Pittsburgh Tech Report

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.

Identified Technologies

The logo may look like a drone, and the drone might get all the attention on the job site, but the leadership of Identified Technologies Corporation in Larimer says drones are not the focus of their growing company.

“We do use them as a tool as part of this work flow, but the drone has become the least interesting and least special part of the work flow,” said Dick Zhang, the company's CEO and founder.

They use commercially available drones and cameras to create two and three-dimensional models of construction sites to help monitor progress.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Could a virus offer a cure to cancer?

That’s the question researchers at Western Oncolytics, based in Harmar, are trying to answer. In fact, they’re hoping to start clinical trials in 2017.

Chief science officer Stephen Thorne said the idea that a virus could help kill cancer has been around for a century, but only since the 1990s have scientists been able to modify DNA to create a virus specifically designed to fight cancer.  

The first wave of research focused on creating a virus that could only grow inside a tumor.

Simon Lucey / CMU

A decade ago, computer face recognition usually involved little more than detecting faces in a crowd and maybe being able to match them to faces in a database.

“The first stage was sort of thinking about faces as nouns, as it were,” said Simon Lucey, associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon University Computer Vision Group. “But now we’re launching into this very interesting space in terms of, what are faces doing, sort of verbs. So, rather than who is that person or where is that person, it’s, how is that face moving?”

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Nursing home residents who need extra care or specialized help after business hours are often sent to the emergency room. But as those visits can be expensive, disruptive and sometimes avoidable, a South Side company is offering another solution.

Curavi Health, which spun out of UPMC, created a mobile unit called CuraviCart that uses a video conference system, on-call doctors and other instruments a nursing home might need to help residents.

Simeon Berg / Flickr

When Iowa-based IT and data company Involta broke ground last month on a new facility outside of Pittsburgh, it wasn’t just creating the average office building.

Located in Freeport, Armstrong County, the company’s new 40,000-square-foot building is planned to be a high security, high performance data center.

Data centers have one primary goal — making sure customers can access their data, be it healthcare, finance, or technology-related. And in order to accomplish that, center operators have to ensure their systems never fail.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Three years ago, Joel Johnson was thinking about getting out of contracting for a “more rewarding career,” but he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. After a discussion with his brother Justin, they decided to focus on 3-D production.

They noticed that when it came to 3-D production tools, there was a gap between the stuff a weekend crafter would use and the machines a manufacturer would use.

SkinJect / YouTube

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their life

But thanks to a new device from a Pittsburgh-based company called Skinject, some people with skin cancer may be able to skip invasive surgeries.

“Skinject is a totally new approach to handling this problem which is growing throughout the world as more and more people expose their skin to the sun,” said the company’s CEO James Nolan.  

Sung Kwon Cho

In the 1966 movie The Fantastic Voyage, a team of scientists were shrunk to microscopic proportions and sent inside the human body. Now, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are taking that idea into the 21st Century -- sort of. 

Pitt mechanical engineering associate professor Sung Kwon Cho hasn't figured out how to shrink a submarine, but he has figured out how to control the movement of a tiny device through a simulated blood stream using nothing more than an air bubble and an ultrasound machine.

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