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Pittsburgh art advocates to lead panel at SXSWedu

The annual SXSWedu Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas, works to foster innovation in learning by hosting a diverse community of stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds in education. On March 9, local art professionals and educators, including Felice Cleveland, director of education at the Mattress Factory, will attend SXSWedu to participate in a panel discussion that covers the benefits of project-based learning (PBL) in schools.

Cleveland will join representatives from other Pittsburgh institutions, including Heather McElwee of the Pittsburgh Glass Center, Tresa Varner of The Andy Warhol Museum, and Avonworth High School Principal Kenneth Lockette, to explain how the Pittsburgh Galleries Project operates as a model for PBL. Titled Using Art to Transform Physical Spaces and Minds, the panel will share the successes and challenges of the project with the broader education community.

“We hope to inspire some of our fellow educators to think about this project and replicate it in their own way,” says Cleveland.

Started in the fall of 2013, the Pittsburgh Galleries Project combined the efforts of Avonworth High School and several Pittsburgh art institutions to encourage students to take part in creative extracurricular projects outside of the classroom. Groups of students visit places such as the Mattress Factory, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Pittsburgh Glass Center, the Warhol, and the Toonseum, where, as Cleveland explains, they receive behind-the-scenes insights into curating, installing, making artwork, and creative careers. The students then use inspiration from their experiences to collaborate on an installation that will go on display at their school.

As Cleveland explains, the program has made an impact on students to find creative solutions to real-world problems. This year, the group will use what they learned to address issues with the school’s Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) policy, mainly the lack of available charging stations. The students are working to build a London-style telephone booth that, upon completion, will serve as a charging station located in the school’s common area.

The panel will also address how to transform schools into more creative spaces and introduce students to the variety of careers in the art world. Says Cleveland, “We want to share the work that we do with the education community around the country; we also hope to be inspired by what others are doing and bring that back to Pittsburgh.”

For more details on the Using Art to Transform Physical Spaces and Minds panel, please visit the SXSWedu website.

Pitt launches new crowdfunding platform to support university projects

The Internet offers numerous ways to raise money for a project. But now students and faculty at the University of Pittsburgh can forego the Kickstarters and Indiegogos of the world with a new crowdfunding platform devoted to their specific needs.

The school recently launched EngagePitt, a website where student organization leaders or faculty members can create fundraising campaigns for community outreach and research projects. Managed by Pitt’s Office of Institutional Advancement, the site allows users to reach out to donors in the Pitt community, as well as family, friends, and colleagues.

As Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement Albert J. Novak Jr. explains, EngagePitt offers multiple advantages compared to other crowdfunding sites, where users could potentially pay large fees and risk losing funds when a campaign fails to reach the goal amount.

"Unlike other sites that charge user fees ranging from 4.5 percent to 10 percent, there will be no user fees incurred by faculty and student groups using Pitt’s EngagePitt platform," says Novak. "Further, all gifts recorded during a project’s campaign will be applied toward the stated need, whether or not the final goal is met." In addition, the Office of Institutional Advancement also provides training and guidance to all campaign groups.

EngagePitt tested the crowdfunding waters last December with a few approved pilot campaigns. Among them were projects for ThinkSepsis and Pitt’s Society of Women Engineers, both of which focus on advancing innovation on campus and beyond. ThinkSepsis will use its funds to equip six ambulances in the Pittsburgh area with new, state-of-the-art alert systems, while the Society of Women Engineers will apply the $2,351 they raised to improve their annual outreach events.

A number of ongoing EngagePitt campaigns are now accepting contributions. Students and faculty interested in launching a campaign should visit the site's application page.

Who's hiring in PGH? WPXI, Carlow University and more

Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you exciting career opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a job opening or internship you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.

WPXI-TV is seeking a motion graphic designer and graphic artist for their Marketing Department’s Creative Studio team. Responsibilities include conceptualizing, designing, animating and executing visual effect graphics. 

The station group that includes WESA and WYEP is hiring a director of development to manage annual individual giving and alternative revenue streams such as vehicle donations and corporate matches. Requirements include a Bachelor's or Master's degree and six years of relevant development and fundraising experience.

Automated Health Systems, Inc (AHS), a national health services management company headquartered in Pittsburgh, is hiring multiple positions, including a technical recruiter and IT coordinator.

Carlow University is looking for a full-time software applications support analyst and a full-time IR data analyst.

Highmark is hiring a senior decision support analyst (Job number 74340) to assist in the development of projects and data analysis. Candidates must have three years of experience in research, data analytics or statistical analysis.

Paid Internships

Giant Eagle has numerous paid internships available in the Pittsburgh area.

The civil engineering and architectural design firm Larson Design Group needs a summer site intern at their Cranberry Township offices. College juniors and seniors are welcome to apply.

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

To receive Pop City weekly, click here.

Former Steeler partners with Pitt to launch new sports medicine company

When it comes to dealing with injuries, elite athletes have access to the best in rehabilitation technology. Now with the help of a retired football great, the University of Pittsburgh hopes to make the same grade of treatment available to the public.

Former Pittsburgh Steeler and businessman Charlie Batch, along with his three partners, joined with the University of Pittsburgh and its Innovation Institute to launch a wellness, fitness, human-performance, and rehabilitation-focused company. The Pittsburgh-based startup, called Impellia, will develop and commercialize technologies from Pitt and around the country.

To Evan Facher, director of enterprise development for the Innovation Institute, Batch's influence will help their commitment to improving public health and furthering the city's image as a hub for emerging technology and science.

"Because of the profile that he has and the good work that he's done, he can open a lot of doors for the company and the university as well," says Facher.

As part of the new relationship, Batch and the rest of the Impellia team -- which includes tech-savvy business professionals Richard Walker, Dave Morin, and Ed Kim -- completed option agreements for three distinct Pitt innovations. Physical therapists can help improve their patients' physical rehabilitation with the joint-function monitoring tool, interACTION. For knee injuries, there's PIVOT, a program that can quantitatively assess the pivot shift test, a clinical exam for diagnosing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. And the Versatile and Integrated System for Telerehabilitation (VISYTER) software platform provides a secure, integrated system that allows doctors to make diagnoses remotely with high-quality videoconferencing, access to electronic health records, and other tools.

"If you put all these things together, you have a company that can really do some novel rehabilitation and sports medicine," says Facher.

The inventions were edged toward commercialization by Pitt faculty members and the Innovation Institute, which is dedicated to promoting and fostering innovation, commercialization, and entrepreneurship. But as Facher explains, the process still requires an outsider like Impellia to come in and market the technology. To that end, he believes that Batch and his team bring a level of expertise that will help transform Pitt research into real innovations for years to come.

"In the past, they've taken university technologies and been successful at developing them," says Facher. "So it's a team that we believe in and would like to continue to do more with and build off of."

Who's hiring in PGH? Astrobotic, Qeexo and more

Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you fulfilling career opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a job opening or internship you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.

Astrobotic, a space logistics company specializing in affordable commercial space robotics technology, is hiring multiple positions, including a director of marketing and communications, a senior software engineer, and an avionics engineer.

Astrobotic recently accepted a third Milestone Prize from the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. The $1 million victory, in addition to two previous wins, brings the secured prize money total to $1.75 million.

“These three Milestones are big for us,” says Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. “It’s acknowledgement of a lot of tough work.”

Based in the Strip District, Astrobotic formed in 2008 shortly after the XPRIZE competition was announced. Since then, the company has competed with five other teams by showing off various components of their commercial robotic lunar rover.

The recent achievement brings Astrobotic closer to its goal of sending a robotic rover to the moon in 2016.

Community-based organization Larimer Consensus Group is seeking a neighborhood improvement specialist. Requirements include a valid driver’s license, access to a vehicle, and the ability to work occasional evenings and weekends. Please send current resume and up to three professional references to the Larimer Consensus Group Hiring Committee at mmaeda@kingsleyassociation.org.

PennFuture, a statewide public interest membership organization, is hiring a full-time director of outreach. The qualified candidate will manage PennFuture's issue campaigns, organize coalition efforts, and maintain relationships with policymakers, members of the organization, and the public. PennFuture is also looking for a donor relations intern.

Qeexo, a company that specializes in touchscreen technology, is hiring multiple positions, including a project manager and a software engineer, for its Pittsburgh office.

Mobile commerce platform Branding Brand is hiring for multiple positions, including a communications and events coordinator, a project manager, and a software engineer/web developer.

Dick's Sporting Goods is hiring an assistant graphics designer to work on the development of packaging, collateral and product branding. Requires a B.A. in graphic design and four years of design experience.

Pittsburgh Bike Share, a nonprofit citywide bike sharing system, needs a director of operations and a director of marketing and community relations.  

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

To receive Pop City weekly, click here.
 

Local industry leaders needed for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards

EY, a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services, has officially requested nominations from western Pennsylvania and West Virginia for the 29th annual EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards. The program seeks the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs and celebrates their ability to strengthen or transform successful enterprises.

"The unique award makes a difference through the way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential, and recognizes the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement," says Kim Gillespie, who, along with Darrel Smalley, serves as co-director of the western Pennsylvania and West Virginia awards program.

Award winners are selected in a number of industry categories, including Distribution and Manufacturing, Energy, Family Business, Financial Services, Construction, Retail and Consumer Products, Services, and Technology, by a panel of independent regional judges. Contestants are evaluated on areas such as entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to overcome obstacles, financial performance and growth, innovation and new approaches, company culture, leadership, and impact in the community.

The winners will be announced at a black-tie gala on June 19, 2015, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. They will then go on to compete at the national EY Entrepreneur Of the Year awards taking place in Palm Springs, Calif., this coming November.

In 2014, more than 25 western Pennsylvania and West Virginia leaders were selected as EY Entrepreneur Of The Year award finalists. Past local award winners include Rob Daley and Henry Thorne of the baby product company 4moms and Laura Shapira Karet of the grocery store chain Giant Eagle.

"We are inspired every year by the countless entrepreneurs in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia who are driving growth, creating jobs and making a positive impact on our communities," says Gillespie.

The deadline to apply for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards is March 6, 2015. Entrepreneurs may nominate themselves or be nominated by peers or other business leaders.  

Astrobotic and CMU work toward moon landing with Google Lunar XPRIZE

A trip to the moon isn’t cheap, but thanks to some generous prize money, one local company is another step closer to getting there.

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Astrobotic, a space logistics company specializing in affordable commercial space robotics technology, recently accepted a third Milestone Prize from the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. The $1 million victory, in addition to two previous wins, brings the secured prize money total to $1.75 million. It also makes Astrobotic and CMU the first team to win all three Milestone prizes.

“These three Milestones are big for us,” says Astrobotic CEO John Thornton. “It’s acknowledgement of a lot of tough work.”

Based in the Strip District, Astrobotic formed in 2008 shortly after the XPRIZE competition was announced. Since then, the company has competed with five other teams by showing off various components of their commercial robotic lunar rover. The third Milestone Prize came after they demonstrated their visually guided lunar landing system, which underwent numerous tests last year at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The system -- which Thornton refers to as an “astronaut in a box” -- uses imaging software to ensure safer, more precise touchdowns and dramatically reduce the risk of crashes.

Astrobotic also received recognition for the lander’s “green” propulsion system. As Thornton explains, their propellant poses far fewer risks than the traditionally used hydrazine propellant, a quality that allows for more on-the-ground testing.

“If [hydrazine propellant] is spilled into the air, it could kill you on a parts per million level,” says Thornton. “Whereas the propellant that we use is still toxic, but much less so, which makes it easier to test terrestrially.”

The recent achievement brings Astrobotic and CMU closer to their goal of sending a robotic rover to the moon in 2016. The team will also go on to compete for the $20 million grand XPRIZE, as well as bonus prizes.

If they win, Thornton hopes to reinvest the money in Astrobotic’s commercial operation, a sort of “FedEx or UPS to the moon” that delivers lunar payloads for companies, governments, universities, nonprofits and individuals. While the funds would add to millions in NASA grants and contracts that the company has already received, it still compensates for a portion of the amount required to create and run the service.

“The prize money is fairly small compared to the cost to get there, so it’s not a money-making proposition,” says Thornton. “The goal is to build the business, so if we were to win the prize, we would put that right back into the company to support the commercial operation of the business."

Pitt ensures healthier organ transplants with new preservation system

A successful organ transplant requires a delicate balance of time and preservation. But as UPMC transplant surgeon Dr. Paulo Fontes points out, 21 percent of donor livers are rendered unusable due to oxygen deprivation during storage and damage sustained during transport.

“The current utilization of livers in our country is much lower than expected, and we still face a significant mortality on the waiting list due to our inability to properly serve our patients with organs being effectively preserved,” says Fontes.

Fontes is the senior investigator on a series of animal studies at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where researchers are setting out to prove the effectiveness of a new machine-perfusion (MP) organ preservation system. The system was developed by optimizing an existing MP device with a chilled, oxygen-rich fluid. The liver is immersed in the fluid, which further oxygenates the tissue by being pumped through the organ via tubes inserted into the large blood vessels.

Tests conducted on pigs suggest that the MP system can keep donor livers in better condition than current methods. The research team transplanted six pigs with livers that had been kept for nine hours -- roughly the average time between recovering the organ and transplantation -- in the MP system, and another six pigs with organs that were treated with conventional cold static preservation (CSP). Overall, 100 percent of the pigs who received MP livers survived, compared to 33 percent with the CSP-treated organs. Researchers also noticed that the MP pigs recovered more quickly from surgery, and looked healthier than their CSP counterparts.

“Cold preservation is the current standard of care for clinical transplantation, but unfortunately has no impact in avoiding or minimizing the irreversible decay of organ quality inflicted over time when tissues are kept under hypothermic and anoxic conditions,” says Fontes. “Recovery time for livers submitted to CSP appears to be longer than the ones preserved with machine perfusion due to the significant impact of the injuries induced by CSP.”

The findings, which were published online in the American Journal of Transplantation, suggest that the MP system could potentially increase the number of healthy donor livers and save more lives. Data from the studies has been shared with federal regulators in hopes of launching a clinical trial with transplant patients at UPMC later this year.

Who's hiring in PGH? YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, Warhol Museum and more

More snow means more time indoors, which means more time to devote to your latest job search. Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you exciting career opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a job opening or internship you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.
 
The Carnegie Museum of Art is hiring a curator of photography to serve as head of the photography department. Qualified candidate will be responsible for the presentation, loan, and development of the museum’s collection of photographs, comprising more than 4,500 works acquired since the 1970s. Requirements include an M.A. or Ph.D. in the history of photography, art history or other relevant field.

The RAND Corporation is looking for an interactive multimedia designer (Job ID: 3952). Responsibilities include recording, editing, and encoding audio and video products. Other duties include interactive web work, such as front-end development of web applications, media players, and data visualization tools.
 
The Warhol Museum is hiring a full-time director of exhibitions to oversee the management and direction of all exhibition galleries.
 
The Phipps Conservatory has multiple positions available, including openings for a volunteer coordinator and a science education research manager. They’re also seeking interns for their community-focused Homegrown program, as well as their summer Horticulture and Discovery education programs.
 
The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh is seeking a director of information technology. Interested candidates must have a B.S. or B.A. and a minimum of 15 years of related information technology experience. Please send resumes to itjobs@ymcapgh.org.
 
The Hilltop Alliance, a nonprofit community development organization committed to preserving and creating community assets in Pittsburgh’s Hilltop neighborhoods, is hiring a full-time project manager. The application deadline is Feb. 20, 2015.
 
Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

Who's hiring in PGH? Venture Outdoors, Allegheny CleanWays and more

Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you exciting job opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a career opportunity you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.

The Allegheny County Parks Department is hiring a senior park ranger. Duties include training newly hired park rangers and providing customer service to county parks visitors. Requires current first aid and CPR certification and a valid Class C driver's license.

Community Care Behavioral Health is hiring a full-time web operations analyst to maintain and update the organization's website and secure web portal.

The Neighborhood Learning Alliance is hiring part-time high school tutors to provide instruction on a variety of subjects.

4moms, a company that develops innovative juvenile products, is hiring a full-time international marketing manager and a full-time eCommerce manager

Daedalus, an established Pittsburgh consulting firm, is looking for a software engineer to join the team. Must have experience in embedded software development for micro-controllers in C and C++, knowledge of app development for both iOS and Android, and familiarity with PC, Linux, and web development. The firm is also looking for a business development manager and sales representative.

The Innovation Works/CMU/Alpha Lab Gear robotics startup BistroBot needs a full-time entry-level mechanical engineer and a full-time senior mechanical engineer. Both positions require degrees in mechanical engineering or a related field, and experience in designing, building and testing robots or mechatronic systems. BistroBot also has an available software engineering internship. Please send all application materials to jobs@bistrobot.com.

Venture Outdoors, a nonprofit that promotes outdoor recreation, is hiring for multiple positions, including a youth program coordinator and a program administrator.

Allegheny CleanWays, a nonprofit organization committed to to eliminating illegal dumping and littering in Allegheny County, is hiring a full-time programs director. Applications materials must be received by Feb. 11, 2015.

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

Carnegie Mellon University makes robots easier to use with customizable system

With a name like Snake Monster, the latest success story from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute sounds more like an urban legend than a technological advancement. But the six-legged invention from CMU Professor Howie Choset marks a big step -- or, at least, a big spider-like crawl -- toward changing the way people build robots.

Completed in just six months, the Snake Monster, which was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), represents the kind of robot that can be created using a reconfigurable modular system. As opposed to traditional industrial robots, modular architecture allows users to easily customize the system to suit their needs, an ability Choset believes will make robots more accessible.

“We want to make it so that you don’t need a specialized industrial engineer with years of experience to go install and program this robot,” said Choset. “We want to have people who are just really good programmers installing robots.”

Previously, Choset and his lab spent years developing snake-like robots -- or snakebots -- that moved according to a careful coordination of repeated component joints. Due to their specific design, the robots were able to mimic natural movement, primarily the smooth undulation of snakes. They were agile enough to shimmy through pipes, which made them ideal for a number of applications, including urban search and rescue, archaeological exploration, and the inspection of power plants, refineries and sewers.

By taking that research and combining it with innovative new software and technology -- including a series elastic actuator, which uses sensors that help the robot feel and react to its environment -- they were able to envision the Snake Monster as a small, powerful robot that can navigate its surroundings. The system runs on Ethernet technology, making it easier to use by allowing designers to focus on modifying the robot without having to worry about using the right computer. Currently, Choset and his lab are building on the project's potential by working on modules such as force-sensing feet, wheels and tank-like treads, which could be used in the assembly of totally different robots.

Want to see more of this amazing robot? The Snake Monster will make its official debut this June at the DARPA Robotics Challenge in Pomona, Calif.
 

Phipps simplifies grocery shopping with Green Light Foods app

Obesity has become one of the country's most dire health concerns, especially among children. To help curb the epidemic throughout the region, Let’s Move Pittsburgh has launched a new mobile application to help consumers make healthier choices at the grocery store.

Developed in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University students, Red House Communications and Wahila Creative, the Green Light Foods app works to quickly identify packaged food and beverages with the best nutritional profiles. Users can determine fat, saturated fat, sodium and sugar levels in products by scanning barcodes and pulling information from a database. An easy-to-understand traffic light color system then indicates whether the amounts fall into the low (green light), moderate (yellow light) or high (red light) range.

Let’s Move Pittsburgh is a program of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens modeled after First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to curb childhood obesity.

Phipps Executive Director Richard V. Piacentini believes that, unlike many wellness aids, Green Light Foods will streamline the buying process for busy parents and other consumers unable to spend time scrutinizing nutrition facts.

"There are a lot of green apps out there, and some of them might be cumbersome to use, or they might try to give you so much information that it's overwhelming," said Piacentini. "The goal for this app was to make it very quick and simple for people to make healthy choices while they're in the store."

A major advantage of the app is its ability to make sense of confusing food labels. As Piacentini explains, if one box of cereal contains five grams of sugar per one cup serving size, and another box contains four grams of sugar per half cup serving size, shoppers may make the incorrect assumption that the latter has less sugar. The app helps prevent this common mistake by automatically converting and comparing the equal weights of different products.

The app fits into Phipps' continued commitment to both environmental and human well-being. Through Let’s Move Pittsburgh, Phipps created Homegrown, a program that installs vegetable gardens at households throughout the underserved Homewood neighborhood. Phipps also promotes healthy living by refusing to sell soda and junk food at the Conservatory's eatery, Cafe Phipps.

Smartphone users can download the Green Lights Food app for free through iTunes and Google Play.

Who's hiring in PGH? IKM, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and more

Each week, Pop City scours the web to bring you select career opportunities in Pittsburgh. Employers, if you have a job opening or internship you would like to promote, please email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "Hiring" in the subject line. Hit us up on Twitter @popcitypgh if our job listings put you on the path to success.

IKM, an established architecture, planning and interior design firm, is looking to fill two to three architect positions to work on mid-sized to large projects. Main qualifications include a professional degree in architecture, completion of all IDP and ARE requirements, and registration in Pennsylvania. The firm is also looking for a full-time architectural intern. 

Medical Science Associates (MSA), a diversified information management company, is hiring a senior level user experience designer for the research, development and production of an innovative medical application. Requires a relevant four-year degree or equivalent experience, and a minimum of four years' related experience with user interface design, application analysis or related position. 

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has an immediate opening for a part-time community outreach coordinator. Requirements include a bachelor’s degree in a related field or equivalent experience and a minimum of two years of outreach, issue or fundraising campaign management, or similar professional organizing experience. 

The Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID), a public organization that works to strengthen and enhance the Central Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, is seeking a full-time marketing and communications coordinator. Requires a bachelor’s degree in communications, marketing, or a related field with two to four years of relevant experience. Candidates should submit a cover letter, resume, two writing samples, and three references by Feb. 4, 2015, to Executive Director Georgia Petropoulos at georgia@oaklandbid.org. 

Boyd Community Center, a nonprofit cultural, educational, and recreational space in O'Hara Township, needs a full-time marketing and development director for their Lauri Ann West Community Center, a new facility scheduled to open this year. The position requires a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of five years' leading marketing and development efforts for a nonprofit, membership-driven organization. Interested candidates should send resumes and cover letters to topmccomb@boydcommunitycenter.org. 

Direct Energy, a major energy and energy-related services provider, is seeking a full-time senior content strategist to manage content for the company website, blog, and social media channels. Qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in marketing, communication, or related field and four years of experience in a digital content role. 

Carnegie Museum of Natural History is hiring a full-time director of marketing. Candidate must have a bachelor’s degree and at least seven years of increasingly responsible marketing experience, including supervising staff and budgets. 

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.  

UPMC and Pitt make strides in robot arm study

In 1996, Jan Scheuermann was a healthy 36-year-old woman running a small business and raising two children in California. Everything changed, however, when she suddenly came down with a mysterious illness. Soon her arms and legs weakened to the point where she became confined to a wheelchair, and could no longer feed, dress or bathe herself. When she relocated to Pittsburgh in 1998, she was diagnosed with spinocerebellar degeneration, a condition that progressively deteriorates connections between the brain and muscles.

But over the past few years, Scheuermann, who now resides in Whitehall Borough, worked with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC to help develop a technology that could make a huge difference to those living with quadriplegia. In 2012, she was outfitted with a human-like robot arm that could interpret signals sent from electrodes implanted in her brain. Before long, Scheuermann was giving out high fives and feeding herself chocolate thanks to the mind-controlled appendage she nicknamed Hector.

Since then, Scheuermann has achieved a wider range of motion. At first, the arm demonstrated 3-degree control, meaning she could reach it in and out, move it left and right, and up and down. Within three months, she graduated to what scientists call 7-degree control, which includes flexing the wrist back and forth, moving it from side to side, and rotating it clockwise and counter-clockwise, as well as gripping objects. Recently, the Pitt School of Medicine published its latest findings detailing how Scheuermann used Hector to reach, grasp, and place a variety of objects, making it the first-ever instance of 10-degree brain control of a prosthetic device.

Senior investigator Jennifer Collinger credits the study’s success partly to Scheuermann’s dedication.

“We asked her to come in a couple times a week initially for a year,” said Collinger. “And she ended up coming into the lab for more than two and half years, and was extremely motivated and committed.”

The groundbreaking development means that, with the device, paralyzed individuals will not only regain an arm, but one that mimics natural movement involving more coordinated use of the individual fingers and thumb. Though Scheuermann ended her participation in the study last October, tests to improve the brain-computer interface technology will continue with other subjects, preferably outside of a lab setting.

“We’d like to be able to demonstrate this level of control with multiple individuals and have it work in a home environment,” said Collinger. “That requires not only making sure the system is more robust so that it works outside of the laboratory, but that the equipment itself is wireless and more portable.”
 

CMU soft robot inspires Disney's Big Hero 6

A new Disney movie featuring an inflatable robot hero credits Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute with inspiring the Michelin Man-style character, according to the university.

The robot, named Baymax and starring in the animated film Big Hero 6 out in theaters now, was inspired by an inflatable robotic arm developed in Robotics Professor Chris Atkeson’s lab by Siddharth Sanan during his Ph.D. thesis research.

Atkeson said the film's director, Don Hall, visited the lab and was inspired by what he saw. "When Disney animation makes a movie, like academics they do research first. They were looking for a robot that was different from all the robots that you see in the movies-- like the Terminator or the Transformer -- and at the time we were building inflatable arms. We were interested in arms with no bones what so ever, so essentially ballon-like arms," Atkeson said in a video made by Carnegie Mellon University. 

When Hall saw the balloon arm, he knew the character of Baymax would be a soft robot. "It really became apparent when we saw the soft robotics that that would be our ticket to putting a robot on the screen we had never seen before," Hall told the university.

The film is described as an action-packed, comedy-adventure in which Baymax, a gentle robot designed to care for humans, is transformed into a warrior and joins a band of high-tech heroes. 


"Most people have no idea what a soft robot is and I think in a few weeks everyone will and that's going to be a huge change for our field," Atkeson said. The film is currently showing at various area theaters.
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