Pittsburgh Tech Report

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

In many developing countries, families routinely cook on open fires, often in poorly ventilated homes. According to the World Health Organization, the smoke from those fires lead to the premature death of more than 4 million people each year.

In rural Uganda, families often burn dried banana leaves.

"Which doesn’t combust very well, so it’s very inefficient so it makes a lot of smoke,” said Josh Shapiro, an engineer with Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Artificial lungs have been around for decades, but they’re usually large devices that force the patient to remain in a hospital bed until their lungs improve or they’re able to undergo a lung transplant. 

But University of Pittsburgh Medical Devices Laboratory Director Bill Federspiel has developed a more mobile, wearable device.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Oxygen is something that many of us take for granted. But many people with breathing disorders can't take it in on their own -- and it's especially difficult for people living in poor and remote parts of the world. 

Scientist Wendy Zhang recalled the difficult decisions a physician in Gabon, Africa had to make as the result of limited resources. 

"On some, she had to make the heart-wrenching decision of which baby to live and which baby to die just because they don’t have oxygen to supply both,” Zhang said.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Increasingly, when you find a trash can in a public place it has at least two openings—one for trash and one for recyclables. But according to Charles Yhap, humans don’t do a very good job of sorting what they throw in those cans.

“Americans typically achieve, when they have a 50-50 chance between two bins, it’s usually 30 percent,” said Yhap.

With that in mind, Yhap launched a company called CleanRobotics with a flagship product called Trashbot.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

CMU Robotics Institute assistant professor Stelian Coros was working to find ways to make animated characters navigate their simulated environments, such as in a video game or a movie, when he realized his work could be used to design and virtually test robots.

“And what I’m really excited about is moving towards a new paradigm where robots will be able to approach the complexity of biological structures in both form and in function,” Coros said. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

A deal that is expected to grow the region’s biotech sector has been inked by established biotech firm Helomics and the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse.

“We did a survey… and one of the things we recognized is the scientific community [in Pittsburgh] is missing an incubator where diagnostic people, pharmaceutical people and biotech people can get together,” Pittsburgh Life Science Greenhouse President and CEO James Jordan said.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

RE2 Robotics first spun out of Carnegie Mellon University in 2001 to build off-road vehicles for the U.S. Department of Defense, but now its researchers are working to develop the next generation of robotic arms.

The 40 people who work at the Lawrenceville-based company now focus on building arms for robots used to defuse improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

Every day, about 200 barrels of something called produced water bubbles out of each of the roughly 9,600 shale gas wells in Pennsylvania. The water is laced with chemicals and minerals, and since energy companies have been fracking gas wells, they have tried to figure out the best way to deal with it.

CMU via Youtube

Touch screens have become part of our everyday lives, but the technology has its limits. They are always relatively flat and are fixed to another product, like a cell phone or a computer.

But researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have figured out a way to make just about any object into a touch sensitive device.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

In 2007, Mike Formica had just sold his tech start up and was looking for something to do when he was approached by a group of scientists from The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. 

They wanted a device that would detect joint swelling in the hands of people who suffer arthritis. Formica jumped on board and started to look for a solution, but wasn’t happy with what he found.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Nesra Yannier said, growing up in Turkey, school was kind of boring.

“The education system was based on memorization, so I always thought it should be different and should be helping kids understand the reasons rather than memorizing facts,” she said.

When Yannier was working on her Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University, she sought ways to make learning more engaging and struck upon the idea of pairing digital applications with real-word educational toys.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Water parks are becoming more and more popular across the country.  But not everyone can play.

“Water has really never been a part of the special needs community,” said Morgan’s Wonderland General Manager Ron Morander.

University of Pittsburgh

Researchers and laboratory scientists are increasingly trying to move cells and nano-particles through smaller and smaller channels.

“You want to get fluid pumped through something that’s the width of your hair,” said Anna Balazs, University of Pittsburgh chemical and petroleum engineering professor. “So one of the challenges is first just how to pump fluid through and then how to direct particles … to a specific location.”

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

Nearly every subspecialty seems to have its own academic journal, from one dedicated to "Positivity” – it’s a math thing – to one for engineers working in the packaging industry.

But until now, there has never been an academic journal for research into blockchain – the technology behind Bitcoin.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Seven years ago, the Deepwater Horizon oil well blew out, spilling an estimated 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Investigators found numerous mechanical and human errors, which led to the explosion at the concrete base of the rig. One of the possible failures included the foamed cement used to line the bore hole.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Figuring out where to find something in a large warehouse or navigating a sprawling campus, like a hospital, isn’t always easy.

“You know, how do you get from the main door (of a hospital) to a certain department? You’re asking 20 people along the way and then you get frustrated,” said ARIN Technologies CEO Vivek Kulkarni. “But if there were a way to navigate, like you use Google Maps, that would make life so much easier.”

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Nearly every piece of exposed metal in a consumer product has been electroplated in some way. It's the process of coating a metal with another metal to prevent corrosion. The most common coatings include chrome and cadmium, both of which are heavy metals that can be harmful to the environment.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Each summer, managers of public beaches like those at Presque Isle State Park in Erie test their water to make sure it’s safe for swimming. 

Last year, the park issued more than two dozen advisories and closed beaches three times due to elevated levels of E. coli bacteria.

E.coli is a marker for dangerous water because it’s an indicator of what else could be there, such as viruses.

Timothy Vollmer / Flickr

With the recent indictment of former National Security Agency employee Harold Martin for allegedly stealing 50 terabytes of top-secret NSA reports, the world of cyber security is once again turning its attention to inside threats. 

However, experts at Carnegie Mellon University have been trying to fight insider threats for more than a decade.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

In a lab at Carnegie Mellon University, Adam Feinberg is using 3-D printing to create human tissue.

The associate professor of materials science & engineering and biomedical engineering said he often downloads 3-D images to print dollhouse furniture and Pokémon characters out of plastic for his children. He said that led him to ask: why not do that with the images made by an MRI or CT scan?

He said making a computer model from a scan is actually pretty easy.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

When a company grows and adds satellite offices, it can often be difficult for the main office to stay connected to its remote locations.

Pittsburgh-based company NetBeez connects each site.

“I was imagining, you know, a lot of devices that are buzzing in the network and having all these devices they work like a swarm,” NetBeez co-founder Panickos Neophytou said. “It was a network of bees, so NetBeez came to mind and that is when we adopted the name.”

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

A new partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and one of the world’s largest business service firms could eventually result in smarter computer aided accounting.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

Pure Sky Farms CEO Austin Webb wore a black apron over his dress shirt as he served samples to costumers at the grand opening of the new Whole Foods Market in Upper St. Clair in January.

“This is micro and petite arugula that we have right here, covered in olive oil and lava salt,” he told a customer. “Then we have cilantro with a tortilla chip.”

The customer opted for the arugula, which Webb explained was harvested that very morning.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

In 24 hours, an all-female team of hackers called “Codebusters” created an app allowing people to manage their family finances and health needs all in one place.

They were the winning team at PNC’s second annual employee hack-a-thon.

“Really, when we walked into the door it was kind of a sprint and everything came together a couple of hours towards the end of yesterday and here we are today,” said Codebuster team member Becca Smith. “And now I know some women who want to sleep.”

Michael Henninger / CMU

Supercomputers help people crunch big data in a number of fields, from research to weather forecasting, but not everyone has access to one or the technical savvy to make it work. Though, a new supercomputer could offer more access.

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center just launched the second phase of its supercomputing system, called “Bridges,” last week. It’s among the largest supercomputers in the U.S., but according to Pittsburgh Supercomputing Senior Director of Research Nick Nystrom, it is probably the most democratic one available.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

When it comes to prosthetic limbs, there can be hundreds of options. Each make and model can differ in flexibility, reflex and a long list of other variables.

But it’s not always easy for someone to find that perfect fit.  

Dr. Mary Ann Miknevich runs six clinics for Medical Rehabilitation, Inc. in the Pittsburgh area and said though her clinics have a few prosthetics on site to make sure the client gets the right fit, that's not always enough. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 FM WESA

This month, Pittsburgh-based Sharp Edge Labs partnered with a Japanese pharmaceutical firm to expand research that could cure a small percentage of people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma CO., Ltd. is pairing with Sharp Edge in its research looking at protein trafficking, which is the movement of proteins within a cell to the receptor for which they were created.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 FM WESA

It's annoying when your computer or phone freezes while you are checking Facebook. The exact same glitch happening to military weapon systems software, or the code behind a self-driving car, goes from annoying to incredibly dangerous.

That's where Lawrenceville-based Edge Case Research comes in, by providing automated robustness testing.

nanoGriptech

The team at nanoGriptech is eager to talk about the company’s products, but they’re less enthusiastic about discussing how their products are made.

Hank Mitchell / Flickr

As fake news stories continue to pepper social media pages, some companies are taking an active approach to banning the spread of misinformation. Facebook is focusing on the "worst of the worst" offenders and partner with outside fact-checkers and news organizations to sort honest news reports from made-up stories.

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