the next five years."
The QoLT Center, established in 2006, is directed by Takeo Kanade, professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon, and co-directed by Rory Cooper, professor of rehabilitative science, bioengineering and mechanical engineering at Pitt. The center's research is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on the talents of roboticists, computer scientists, engineers, industrial designers, psychologists, social scientists and other researchers at both Carnegie Mellon and Pitt.