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Penn State life science researchers now eligible for QED proof-of-concept funding

Philadelphia's University City Science Center’s successful QED proof-of-concept program has an important new academic partner: Penn State University has expanded its involvement from the Medical College at Hershey to include its main campus at University Park, opening the seventh round of QED funding to hundreds of life science researchers. 

"Penn State Main Campus’ participation in QED signals growing interest in cross-disciplinary collaborations in technology commercialization across Pennsylvania," says Science Center President and CEO Stephen S. Tang. "Innovative minds and the discoveries they will make contribute to our region’s future as a technology hub and innovation center."

In May, the Science Center issued its latest RFP for technologies ripe for commercialization to 21 participating institutions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Over the next seven months, QED will offer advisory support and the chance for direct project funding to researchers from the participating institutions as they position their technologies for product development and private investment. After the QED Selection Team makes an initial cut, approximately 10 researchers will be paired with business advisors and work to develop business plans to commercialize their technologies. Ultimately, four projects will be selected to receive up to $200,000 each in funding. 

"Faculty in the College of Medicine participated in last year’s QED Program with some success," says Neil Sharkey, Penn State’s Interim Vice President for Research. "Four teams were selected as finalists in the competition, one of which garnered an award. We are hoping for the same level of enthusiasm from Penn State bioscience faculty located at University Park."

QED describes itself as "the first multi-institutional, proof-of-concept program for the life sciences and health IT [bringing] together academic invention, market insight and commercial guidance." To date, five projects funded by QED have been licensed and gone on to raise additional funds. One, a portable low-cost radiation-free breast cancer detector invented by Drexel University Professor Wan Y. Shih, was funded by QED in 2009 and licensed to UE LifeSciences, a growth-stage company in Philadelphia. 

QED continues to attract additional funding based on its track record of successful commercialization outcomes. This year, the program received a $300,000 award from the Pennsylvania Department of Health to help fund Pennsylvania-based awardees.

Source: University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider

Hot in Pittsburgh: 2013 was a watershed year for economic development

Pittsburgh’s economic development community is reporting numbers from 2013 that reflect a watershed year, with strong growth, increased investment and a robust entrepreneurial climate.

In its annual report, Innovation Works (IW) announces that it assisted 188 companies and invested $6 million in the region. A record 37 new companies received first-time investment from IW through its seed fund and accelerator programs, making IW the seventh most active seed investor in the U.S. in 2013.

"There is a general sense of momentum in our region’s startup community," says IW President and CEO Rich Lunak. "Whether it's the increased level of spinouts from our universities or the growing number of grassroots organizations, co-working spaces, hackathons and other day-to-day events -- Pittsburgh's startup community is energized. Entrepreneurs are launching new products, receiving national recognition, gaining customer traction and expanding into larger offices to support greater levels of revenue and jobs."
And, he adds, 2014 is off to a strong start: "Pittsburgh's first quarter venture investment totals were the highest of any quarter in five years and that bodes well for future growth."

Lunak attributes the success to the fact that "Pittsburgh’s startup community is characterized by multiple areas of technical strength. The region has a highly educated workforce that feeds our diverse startup community in areas that range from computer science and biotechnology to electronics, energy and advanced materials. One broad area where we have a clear advantage over any other region in the country is the merge point where hardware and software meet, whether that's sensors, robotics, 3-D printing and customization, mobile apps for connected devices -- these are all examples of growing technology trends and unique strengths of Pittsburgh."
In a separate development, Site Selection magazine named the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA)  one of the U.S.'s top 10 economic development organizations for 2013 -- the only such group in the Northeast -- based on the group's 2013 performance.

Source: Rich Lunak, Innovation Works and Pittsburgh Regional Alliance
Writer: Elise Vider

Blackstone LaunchPad Philadelphia boosts student entrepreneurship

Student entrepreneurs on two Philadelphia campuses have a major new resource thanks to the Blackstone LaunchPad Philadelphia, a new partnership between Philadelphia UniversityTemple University and the University City Science Center. The LaunchPad centers offer mentoring, coaching and other innovative co-curricular support for student entrepreneurs. 

The program, developed by the University of Miami, has grown to include 14 campuses in six regions, bringing a total of 350,000 students into its network. The goal is to help students view entrepreneurship as a mainstream career path and drive regional economic development.

According to Zoe Selzer McKinley, executive director of the Blackstone LaunchPad at Philadelphia University, the 3,600-student school is the smallest in the Blackstone network. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in entrepreneurial gusto. 

"Philadelphia University's approach to education is collaborative, multidisciplinary and engaged in the real world, making it an ideal platform for entrepreneurship," says McKinley. "The Blackstone LaunchPad builds on [the school's] unique approach to innovation education by providing our students a coaching program tailored to their entrepreneurial needs."

The center had its official ribbon cutting this month, but has been operational since February. Among the student projects already in the pipeline are an online magazine (crowdfunding is being used to support a print version), a surf and snowboard company, a baseball equipment concern, fashion-related businesses and Milkcrate, an app for sustainable urban living that will launch in August. 

The Blackstone LaunchPad at Temple University is housed on the first floor of the Howard Gittis Student Center and run by Executive Director Jaine Lucas and Director Marilyn Barry.

As the regional partner for Blackstone LaunchPad Philadelphia, the Science Center supports the programs at both Philadelphia University and Temple, and will develop and manage a Venture Coaching Network open to LaunchPad students. The Science Center is also identifying ways to support student entrepreneurship in the Greater Philadelphia region's broader collegiate ecosystem.

Source: Zoe Selzer McKinley, Blackstone LaunchPad at Philadelphia University, and the University City Science Center
Writer: Elise Vider

Shale innovators win funding and exposure in third annual Innovation Contest

Four companies will share a $100,000 purse to develop their innovative, shale-related product or service as winners of the 3rd Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest, sponsored by the Shale Gas Innovation & Commercialization Center (SGICC),  a Ben Franklin Technology Partners-supported center. 

One winner, KCF Technologies, Inc. of State College, has developed a low-cost, low-power sensor used for wireless monitoring of rotating equipment, also known as condition-based maintenance. Current customers include the pulp and paper industry and the building maintenance sector. As reported last year in Keystone Edge, KCF is diversifying into the oil and gas industry, and with the support of an SGICC seed grant, is conducting a demonstration project to prove the value of its technology to this new market segment.

OPTIMUM Pumping Technology in Morgan was named a winner for its high-performance manifolds -- they reciprocate natural gas compressors, eliminating pulsation control bottles and their vibration-related failures, significantly improving compressor reliability and operating efficiency. TM Industrial Supply of Erie won thanks to its technology that filters contaminants from the natural extraction process.

A fourth company, NG Innovations, Inc. of West Virginia, was also named a winner. 

Opportunity abounds, but bringing shale-related products and services to market can be daunting, says SGICC Director Bill Hall.

"Until you’ve been in the trenches, so to speak, it’s hard to explain how challenging it is to advance an idea all the way to commercial success," he explains. "SGICC’s job is to sort through the dozens and dozens of promising ideas, and identify the ones that we can impact by shining a light on them using a small amount of seed funding, and then helping them vet their concept with potential end users.”

The contest brings value, he adds, not only for the dollars but also for the wide industry exposure. He cites REV LNG of Ulysses, one of last year's winners and a supplier of "on demand" liquid natural gas. CEO David Kailbourne says the win was instrumental in propelling recent company growth.

"Our process is making a difference for the next generation of shale energy innovators," says Hall. "Our partnership with many of the leading shale energy companies helps expose these ideas to the right audience, and fast track the best ones to a successful commercial launch."

Source: Bill Hall, SGICC
Writer: Elise Vider

BFTP/SEP invests $975,000 in nine startups

Startups working on social gaming, a meal-planning app, a sports video publishing platform and medical technology and devices are among nine early-stage regional companies approved for a total investment of $975,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) 

BioDetego, LLC of Philadelphia will receive $50,000 to further develop VASPfore, a new biomarker test for selecting cancer treatment protocols. BioDetego predicts that the VASPfore will save millions of dollars a year by reducing total treatment costs.

Essential Medical in Chester County has been awarded $75,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $500,000) to develop X-SealTM and MANTATM, two innovative vascular closure devices. These devices are used to close incisions in the leg artery after cardiac catheterizations.
Fitly, Inc. of Philadelphia will receive $50,000. The company's web app allows customers to personalize weekly meal plans featuring healthy recipes in less than five minutes; the necessary ingredients and cooking instructions are then delivered to the diner's door. 
Grand Round Table of Philadelphia has been awarded $50,000. GRT has developed an innovative clinical decision support tool integrated into the electronic health record. GRT helps hospitals and clinics save time and money by directing doctors to appropriate solutions faster, reducing the number of unnecessary tests, ineffective treatments and consultations that patients receive.

HealthQx in Montgomery County will receive $250,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $150,000). This healthcare technology company delivers a big-data driven SaaS solution to healthcare payers, providers and partners on the leading edge of the shift from fee-for-service to transparent, value-based healthcare payment.

MemVu in Bucks County has been awarded $50,000. This social gaming company delivers an innovative and engaging brain fitness gaming platform that facilitates the involvement of families and caregivers in the care, socialization and stimulation of loved ones suffering from a brain health condition such as Alzheimer’s.
NETMINDER in Montgomery County will use its $150,000 to increase the sustainable efficacy of saltwater nets, traps and related equipment -- their products dramatically decrease underwater fouling by using nontoxic coatings. 
SideCar in Philadelphia has been awarded $100,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $385,000). The company is positioning itself as a name-brand powerhouse in the world of big data marketing solutions by combining paid search, comparison shopping, on-site personalization and personalized email.
SilverLine Global in Philadelphia will receive $200,000. A digital video publishing platform for the endurance sports industry, the company enables endurance sports events to leverage digital video directly on their websites and social media. 

Source: BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider

A father-daughter team spearheads Kempton's Tree Armor

In 1992, when Jill Saunders was a year old, her family planted 20 sycamores and maples on their Kempton farm. Since then, only one of those trees has survived the year-round damage done by deer.
Jill and her father, Jim, tried wrapping their trees with a variety of tree guards -- "glorified ace bandages," recalls Jill. Eventually, the pair decided to design a better tree guard.
Their invention, Tree Armor, is a coiled PVC plastic engineered to unwind around any size trunk. The product is brown and almost invisible from a short distance. It is reusable, perforated to prevent mold and mildew, and certified to be free of heavy metals and other toxins that can leach into the ground, a critical factor for orchard farmers and food growers.
And the product is now made in America, a special point of pride for the Saunders family.

"Dad and I took our prototypes to 12 different extruders in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware," says Jill. "Some wouldn't even bid on making samples. Others couldn't give us a price that we could sell at. We were frustrated when we sent the prototypes to China. The Chinese were glad to make our initial order -- the price was right and the quality was pretty good. The second order came back at a higher cost and the quality wasn't nearly as good. That last order made us more determined to find an American manufacturer."
A sales call to Lehigh University resulted in an introduction to Lehigh’s Small Business Development Center; they connected Tree Armor with GSH Industries in Ohio, who began manufacturing the product in November.
That third run of 30,000 pieces is selling well over the Internet, and Tree Armor hopes to move into big-box retail. Meanwhile, the Saunders have invented a new product, Tree Armor Plus, a tree guard impregnated with a scent that repels deer, rabbits and rodents. 
Source: Jill Saunders, Tree Armor
Writer: Elise Vider

Penn State student entrepreneurs earn scholarship support

Coffee, tea, beer, spirits -- how do makers of craft beverages like these measure and quantify flavor in a consistent, even standardized, way? 

Analytical Flavor Systems aims to solve that problem with Gastrograph, a tech-based flavor analysis system for artisan products.

Jason Cohen founded the company in 2012 as an outgrowth of his undergraduate research at Penn State. Now co-founder and frontend developer John Dori, a junior at Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), has been awarded the David Rusenko Entrepreneur-in-Residence Scholarship, which carries a $10,000 stipend, along with support from a faculty mentor and the opportunity to earn six credits while working on the startup.

Gastrograph is based on Cohen's research "and thousands of Gastrograph reviews done in pen and paper and manually entered into a database in order to help producers of artisan coffee, beer and spirits understand their products' flavor profiles and make a more consistent product," explains Dori.

The company currently has nine employees (including Ted Papaioannou, the other co-founder) who live and work together in State College, and four customers: Otto's Brewery, Robin Hood Brewery, DJ Coffee and Perfect Coffee.

"We've begun development on two sensors that will be used inside of coffee roasters and beer tanks as the products are made," says Dori. "[This provides] the producer with as much data about their product as possible."

The startup is also planning to release an iOS version of its Gastrograph Review app by September.

Meanwhile, IST sophomore Jules Dupont received the Rusenko Emerging Entrepreneur Scholarship for his startup, Mobile Library Apps, a product that provides mobile access to library catalogs. 

Rusenko, a 2007 IST alumnus and co-founder of Weebly, a San Francisco-based web hosting service, donated $400,000 in 2012 to establish the scholarships.

For more on how PA colleges and universities are fostering entrepreneurship, check out this week's lead feature.

Source: John Dori, Analytical Flavor Systems; Jules Dupont, Mobile Library Apps and IST
Writer: Elise Vider

Robotics and technology keep Hatfield's Rodon Group 'cheaper than China'

At a time when many American manufacturers were busily outsourcing to China, Hatfield's Rodon Group -- and its sister company, K’NEX Brands -- doubled down on domestic production. Their multi-million dollar investment in new presses, robotics and advanced computer mold-making equipment has translated into robust growth and a proud claim of being "cheaper than China."

Rodon was founded in 1956. Today it is a third-generation family plastic injection molder that manufactures billions (with a "B") of small plastic parts every year -- everything from hose washers to push pins to all manner of connectors, brackets and fasteners. About 25 percent of its output is parts for K'NEX, the toy company founded in 1992 by Joel Glickman, Rodon's then-chairman. 

Today Glickman's son-in-law, Michael Araten, is CEO of both companies; each employ about 100 people and operate out of two 125,000-square-foot plants, about a mile apart.

Rodon's prices are competitive with foreign-made products, says Araten, in part because of the company's vertical integration. The company designs its products at no charge, fabricates its own molds at considerable savings to the customer and has heavily automated its manufacturing.

"By doing all that in one place, we have efficiency and economy of scale," he explains.

In addition, their heavy investment in technology, especially in robotics over the last five to seven years, enables 24/7 production and also helps negate China's cheap labor advantage. 

With 19 percent average annual growth since 2009, Rodon is continuing to add capacity. Thanks to an imminent $2 million investment, the company is adding more plastic injection molding presses (to its current 105), new robots and other upgrades. Rodon is also pondering a physical expansion into a separate warehousing and distribution facility. Araten projects that the combined workforce will grow 5 to 10 percent by 2016.

According to Araten, expanding markets supporting the growth include construction (think plumbing parts and hardware), food and beverage (bottle caps), and apparel (buttons and zipper pulls).

Source: Michael Araten, The Rodon Group and K’NEX Brands
Writer: Elise Vider

PA businesses -- large and small, east and west -- to be honored with ImPAct Awards

An array of Pennsylvania companies -- everything from ABEC Inc. in Bethlehem to Zook Motors in Kane -- are finalists in the 2014 Governor’s ImPAct Awards

For the second year, the awards are aimed at celebrating "companies and individuals who are investing in Pennsylvania and creating jobs." The awards will be given at a May 30 luncheon at Hershey Lodge.

The finalists paint a picture of the Pennsylvania economy -- they range from small businesses to vast enterprises, startups to long-established companies, represent geographic diversity and come from a wide array of sectors. Where else would you find Webster’s Bookstore and Café in State College nominated in the same category as financial services giant Vanguard in Valley Forge?

The PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) led the process for nominations and selecting finalists. Two panels of judges from different parts of the state chose the 50 winners. Any size company is eligible, as long as they have significant operations in Pennsylvania and have been in business for at least one year. 

The awards will be given in five categories: Community Impact to a company that exemplifies the tenet of "doing well by doing good"; Entrepreneur Impact to recognize leadership via creativity, innovation, managerial ability, leadership skills or turnaround; Export Impact to a company that has significantly increased its export sales and number of new foreign markets since 2011; Jobs First, to recognize consistent job growth and retention; and Small Business Impact to a growing firm of 100 or fewer employees. 

Source: DCED and Laura Eppler, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA
Writer: Elise Vider

Downingtown's Bolt On Technology automates auto shops

While teaching adult computer classes in the late 90s, Mike Risich got an education in just how badly the automotive repair industry needed technology when a student with a repair shop asked for help. 

"This has been an industry that relies on pen and pencil," explains Risich. With a background in software development, he set out to digitize operations and make independent shop owners more efficient and more profitable. 

Risich worked nights and weekends on his fledgling venture before launching Bolt On Technology in 2008. Today, the Downingtown company offers more than a dozen tech solutions aimed at the auto repair industry. 

Its best seller is the Mobile Manager Pro, which does everything from scanning vehicle identification numbers (VIN) to recording and sharing multi-point inspection notes, estimates, service recommendations, photos, invoices and scheduled appointments. According to Risich, back in the day, just getting the 17-alpha-numeric-character VIN code accurately recorded from a mechanic’s handwritten scratches was a feat.

And every vehicle owner knows how easy it is to disregard those little oil-change-reminder stickers on the windshield. Lube Sticker Pro determines future appointments based on driving habits, the type of oil used and other factors, and schedules them in the shop’s point-of-sale system. Customers get automated text alerts reminding them of appointments.

Snap-on, the toolmaking giant, licensed three of Bolt On’s software products in 2011, a major step for the company, which continues to grow. New products under development include one that generates custom coupons (in the way that groceries do) and another than uses EZPass-type technology to track the efficiency of equipment and workers. 

Only two years ago, Bolt On consisted of Risich and two employees. Now the company has expanded its office from 1,600-square-feet to more than 4,000 and employs 13 people. He expects to have a crew of 20 by year's end as Bolt On ramps up internal sales with advertising and a heavy presence at trade shows nationally.

Source: Mike Risich, Bolt On Technology
Writer: Elise Vider


Carnegie Mellon and Broadway's Tony Awards team up to honor theater educators

When nominations for the Tony Awards, Broadway's annual prizes, were announced last week, most of the buzz was about actors like Bryan Cranston and shows like Aladdin.

But also announced was a new venture with Carnegie Mellon University -- the Pittsburgh institution has been named the Tony Awards’ first exclusive higher education partner. As part of the collaboration, the two organizations will jointly create and launch the first national recognition program honoring kindergarten through high-school (K-12) theater educators.

CMU’s School of Drama is the oldest drama degree-granting program in the United States, celebrating its centennial this year. In the past century, CMU has produced hundreds of Tony nominees and 31 Tony winners, including eight winners in 2013 alone. 

"Not only because we are celebrating the School of Drama centennial, but also because we believe in the power of arts education, the partnership with the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League [the Tony sponsors] made perfect sense," says Dan Martin, dean of CMU's College of Fine Arts. "Carnegie Mellon University is often referred to as one of the only universities that successfully combines education in the arts and technology, and we truly are dedicated to preparing students for a well-rounded future that reflects what they have learned here. We want to recognize arts educators as people who make a difference in their students' lives, from their earliest educational experience onward. With the Tony Awards and this educators' honor, we are able to play a part in doing that."

Nominations for the new theater educators’ award will open in September. The winning teacher will receive the "Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre Education presented by Carnegie Mellon University" on-stage at the 2015 Tony Awards. The trip to New York City will be included and a financial contribution will be made to the theater arts program at the winner’s school.

Source: Pam Wigley, CMU and Tony Awards
Writer: Elise Vider

Wyndridge Farm takes on new life as cider maker and special events venue

Steve and Julie Groff bought their idyllic 77-acre Dallastown farm 13 years ago as a place to raise their kids -- and their horses -- while Steve pursued his career as an orthopedic surgeon and founder of OSS Health, a regional health system. 

But two years ago, after a serious bike accident and trauma surgery of his own, Groff decided it was time to live his dream. Today, the family’s Wyndridge Farm is being developed to support several businesses and as a place, according to Groff, "to celebrate life." 

The farm is already producing "Crafty Cider," a hard cider made from locally-sourced apples. Cider is the fastest growing segment of the alcohol market, and Wyndridge's champagne-style cider is selling well at regional locations. The farm is also is moving into production of a second craft beverage, details to follow.

Renovations are nearly complete on the 120-year-old barn, which, along with new buildings, will open this summer for special events. With a new commercial kitchen, seating for several hundred, and indoor and outdoor facilities, Groff expects to host weddings, reunions, trade shows, corporate meetings and other special events by fall. 

As the events operation ramps up, Wyndridge has built a staff of five full-timers, including an executive chef, event planners, a general manager and a cider master. 

The farm was recently awarded a $2.1 million Small Business Administration loan through the York County Economic Alliance.

"We’re really excited about being an economic driver for this area," says Groff.

Source: Steve Groff, Wyndridge Farm
Writer: Elise Vider

BFTP/NEP names its Innovation Award winners

Five cutting-edge companies and three invdividuals are being honored for their achievements as innovators and entrepreneurs by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP). The winners of the 2014 Innovation Awards will be honored at the Ben Franklin i xchange event, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 6 at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University. They are:
Saladax Biomedical, Inc., Bethlehem, for entrepreneurial achievement 
Saladax develops and commercializes diagnostic blood test kits that quickly, accurately and inexpensively personalize chemotherapy drug levels for optimal results. Saladax originally planned to launch in New Jersey, but chose instead to start in Ben Franklin's TechVentures. Saladax now holds 82 international patents and employs 45. 
Viddler, Inc., Bethlehem, incubator graduate award
Viddler delivers secure, interactive media solutions for thousands of business communication, learning and publishing clients in more than 150 countries. Viddler graduated from TechVentures in September 2011 and today employs 22 at its new Southside Bethlehem headquarters.
XiGo Nanotools,  Bethlehem, product innovation
XiGo Nanotools has commercialized three table-top devices for characterizing the nature of particles -- or emulsion droplets -- in liquids using patented magnetic resonance imaging technology. Ben Franklin invested a total of $400,000 in XiGo; the company is a resident at TechVentures.
Vitrius Technologies, Wilkes-Barre, innovative application of technology 
Vitrius Technologies provides smart window systems for the residential, commercial and architectural markets. Ben Franklin invested a total of $320,000 in Vitrius, and provided financial support for sales efforts and industry-required testing. The company is now beginning to commercialize its groundbreaking products.
Cambridge-Lee Industries LLC, Reading, manufacturing achievement
Cambridge-Lee Industries, the second largest plumbing tube manufacturer in the country, recently constructed a new 195,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to produce thin-wall copper tubes for the commercial HVAC market. (For more on Cambridge-Lee, check out this Q&A with CEO Andi Funk.)
PA Senator John R. Gordner and PA Senator John P. Blake, Special Achievement Senators
Gordner’s and Blake’s bi-partisan legislative efforts on behalf of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners will result in much-needed investment capital to significantly leverage private investment in promising companies for future job growth. They worked tirelessly to pass the crucial Innovate in PA legislation, providing a three-year infusion of funds to allow Ben Franklin to make impactful investments in deserving Pennsylvania companies.

Former PA Governor Dick Thornburgh, Partnership
Governor Dick Thornburgh was the leader with the foresight to establish the Ben Franklin Partnership in 1982. His idea has emerged as a resounding success and his work a lasting legacy. The Ben Franklin Technology Partners has dramatically strengthened the Pennsylvania economy and improved the lives of thousands of entrepreneurs, workers and their families.

Last year, more than 550 tech entrepreneurs, business people, economic developers, venture capitalists, political leaders, educators, students, bankers, lawyers and accountants attended i xchange; that number is expected to grow again this year. Jeff Hoffman, veteran of seven startups, including Priceline.com, will give the keynote address. The registration fee is $65 in advance; $75 the day of the event. To learn more or to register, visit nep.benfranklin.org or ennect.com/e2331, email ixchange@nep.benfranklin.org or call 610-758-5200.

Source: BFTP/NEP
Writer: Elise Vider

CMU architects develop a dashboard to reduce office energy use

Office workers don’t get a utility bill for the energy they use at work, points out Ray Yun, a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Architecture. For his dissertation, he decided to create an effective way for desk jockeys to save energy. The result is the Intelligent Dashboard, a web-based application that shows users' real-time energy usage and allows to them to manage their consumption using manual and automated controls.  

"What I am most proud of is helping people to see energy saving opportunities," says Yun. "Office workers have no big incentive to put any effort into conserving energy at work since they don’t pay the bills. Without providing rewards or penalties or forcing workers to use our dashboard, we have successfully assisted them in voluntarily acting on behalf of the environment."

The dashboard evaluates "plug load energy use" -- plug load refers to how many things are actually plugged into outlets at an individual desk. They all pull from the grid. 

Eighty employees at a major Pittsburgh corporation field-tested the dashboard, using plug-in devices manufactured by Plugwise that measure the energy consumption of each device and provide digital on-off control. 

After six weeks, the group with a full suite of energy monitors, online controls and the ability to place their work schedule on a calendar to control unnecessary plug loads, averaged 35.4 percent savings in their plug load energy consumption.

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Consortium for Building Energy Innovation and Yun believes it has commercial potential. The research team, which also includes Azizan Aziz, Vivian Loftness, Bertrand Lasternas, Peter Scupelli, Chenlu Zhang, Yunjeong Mo and Jie Zhao, is looking to expand the technology to other sectors in building energy management such as lighting, HVAC and building temperature. 

Source: Ray Yun, Carnegie Mellon University
Writer: Elise Vider


From Steel to Space: Pittsburgh joins global NASA hackathon

The sky was not the limit for three teams of entrepreneurs who gathered on April 12-13 in Pittsburgh as part of the International Space Apps Challenge, a worldwide hackathon sponsored by NASA and intended "to address global needs applicable to both life on Earth and life in space."

All three Pittsburgh teams will go on to global judging against projects devised in 76 straight hours of hacking that kicked off in Doha, Qatar and ended in Seattle.

Opentree aims to provide a simple and efficient way to measure the height of urban trees, providing useful data to scientists. "Citizen scientists" can photograph trees and upload the images to Flickr. The Opentree website can then calculate the tree size and store the data.

Pimios is a web-based application intended to aggregate data from multiple locations about space events such as lunar eclipses, solar flares, shooting stars, asteroids and even UFO sightings. 

Integrex's goal is to create wearable technology capable of monitoring astronaut vitals, including blood pressure, heart rate and temperature. 

Richard Behana, one of the Pittsburgh organizers, is an Iraq veteran and serial entrepreneur who, as a child, dreamed of being an astronaut. He recently founded Space Challenges, a nonprofit organization that promotes STEM education through competitions that use space exploration as inspiration. The STEM Lunar Challenge, a related project, will kick off this summer in partnership with Astrobotic Technology, the Pittsburgh company working on a 2015 moon launch.

Behana, working with Nahom Beyene, Kit Mueller and Lee Ngo, organized the Pittsburgh hackathon in only five weeks, and expects it to be the first of many as the Steel City looks to space as its next frontier.

Source: Richard Behana, International Space Apps Challenge
Writer: Elise Vider
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