Pittsburgh Tech Report

Lance Davidson and Rafey Feroze / University of Pittsburgh

The potential of tissue engineering is huge -- think replacement cartilage or artificial organs -- but current techniques are inefficient. 

If an engineer were building a house, they'd consider the properties of the materials they were using and the physical forces acting upon them.

If they're building biological tissue, they'll want to do the same.

Robert Pfeil / AP

The influenza virus spreads one person at at time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an infected individual coughs, sneezes or even just talks, and airborne droplets land in the mouths and noses of other people up to 6 feet away.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

At the Carnegie Museum of Art, a 17-foot LED screen displays what looks like a video game in progress, but there’s no one playing.

When Ian Cheng was first making animations, he found himself obsessing over miniscule details, milliseconds of animation action.

“And so I started to think about, or hallucinate, what it might be like to make art where you as an artist lose control,” said Cheng.

James Hausman / South Fayette School District

For many Americans struggling with opioid addiction, the problem starts with the abuse of a prescription.

To help tackle this issue, a group of local high school students created a new device.

Most prescriptions come in the familiar, orange canisters. Unfortunately, these are flawed: patients can take too many pills, too frequently and other people can get into the containers very easily.

Banerjee Lab / University of Pittsburgh

For more than one million Americans with Type 1 Diabetes, managing the condition involves daily shots of insulin and closely watching their diets.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

The maker space TechShop Pittsburgh is scheduled to close at the end of the month, but a few members and staff are hoping to keep it alive under a new name.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

Back to school clothes shopping is a rite of passage for most students, but it can be tough for kids with developmental disabilities. The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh and American Eagle Outfitters are working on a potential solution that would let students with special needs shop remotely.

Colt Group / Flicker

 

In mid-September, the Pittsburgh Technology Council will take a delegation of Pittsburghers across the Atlantic to Bilbao, Spain for a five-day trip. The goal of the visit is to take a leaf out of our Spanish sister-city’s book.

Brian Kennedy, senior vice president for government relations and operations at the council, stressed that if Pittsburgh wants to keep bringing in talent to fill high-tech jobs, the city needs to be a place that’s both exciting to live in and easy to get around in.

 

Carnegie Mellon University / YouTube

 

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are using the centuries-old concept of a telescope to develop new structures that could increase robots' flexibility and versatility in the future.

 

A telescoping structure is made of nested pieces which slide in and out of one another to different lengths. A classic, if outdated, example would be a pirate or sailor’s retractable telescope. Today, some ladders, umbrellas and tentpoles also use this technology.

Not coincidentally, these applications all share a common trait.

Best Robotics

The national robotics education nonprofit Best Robotics is moving its headquarters to Pittsburgh.

Thousands of students participate in Best Robotics competitions annually, spending six weeks building robots with real world potential.

“Every year there's an industry theme for the competition,” said executive director Rosemary Mendel. “Last year, it was agriculture; this year, it's fire and rescue.”

The idea is to train the future tech workforce and get more kids excited about pursuing careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Every year in the U.S., 200,000 people get pacemakers, 600,000 get knee replacements and 2.5 million have surgery to implant artificial eye lenses to fix cataracts. But the medical community knows little about how the aging process affects these implantable medical devices.

Bryan Brown wants to change that.

He’s a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and he’s trying to figure out how to harness the immune system’s natural inflammatory response to better integrate these devices into the body.

National Energy Technology Laboratory

Researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory south of Pittsburgh are discovering valuable rare earth elements in coal waste.

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.

Why Sort Your Trash If A Robot Can Do It For You?

Jun 27, 2017
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.

Air Power Could Help Wheelchair Users Hit The Beach

May 2, 2017
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.

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