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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.

Let Spliddit figure out your tab

Hoping to make battles over bills a thing of the past, Carnegie Mellon computer scientists have developed Spliddit, a new website that promises "provably fair" methods of dividing checks, bills and goods.

Spliddit takes into account a range of factors depending on what's being split. The site even has a section dedicated to sharing credit on intellectual property, to ensure everyone feels good about contributions and attributions in group projects.

When it comes to sharing rent, the website is able to suggest who should occupy which room based upon data provided by potential occupants. Roommates can rate each room based upon individual preferences including size of the room, closet space, number of windows, and then estimate how much each room is worth to them. The algorithm then recommends who should occupy which room and how much each person should pay.

It may sound like magic, but according to Ariel Procaccia, an assistant professor of computer science who leads the Spliddit project, people in the fields of math, economics and computer science have been using complicated algorithms to divide goods fairly for years. Now, average people without high-level math skills can have access to these tools. 

"When we say that we guarantee a fairness property, we are stating a mathematical fact," reads the site's lofty About section. "Formulating fairness in mathematical terms is the beauty of the scientific field of fair division," according to the website.

Any child with a sibling can attest to the beauty of fairness.

Spliddit is a non-profit currently in its beta phase and hopes to deliver results so fair that fighting among children might even be eliminated. But, according to the site, while envy-free splitting is the desired goal, it cannot ever be 100 percent guaranteed.

Pitt study provides a roadmap for great ideas

Innovators and creative types are often told to think outside the box. But going far afield may not exactly help with problem solving, according to a new study from University of Pittsburgh researcher Joel Chan and his mentor Christian Schunn. 

Chan and Schunn, who have backgrounds in psychology and human computer interaction, decided to explore human creativity after friends in the engineering field complained about searching the United States Patent Database.

The database contains information on American inventions dating back to the year 1790, but the information is indexed based upon user tags, Chan explained. The tags don't take into account the full text of the patents and create a type of organized chaos.

If solutions to problems could be gleaned at random, Chan hypothesized that idea organization would be somewhat irrelevant and problems would be easily solved regardless of the order in which information was presented. However, in their study, Chan and Schunn found that accessing related ideas was more likely to lead to problem solving than accessing ideas at random. "If you have lots of bits of information it could be more difficult to find useful connections between ideas," Chan said.

"Now we know these things about how people do creative things, how can we develop technology that empowers people how to be more creative?" Chan asked.

Schunn said their findings also suggest a need to go beyond keyword searches, which may confuse the bank of a river with a bank that holds money. "Google depends on word overlap but they aren’t doing this sophisticated topic modeling -- like what’s the topic really about," Schunn said.

Schunn and Chan came upon their findings after asking 350 people to solve a number of real-world problems with non-indexed information online and explain their process. Their answers were judged by experts and the researchers found that people who were able to find information related to the topic in question were able to provide answers that were rated more highly by experts. Their research was published this month in Design Studies.

Carnegie Mellon professor explores facial preference

An old adage warns against judging a book by its cover, but Carnegie Mellon University Marketing Professor Chris Olivola has found that important decisions are often swayed by facial preference, or "face-ism" as he calls it. And the implications aren't good -- unless your face is a real winner.

Various studies have found universal preferences for certain types of faces, leading to bias when it comes to being elected, getting promoted, being trusted and assuming leadership positions. In court cases, judges often instruct jurors to pay attention to the demeanor of each witness, plaintiff and defendant, and Olivola suggests justice is not blind. Face-based bias exists in the legal realm as well. 

"When it comes to making legal judgments, decisions should be based on facts, not on people’s appearances," Olivola said. 

In their research, Olivola and Alexander Todorov found people were more likely to rely on their interpretation of someone's face to determine character traits or even sexual orientation than they were likely to rely on logic. "People are better than chance at guessing things about other people, but seeing faces makes them worse off than they would have been." Olivola explains that even in situations where there is a known factor-- for example: people who are LGBT represent a minority group-- viewers would keep guessing that the people they were looking at were not heterosexual. 

"When people are given appearances they place too much weight on that and neglect other information that may serve them better," Olivola said.

So how can you use your looks to best serve you? According to Olivola, if you are a man, having a more mature and more masculine look can help win elections, "above and beyond how competent a person is and their voting practice," he said. For women, things are not so simple: Looking more masculine can be good, but if you look too masculine it can backfire, he said.

Olivola's aim isn't to game the system, but to make people aware of subconscious preferences and encourage people to judge individuals based upon merit. In a world in which we make more facial first impressions than we are aware of -- think online dating sites, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tinder profiles -- Olivola warns against dismissing people based upon facial appearances alone. After all, there's another old adage to remember: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." 

Who's hiring in Pittsburgh? Small Farm Central, Tech Shop and more

Each week, Pop City brings you exciting job opportunities in Pittsburgh. If you have a job opportunity to list, email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com, with "hiring" in the subject line. Let us know on Twitter @popcitypgh if we've helped you snag the job of your dreams.

If you've ever thought about working in support of small farmers, now you can. Small Farm Central is looking for an off-hours farmer success specialist to work as part of a small team that handles the technology needs of small farmers. The organization provides websites, e-commerce, and CSA member management tools to about 800 farms across the United States and Canada. It also helps farmers sell more at farmers markets by creating stronger relationships between market customers and their farmers. The job entails supporting farmer customers by phone, chat, and over email. Candidates must be available during evening hours and on Saturdays for at least four hours. Time can be flexible to some extent, but they need someone available between 12 p.m. and 9 p.m., 4 days per week and between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Applicants should be well-versed in technology as they will need to master the software the company uses in order to support customers. Email cover letter, resume in PDF format, and one example of how you helped someone else succeed to work@smallfarmcentral.com with the email subject line “Farms Rock!”

If hands-on work is your thing, Verve 360, a salon and wellness center in downtown Pittsburgh, is looking for a full-time licensed massage therapist with at least three years of experience. Interested applicants should be high quality and highly motivated. Email cover letter and resume to info@theverve360.com for consideration.

If you want to help women in need, the Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh is looking for a full-time advocate to answer hotline calls and work in its emergency domestic violence shelter on a variable schedule. A bachelor’s degree in social services or related field is required and fluency in another language is preferred. The applicant must have Act 33 and 34 clearances. Salary will be in the mid-$20,000 range with benefits. Email cover letter and resume by 10/24/14 to lainga@wcspittsburgh.org

Tech Shop, a full-service workshop complete with a wood shop and 3-D printers, is looking for full- and part-time dream consultants to help patrons use the shop to weld and saw and build all sorts of things. The job is perfect for artists, builders or skilled hobbyists who want to work in a creative environment. Salary will range from $10 to $14 per hour.

And if you can't get enough of 3-D printing, Maker-Bot, a company that puts 3-D printers in retail stores, is looking for someone to help customers operate the printer. "If you are an outgoing techie who wants to be a part of an expanding, exciting company, this is your chance to be a part of the Next Industrial Revolution with MakerBot," the company writes. Applicants should have between one and two years experience in retail and a strong interest in technology.

And, the University of Pittsburgh is looking for an assistant professor of cultural anthropology to fill a tenure-track position. The applicant's research should address the intersection of two or more of the following: medical anthropology; science and technology studies; environment and sustainability; and ethics, beliefs and religion. The university prefers candidates who study Latin America and Asia, particularly East Asia. Duties will include teaching university-level classes and will begin in September 2015. To apply, submit CV and information for three references by Nov. 6 in the link provided above. The university will assist with relocation costs. 

 

Who's hiring in PGH? The Scoring Factory, Early Music America and more

Each week, Pop City brings you exciting job opportunities in Pittsburgh. If you have a job opportunity to list, email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com, with "hiring" in the subject line. Let us know @popcitypgh on Twitter if we've helped you snag the job of your dreams.

The Scoring Factory, a Pittsburgh-based start-up, is looking for an iO6 app developer to build a basketball training platform that connects coaches and athletes. The app would serve various functions including tracking workouts and providing feedback. They're looking for someone who wants to work at the intersection of sports and technology. Submit resume with examples of past work to jmarschn@tepper.cmu.edu.

Phipps Conservatory still has a number of job openings, including: communications coordinator and director of communications and a Studio Phipps manager to lead a fee/mission-based sustainable design and consulting team to extend Phipps’ mission beyond the Schenley Park campus. They are also looking for a gift shop coordinator, building maintenance technician, an executive secretary, an IT manager, an event sales supervisor and an event sales administrator. These positions are all full-time. The conservatory is also looking to hire part-time guest service associates and a part-time event assistant.

Early Music America, an organization focused on expanding awareness of and interest in the music of the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical periods, is looking for a marketing and public relations director. This person would be responsible for managing ad sales for the organization's magazine, among other responsibilities. 

The Pittsburgh CLO, a not-for-profit cultural organization dedicated to the preservation, creation and promotion of American musical theater, is looking for a theater professional to manage the production elements of its performances, primarily at three theaters and to assist with the management of its building, storage and rental of sets, props and costumes. The Production Manager and Assistant Construction Center Manager will work to ensure that the organization’s theatrical production standards are successfully integrated and maintained. Applicants should have between three and five years' experience. 

GPSA, a family-owned screen printing shop in Millvale, is looking for a screen printing artist to work in the shop. The artist would work in the family business using machines to create artwork. The artist should be proficient in Adobe Illustrator and know how to use machines associated with screen printing. Health insurance including dental and vision will be eventually provided.

If applying for jobs online isn't your thing, there will be a fall career fair on Wednesday, Oct. 22 from 9 a.m. until noon at the North Hills Community Outreach offices in Millvale, located at 416 Lincoln Ave.The fair will give job seekers the chance to meet with employers from UPMC, University of Pittsburgh, Rivers Casino, Allegheny Health Network, the Caregiver Connections program of JF&CS and more.

Race to the race exhibit at Carnegie Museum of Natural History before it's gone!

?What is race? This is the question that a traveling exhibit now on view at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History through October 27 seeks to explore. Speaking at the Carnegie Music Hall in conjunction with the exhibition, journalist Michele Norris of NPR fame interrogated the phrase "post-racial society."

"What does post-racial mean to you?" she asked the audience.

"Utopia," shouted one audience member, and everyone laughed.

It's nice to think we have evolved to value the content of character above the color of skin, but the world we live in is far from color blind, as the exhibition "Race: Are we so different?" points out. The exhibition demonstrates the ways in which historic discrimination-- including downgrading credit ratings for non-whites-- led to inequality that persists today.

"Some people still believe that people of different races have different blood," said museum spokeswoman Cecile Shellman, explaining the need for education. "The exhibition does treat that assertion that racism is prejudice plus power," she added. 

The show was organized by the American Anthropological Association in conjunction with the Science Museum of Minnesota, and perhaps its most interesting feature is its Pittsburgh-specific examination of race.

In 1951, the United Steelworkers of America asked the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to create an exhibit that would use scientific evidence to dispel racist misconceptions. This lead to the creation of the museum's 1951 exhibit, "We Humans." The show was incredibly influential and toured from coast to coast in the 1950s. Materials from that exhibit are now on display at the museum and show just how far we have and have not come. They also show the role Pittsburgh played historically in combating racism. 

The museum also re-created a Pittsburghers Speak Up column that ran in the Pittsburgh Courier, asking black Pittsburghers how they felt about race relations. The museum juxtaposed old archival photos by Charles "Teenie" Harris and interviews by George Barbour, in which black Pittsburghers spoke candidly about race with modern updated photographs by Nikkia Hall and interviews by Lynne Hayes-Freeland. People, both then and now, think we have come a long way, but more work must be done.
 

Visiting lecturer to speak on language at CMU

Learning: it may happen when you least expect it, according to Stanford University Professor Shirley Brice Heath, who will lecture on the topic of language learning on Oct. 6 at Carnegie Mellon University.

Heath is a linguistic anthropologist who has studied language acquisition in various environments. During her lecture, "Learning Language the Meandering Way: Three Instances To Ponder," she will make a case for what she calls meandered learning, or learning that takes place outside of traditional instructional situations. According to CMU, Heath has found meandered learning taking place across the life span, from seven months to 70 years old.

While these findings may seem surprising to language instructors who value workbooks, repetition and flash cards, just think of a babbling baby. She may seem to be wasting time making funny noises, but perhaps she's actually practicing skills.

According to CMU, Heath will draw on recent neuroscience research that shows "mucking about" (the British term for goofing around) may actually be beneficial, especially for those learning languages. Heath arrives at her conclusions after years spent recording language and gestures in children's play areas, science labs and art studios, among other places.

"Her work argues that ways of learning across these settings draw language development and artful thinking together toward what often evolves into thinking like a scientist," according to Carnegie Mellon University spokeswoman Shilo Rea. 

Heath, who has written numerous books and helped to discover the first known collection of English children's literature, was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Carnegie Mellon in 1999. Mariana Achugar, associate professor of Hispanic Studies and Second Language Acquisition at Carnegie Mellon, thinks Heath's work will be interesting to educators, language learning researchers and policymakers alike.

"Education reform has focused on academic achievement, limiting the opportunities to engage in social play and structured types of creative work through the arts and hands-on science projects," Achugar said in a statement. "Heath reminds us of the importance of learning in everyday situations and why these experiences can be particularly important for children growing up in impoverished communities."

"Her work demonstrates the importance of socialization experiences in families and communities that enable children to develop particular ways of using language to create, imagine and acquire expertise in tasks that require guidance, critique and hypothetical thinking," Achugar added.

When: 4:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 6

Where: Porter Hall 100, Carnegie Mellon University
 

IBM's Watson? CMU will develop an app for that

This fall, students at Carnegie Mellon University will have unprecedented access to IBM’s Watson cognitive technology, which famously beat Jeopardy! champions in a 2011 on-air showdown. Students in a new computer science course will develop mobile applications for the artificially intelligent computer that processes information more like a human than a computer—by understanding natural language, generating hypotheses based on evidence and learning as it goes.
 
The IBM Watson Group is working with CMU and six other universities to offer cognitive computing courses this fall that will give students the technical knowledge and hands-on experience needed to create new applications for the system.
 
The new course, Intelligent Information Systems Featuring IBM’s Watson, is open to both undergraduate and graduate students and will focus on mobile applications of Watson. Eric Nyberg, a professor in CMU’s Language Technologies Institute (LTI) in the School of Computer Science and a leading researcher in question-answering computer systems, is one of the course’s instructors.
 
“The home run we’re looking for is to add our vision to IBM’s technology to create an application that is useful and worthy of being spun off as a product,” says Nyberg.
 
Nyberg and his students began working with IBM on Watson in 2007 and have collaborated with IBM on the Open Advancement of Question-Answering Initiative. The effort created system architectures and methodologies that support systems like Watson that can understand questions as expressed by people and search through massive databases to respond appropriately.
 
Applications undertaken by the class may be related to healthcare or energy, but Nyberg says he is interested to see what other ideas might be hatched by students in the course.
 
The initiative is part of an ongoing effort to expand and strengthen student skills and understanding of big data and analytics in order to meet the growing demand for highly skilled analytics workers.
 
“By putting Watson in the hands of tomorrow’s innovators, we are unleashing the creativity of the academic community into a fast-growing ecosystem of partners who are building transformative cognitive computing applications,” says Michael Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Watson Group. “This is how we will make cognitive the new standard of computing across the globe: by inspiring all catalysts of innovation, from university campuses to start-up offices, to take Watson's capabilities and create."

CMU launches cross-disciplinary institute to spur innovation

With the launch of Carnegie Mellon’s Integrated Innovation Institute, it becomes the first university to cross train students in engineering, design and business. The market-focused institute is meant to speed the pace of innovation via collaboration, something that has long been a hallmark of CMU. Students take courses across disciplines to understand how those other disciplines think, so they will be ready to be successful innovators in the marketplace.
 
"Global business challenges demand a new breed of executive talent,” says institute co-director Peter Boatwright, the Carnegie Bosch Professor of Marketing at the Tepper School of Business. “Our integrated innovation tenets force students outside their previous training and comfort zones, creating hybrid thinkers and doers. We've been moving toward this pivotal point for years, training students in a deeply integrated and pragmatic method that directly addresses the barriers inhibiting speed in industry."
 
The institute was inspired by the cross-disciplinary curriculum of CMU’s Master of Integrated Innovation program, which was founded in 2003 as the Master of Product Development program, says co-director Eric Anderson, an associate professor in the School of Design and associate dean of the College of Fine Arts.
 
Anderson says the program’s success has been the result of tackling the “fuzzy front end of development” — figuring out the kinds of things that should be designed and what features customers want to see in products.
 
In addition to the Pittsburgh-based Master of Integrated Innovation for Products in Services, the core of the institute includes the Master of Science in Software Management, based in Silicon Valley and founded in 2004; and a professional master’s degree planned for fall 2015 as part of Carnegie Mellon’s new Integrated Media Program at Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
 
“I think the challenges most folks have is that they don’t always start off with integration of disciplines in mind,” Anderson says of typical snags in the innovation process that the institute aims to alleviate.
 
“Companies are still very linear in how they think of product design. In companies that are more successful, they collaborate in points of the process. But we distinguish ourselves because we are integrated in how we teach — so people become hybrid thinkers and doers. It’s hard to get disciplines together to think about a problem at a high enough level that people can work through the difficulties.”
 
Anderson says being empathetic to other disciplines helps identify opportunities and shape potential solutions to challenges.
 
“Our students, from day one, they are thinking in an integrated environment,” he says. “And they are being taught the fundamentals of other disciplines.”
 
So what does this kind of cross-discipline collaboration look like in action?
 
“From the outside, it may seem like organized chaos,” Anderson says, with a laugh. “It is very dynamic. You have people sketching and making diagrams and papers and reports, all of which inform the process from different disciplines… They all weave it together at different stages in the process to make arguments about why what they are proposing is the best solution for the problem that has been stated.”
 
The university has dedicated a state of the art building to the institute that features open and flexible space that can be reconfigured at any time to accommodate talks or teams.
 
Not only are students constantly integrating other disciplines into their work, they are often immersed in the cultures and environments for which they are designing solutions. A CMU collaboration with the long haul truck company Navistar several years ago exemplifies the success of this level of immersion.
 
Anderson says during the project, students practically lived at truck stops. This environmental research yielded key insight students would not have otherwise learned.
 
“Students found in their research that when truckers are pulled over by state troopers — truckers must open their door to share their license and registration. And when the truck is dirty, truckers are more likely to get a ticket.”
 
For this reason, a cleaning zone was one of the five activity zones implemented in the redesign of the internal cab of the truck. The other zones included sleeping, working, meal preparation and pets. The five teams that designed the zones had their work patented and their features were translated to one large system. The truck won the 2008 Truck of the Year award.
 
“It’s because of this integrated approach that allows them to have these real world experiences and allows them to be immediately valuable in the marketplace,” says Anderson.

Digital excavation project uncovers experimental works by Andy Warhol

Native son Andy Warhol was an incredibly early adopter of digital technology and may have been the first major artist to explore such mediums as digital photography, video capturing, animation editing and audio composition. 

Now, upon realizing that they had access to digital art produced by Warhol, the Andy Warhol Museum has unearthed several digital doodles created by the artist from floppy disks that were sitting in the museum's archival storage.

In 1985, computer manufacturer Commodore International hired Andy Warhol to produce several artworks using the Amiga 1000 to demonstrate its sophistication and accessibility as a conduit for creativity. A team of artists, curators, archivists, and technologists recently retrieved Warhol’s experimental images, which have been inaccessible since the Andy Warhol Museum obtained the collection of floppy disks in 1994.

The idea to retrieve these digital sketches was birthed in 2011, when New York-based artist Cory Arcangel came across a fuzzy YouTube clip of Warhol promoting the Amiga 1000 in 1985. Arcangel contacted the Andy Warhol Museum with the idea of restoring the Amiga hardware to catalog and exhibit the digital files. The digital excavation was performed by members of the Carnegie Mellon Computer Club, which is known for its collection of obsolete computer hardware and retro-computing expertise, working in cooperation with Archangel at the Andy Warhol Museum throughout three months in 2013. The team received support from the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry (FRSCI) at CMU, which support atypical, anti-disciplinary and inter-institutional research projects at the intersections of arts, sciences, technology and culture.

“I am both a serious Warholfanatic and lifelong computer nerd, so to have the opportunity to help uncover this history, i.e., dig through Warhol's dusty disks, was a dream come true on both counts," says Arcangel. "What's amazing is that by looking at these images, we can see how quickly Warhol seemed to intuit the essence of what it meant to express oneself, in what then was a brand-new medium—the digital."

Out of 41 Amiga floppy disks in the collections, 10 disks were found to contain at least 13 graphic files believed to be created or modified by Warhol. The files show the mature artist struggling with digital imaging tools, and encountering a learning curve familiar to anyone who remembers picking up a mouse for the first time: squiggly lines and haphazard paint-fill.

According to a report by the CMU Computer Club, the disks were in excellent condition, allowing easy data retrieval. However, several were found to be corrupted, allowing access to only partial versions of some files. Raw low-level disk images and physical low-level copies of the disks found to be corrupted were made and may provide a starting point for future study. In addition, the team recovered several copies of pre-release or unreleased software that may also be of great historical interest. 

Michael Dille, who just completed his Ph.D. in robotics at CMU and is one of the computer club members who helped “crack the code” and uncover the files, says the project is an excellent reminder of the seriousness of digital decay. 

“Do you really think that important document you're working on right now will be accessible in 10 years,” Dille asks. “Will the media you've stored it on still function? Will you find something to plug it into? Will that cloud provider still be in business or not have quietly expunged it for you? Will you still have the software?  . . .  These aren't simple questions to address, yet they are ones everyone is left to solve for themselves with very little guidance, and software/service providers have very little motivation to help.  A good starting point, certainly, is the use of standard well-documented widely-implemented open formats, which is something of which we've naturally become very strong proponents.”

The team's efforts are documented in the Hillman Photography Initiative's new short film, Trapped: Andy Warhol's Amiga Experiments. It is the second part of "The Invisible Photograph" documentary series that investigates the expansive realm of photographic production, distribution and consumption by way of the hidden side of photography, whether guarded, stashed away, barely recognizable or simply forgotten. The film premieres at 7PM, Sat., May 10, at Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, and will be available online at nowseethis.org on May 12.

Science fiction or future of emergency medicine?

Suspended animation sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. That’s why the investigative team at UPMC Presbyterian describes the lifesaving technique they are ready to perform on humans for the first time ever as “Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation” or EPR.
 
The new technique, which requires the cooling of the body by 50 degrees, is designed to improve survival rates and protects brain function in trauma patients who suffer cardiac arrest due to massive bleeding from gunshot or stabbing wounds.
 
Currently, patients who suffer cardiac arrest from major trauma rarely survive,” says Dr. Samuel Tisherman, associate director of Shock and Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation at the University of Pittsburgh’s Safar Center for Resuscitation Research and director of the Neurotrauma Intensive Care Unit at UPMC Presbyterian.  “Less than 1 out of 10 of these patients leave the hospital alive. EPR, or emergency preservation and resuscitation, is a novel way that we’re hoping to try to resuscitate trauma patients who suffered a cardiac arrest.”
 
Using a large tube to administer ice-cold fluid to lower the patient’s body temperature by 50 degrees, EPR gives the medical team time to get the patient to the operating room for surgeons to control the bleeding before resuscitating patients.
 
“The body can’t tolerate the lack of blood flow for even more than just a few minutes,” says Tisherman. “By cooling them, we can buy time by slowing down processes that occur when there is no blood flow to the vital organs like the heart and brain. This will allow the surgeons to repair injuries and save the patients.”
 
Tisherman is now leading the Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation for Cardiac Arrest from Trauma (EPR-CAT) Study, which will use the profound cooling technique on about 10 patients throughout the next one to two years.
 
Ideal candidates for the trial are 18-65 year-olds with penetrating trauma who experience cardiac arrest less than five minutes before arriving in the emergency department and show no response to standard care, including airway intubation, blood transfusions and opening the chest.
 
The interest in using hyperthermia therapeutically in the treatment of cardiac arrest from trauma came about through the observation of “patients who drowned in cool water and survived incredibly long times underneath the water,” says Tisherman. “So it appears that hyperthermia could have a great preserving effect if you have a cardiac arrest.”
 
Traditional therapeutic hyperthermia after cardiac arrest involves cooling patients by only about six or seven degrees below normal. “For EPR, we’re talking about cooling them by almost 50 degrees below normal temperatures,” he says. “This type of cooling has never been tried before in trauma patients.”
 
Tisherman and his team have been ready since the beginning of April to use this new emergency medicine technique that could save the lives of patients experiencing cardiac arrest from severe trauma at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital. They are the only team in the country ready to perform EPR-CAT, though teams at the University of Maryland and the University of Arizona are expected to start performing EPR-CAT on humans within the next few years.

Writer: Amanda Leff Ritchie
Source: Dr. Samuel Tisherman

Carnegie Mellon robot plays mean game of SCRABBLE

There’s some stiff SCRABBLE competition at Carnegie Mellon University. So stiff in fact, that the fierce competitor inhabits a body encased in plastic. Victor the Gamebot, the latest in a series of social robots developed at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, is a limbless torso with a mobile head and animated face who spends most of his time trash-talking opponents across a SCRABBLE board. 

“We believe that robots will soon be ubiquitous in society,” says Reid Simmons, research professor and associate director for education at the CMU Robotics Institute. “We want them to be able to interact with people just in the same way people interact with other humans.”

If an elderly person or someone with disabilities has a service robot with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, people will begin to feel it is more than a machine — and expect it to interact with them in anthropomorphic ways they would not expect from their dishwasher or microwave, says Simmons.

The research team behind Victor includes collaborators from robotics, computer science, drama, design and entertainment technology. They wanted to develop a robot that would interact with people while completing a joint task. 

Located near a cafe on the third floor of CMU's Gates and Hillman centers, Victor electronically move his tiles while his human opponents move their virtual tiles on the touchscreen board using their fingers. Victor converses with opponents with his voice, and people reply to him using keyboards. 

“We figured people would like to play games, so we’d make the robot play games with people,” says Simmons. “They could interact during the game, and the robot could comment on the moves the people make and how it’s doing relative to the person.” 

Indeed, Victor speaks freely throughout gameplay. Perhaps a little too freely.

After his opponent played the word “wave” for 14 points, Victor chides, “I have seen better, but not from you.”

Simmons says he was surprised by how strongly people react to Victor when he becomes angry while losing a game. Opponents can observe Victor’s mood thanks to a light over the gamebot’s heart that changes color and pulsates at different speeds depending on his mood. 

“When he’s in a good mood and kind of bantering, people don’t tend to type much to him,” says Simmons. “But when he starts trash talking them, they start trash talking right back. …I think people feel that the robot — just because he’s losing — he shouldn’t be a bad sport.”

While Victor has a high opinion of his SCRABBLE skills, he is not a strategic player. He’s not particularly concerned with double- and triple-word scores, and his 8,600-word vocabulary is hardly a match for the 178,000 words in the Official SCRABBLE Player Dictionary. Eventually, the researchers will enable him to recognize previous players and adjust his level of play to that of his opponents. 

Writer: Amanda Leff Ritchie
Sources: Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh celebrates National Robotics Week

April 5-13 marks the fifth annual National Robotics Week, which celebrates the United States as a leader in robotics technology development and educates the public about how robotics technology impacts society. With Pittsburgh playing a major role in robotics innovation, it’s no surprise that there are lots of robotics events taking place throughout the city this week.

Robo Day in Pittsburgh
On April 9, AlphaLab Gear will host a robotics week event in its East Liberty facility that will feature speakers from 4moms, MYRIA RAS, and Girls of Steel FIRST Team, and demos by two start-ups in the accelerators current class, IdentifIED and Rapid TPC.

Dick Zhang,  cofounder and CEO of IdentifIED, says, “Industrial businesses, in oil and gas, agriculture, mining, or safety, all require massive amounts of data to increase their outputs, decrease their inputs and operate safely. Unfortunately they don't have access to this information because aerial sensing is extremely expensive, time-consuming and requires a lot of special equipment. We are an aerial data and sensing company focused on delivering this information through small unmanned aerial vehicles.” 

The IdentfIED demo will feature a small quadrotor, a multirotor helicopter that is lifted and propelled by four rotors, that will fly around the office among attendees and a video reel highlighting the company’s vehicles in action.

International Space Apps Challenge
The International Space Apps Challenge, led by NASA, government collaborators and more than 100 organizations around the world, is a two-day hackathon that embraces collaborative problem solving with a goal of producing relevant open-source solutions to address global needs applicable to both life on Earth and in space. The Pittsburgh event will take place at the TechShop in Bakery Square on April 12-13.

“The International Space Apps Challenge lets people in Pittsburgh collaborate with others around the globe using NASA open source data to build and program robotic solutions to global problems,” says Richard Behana, executive director at Space Challenges, Inc., the host of the Pittsburgh Space Apps Challenge. “Challenges range from creating a robot with salvaged parts controlled from your smartphone to creating a simplified kid friendly rover using a single-board microcontroller known as an Arduino.”

Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University Celebrates National Robotics Week
The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University will celebrate National Robotics Week on April 10 with the Teruko Yata Memorial Lecture with special guest speaker Marc Raibert, chief technical officer & director of Boston Dynamics followed by a satellite screening and performance of the Robot Film Festival. The celebration will continue on April 11 with project demonstrations, lab tours, and the annual Mobot (mobile robot) races. (RSVP required to attend.)

The Secret Life of Robots
Artist Toby Atticus features a dozen scenes of robots in everyday scenarios in The Secret Life of Robots exhibition. Robots are constructed from vintage thermoses, picnic coolers, and various found objects, and some include animatronic elements that control eyes and accent lights. Peaking into the sometimes mundane daily activities of a typical robot through various stages of their lifespan reveals a glimpse of our lives through the looking-glass. The free and public Pittsburgh Cultural Trust exhibition is on display through April 27 at SPACE art gallery, located at 812 Liberty Avenue. See website for gallery hours.

Writer: Amanda Leff Ritchie
Sources: nationalroboticsweek.org, AlphaLab, Dick Zhang, spaceappschallenge.org, and Richard Behana

Plugged in: CMU's Electric Garage now offers the only public Tesla charging station in Pittsburgh

Need to recharge? Carnegie Mellon University’s Electric Garage is now home to a high-power wall connector for Tesla electric cars, joining eight existing vehicle recharging stations available for public use in the Oakland facility. All of the charging stations are available at no cost 24 hours a day on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Located at 4621 Forbes Ave., a former gas station now houses ChargeCar, a community-centered electric vehicle research project that wants to make electric vehicles practical and affordable enough to revolutionize urban commuting.  

“This is definitely the largest charging infrastructure of any institution in this half of Pennsylvania, and likely anywhere in the state,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, CMU professor of robotics and project director. “And the Tesla charger is the only one available to the public locally.”

Made possible through private donations, the Tesla High Power Wall Connector at CMU’s Electric Garage can provide 58 miles of range per hour of charge.

In January, Tesla’s first Supercharger station in Pennsylvania opened in Somerset off of exit 110 of the I-70/I-76 turnpike, a toll road connecting Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Superchargers can replenish half of the battery in as little as 20 minutes. The Somerset station supports the Tesla cross-country route that will soon enable Model S owners to drive from Los Angeles to New York without paying a cent to refuel.

Interested in joining the electric car revolution but can’t afford a new electric car? ChargeCar can help. In addition to lowering the costs for commercially-developed electric vehicles, the project helps people convert their cars in collaboration with local mechanics and garages. ChargeCar is hosting an open house from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday, April 4, during which gas vehicles converted to electric power and other electric vehicles will be on display. 

Writer: Amanda Leff Ritchie
Sources: Byron Spice, Carnegie Mellon University, ChargeCar, Tesla Motors
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