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Call for Ideas: 4th Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest accepting entries

Are you a researcher, entrepreneur or small business in Pennsylvania (or West Virginia) focused on developing a new product or service for the shale energy space? If so, the Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center has an offer you can't refuse.

Entries are now being accepted for the 4th Annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest. Once again, the four best shale energy-oriented innovations, new product ideas or service concepts will win $25,000 cash and other support.

The organizers are looking for innovations that are either in the development stage or recently launched. Any idea or already commercialized product or service related to the shale energy space is eligible. Examples include natural gas or NGL utilization products and services; novel materials or chemicals to enhance performance, prevent corrosion or improve product yield; remote site monitoring technologies; well pad EH&S products or services; natural gas or NGL conversion technologies; and water management or remediation technologies.

"We continue to be amazed by the rapid pace of innovation adoption across the shale energy play," says SGICC Director Bill Hall. "Entrepreneurs along with many small businesses are playing a significant role, developing new technologies or offering existing products or services already in use in other areas. Through the contest, SGICC shines a light on the best new innovations being developed in our region."

Hall reports that last year's Pennsylvania winners are thriving.

"Optimum Pumping is continuing with mid-stream trial demonstrations and early indications are that they are going very well," he says. "KCF Technologies has had a rather significant penetration in the shale gas industry and made at least one large project sale to a field services company. TM Industrial Supply, as a result of the contest, made manufacturing changes to reduce the time required to produce their filtration product and has at least one major sale, and anticipates more."
 
The contest attracted 70 entries last year. Expecting even more this year, Hall urges applicants to submit ahead of the February 1 deadline. A panel of industry experts will choose the finalists. 

Source: Bill Hall, Ben Franklin Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center
Writer: Elise Vider

New robotic arms from Pittsburgh's RE2 reach for a range of markets

The reach of Pittsburgh’s RE2 continues to grow, both in terms of its business and its robotic manipulator arms.

The company launched its Highly Dexterous Manipulation System (HDMS) product line in July. HDMS was originally designed for bomb squads, explains Douglas Peters, RE2's vice president of operations. Most explosive ordnance disposal robots include a single, low-dexterity manipulator that significantly limits the tasks that can be performed. With two arms, HDMS offers the same level of dexterity, speed and strength as a human torso and arms, and can perform more complex tasks such as screwing the cap off a pipe bomb.

The system was developed through combined funding from internal sources, the Army and the Navy. The first commercial system was sold to MIT for an ongoing research project looking at automation. RE2 now has two versions of the system in the final stages of development, preparing for wider commercial release.

Last month, RE2 closed on $2.25 million in funding led by Pittsburgh-based Draper Triangle Ventures with participation from Riverfront Ventures. RE2 says it plans to use the capital to further accelerate product development and penetrate new markets such as agriculture and healthcare. In June, the company announced a partnership with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to assess and recommend robotic technologies for the winemaking industry.

HDMS, says Peters, is suitable for "any application that requires near-human capability to interact with the world." 

Source: Douglas Peters, RE2
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Robotic baby-gear maker 4moms expands and hires in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh's 4moms is having a growth spurt, driven by its high-tech robotic baby gear. The company is expanding its offices in the city's Strip District to 78,000 square feet, doubling both its footprint and its workforce.  

The company is committed to creating at least 120 new jobs while retaining its 100 employees over the next three years.

4moms -- the company name comes from an early focus group comprised of four moms -- was founded in 2005 by Rob Daley and Henry Thorne who saw an opportunity to re-invent baby products. The company’s origami stroller, for example, folds and unfolds at the touch of a button; it also charges a cell phone, counts mileage and lights up with LCD lighting, powered by generators in the rear wheels that charge as the stroller is pushed. The mamaRoo infant seat can be programmed for five unique motions: car ride, tree swing, kangaroo, rock-a-bye and ocean. The 4moms infant tub is designed to let clean water flow in while dirty water flows out so baby is always bathing in fresh water. 

The company plans to invest more than $4.7 million in its new site, which features a lab three times larger than its old space, giving product designers and engineers more room to develop products. The Governor’s Action Team, in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, coordinated the project. 
 
"The next six to 12 months is a pivotal time frame for 4moms, as we deliver new products to the market and continue to develop new innovative ideas," says CEO Rob Daley. "We predict significant revenue growth and are hiring top talent across the organization to support that growth."

Source: Kathryn Jacks for 4moms
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
 

Pittsburgh's Astrobotic prepares for 2015 moon launch

From an old metal stamping building in Pittsburgh's Strip District, Astrobotic Technology is preparing to launch a mission to the moon on October 16, 2015.
 
The company is actively selling "payload" or cargo space at a price of $500,000 per pound to fly aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, along with an Astrobotic robotic lander and rover.
 
"It’s a little bit like UPS or FedEx delivery to the moon," says CEO John Thornton. Astrobotic has capacity for 600 pounds of payload; so far, they have been contracted to carry human ashes and a Japanese soft drink, in addition to a multi-million contract with NASA for data collection.
 
Paid space exploration is not new -- the International Space Station is the model -- but this will be the first private concern ever to land on the moon. (So far only three governments, the United States, the former USSR and, more recently, China, have reached the lunar surface.)
 
"It’s a game changer for space exploration," says Thornton. Potential markets include scientific and research organizations who want to conduct experiments or deliver instruments, governments interested in boosting national pride ("We’re selling Apollo moments") and marketing concerns, like the Japanese company who will promote itself as the first soft drink on the moon.
 
The flight will launch from Florida, but mission control will revert to Pittsburgh. The landing site is Lacus Mortis, a lunar "skylight" or 300-foot-deep pit that may lead to an underground cave formed by lava flow. The Astrobotic rover will drive around and look down with an eye towards a future mission exploring the slopes.
 
Since the last time Keystone Edge checked in with Astrobotic in 2012, the company has made significant progress towards winning the Google Lunar XPrize, worth millions. The company, founded in 2008 as a spinoff of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, currently employs 14 and is planning to hire another four as it prepares to move to an expanded 5,200-square-foot space that will accommodate offices and construction of its spacecraft.
 
Source: John Thornton, Astrobotic Technology
Writer: Elise Vider



A robotics 'wow' for West Chester's ONExia

It’s been less than two years since Boston’s Rethink Robotics launched its game-changing Baxter Robot, and West Chester’s ONExia became the region’s exclusive distributor.
 
A few weeks ago, ONExia blogged about a "wow!" moment as it tested a beta version of the latest Baxter software. Founder and CEO Greg Selke is still psyched. Software updates for most industrial robots, Selke explains, are for small tweaks and bug fixes. What distinguishes Baxter is that its software "has continued to evolve, and that’s been the plan from the beginning." Baxter’s periodic software updates are a strong selling point for ONExia -- they can assure customers that the robot’s performance and potential will continue to grow. 
 
The "wow” moment came when ONExia’s tests found that a move that used to take as long as 15 seconds now takes six or six-and-one-half seconds, with improved accuracy.

"Baxter will now be able to work at a true human cadence, especially over sustained time," explains the blog post. 
 
Selke estimates that the new software, expected to be officially released later this month, boosts the robot's output by more than 50 percent by providing "a much more fluid and smooth motion so Baxter can perform repetitive tasks more quickly." 
 
Next for Baxter, says Selke, is software that enables it to "see," so that it can find and recognize particular objects. That upgrade is likely later this year. The Baxter Research Robot is also being sold to universities and research institutions that are developing their own software for the robot -- the ultimate vision is for a kind of iTunes store where Baxter owners can customize their robots.
 
 
Source: Greg Selke, ONExia
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 

Latest Pittsburgh scorecard tallies 302 deals worth of investment and job growth

Between new facilities, company expansions, attraction and retention of companies and startups, there were 302 economic development deals in the Pittsburgh region in 2013; that's a 12 percent increase. 
 
In its annual scorecard, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) reported that regional economic development deals totaled $2.4 billion in capital investment. PRA projected that 2013 activity will retain 1,669 jobs and create 6,983 new ones as announced deals come to fruition.
 
Financial and business services continued to be the backbone of the regional economy, but the big news was the growth in the region’s information and communications sector, which assumed second place for number of deals, growing from 33 in 2012 to 51 in 2013, its biggest spike since 2008. 
 
Jim Futrell, PRA’s vice president of market research, predicts continued growth in the IT sector. "Considering the presence of Carnegie Mellon and the 2,000 IT graduates coming from the region’s colleges and universities each year, the region is well positioned to become a major technology hub in the foreseeable future," he says.
 
The region also remains true to its industrial roots, with advanced manufacturing the most active sector for deals in 2013.

"The Pittsburgh region still makes things: specialty metals, medical devices, robots and turbines, to name a few," says PRA President Dewitt Peart. "We’re a manufacturer to the world, capitalizing on technology to make processes precise, sophisticated and efficient."
 
"While employment growth seems to have plateaued, the outlook for the region is still sound," adds Futrell. "We should continue to experience growth in critical sectors like financial and business services, and energy.  And manufacturing -- which has fueled our economy for some 200 years -- has been a very active sector in terms of business investment deals and activity.  
 
"What is critical for the region’s future is making sure that individuals entering the workforce have the skills needed to fill the 20,000-plus jobs open in the region right now," he continues. "More than half of these currently open jobs require tech skills, and that requisite won’t be changing any time soon. Tech is driving a 'new workforce order' in the Pittsburgh region. The demand for tech-savvy employees -- across all industries -- is only going to increase."
 
Source: Jim Futrell, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance
Writer: Elise Vider 
 
 
 

With new venture capital, Pittsburgh's Aethon grows its market for healthcare logistics

It’s a happy new year for Aethon, maker of the TUG, a mobile robot that transports and delivers supplies in hospitals. The Pittsburgh company reports that it grew its customer base for TUG in 2013 with 21 new sites. It just announced a new $3 million investment from Mitsui USA, augmenting an initial $4 million investment in 2012. And late last year, Aethon unveiled a new product, MedEx Tube Track, a patent-pending system that secures and tracks deliveries sent through the pneumatic tube systems used to deliver medications in hospitals. 
 
Introduced to the commercial market 10 years ago, TUG is Aethon’s core product. Today, over 400 of the chest-high robots prowl hospital corridors, making 50,000 deliveries per week, transporting medications, meals, linens, equipment and other supplies. Altogether, TUGs have traveled over one million miles, monitored 24/7 by Aethon’s command center in Pittsburgh. 
 
"Robots are becoming more common in the workplace," says CEO Aldo Zini. "With healthcare organizations required to serve an increasingly aging population, yet respond to the pressure on costs, they need to do more with their current staff. This means each person must spend more time doing the highest-value aspects of their job.”
 
And that, he adds, means more time on clinical duties, less on logistical tasks. Zini cites a recent Harvard Business School study of nursing workflow indicating that nearly half of operational breakdowns are a result of supply problems and inefficient processes.
 
Aethon will use its new capital for expanded sales and marketing, and to move into international markets.

"Mitsui USA’s add-on investment is a sign of their confidence in the worldwide interest for Aethon’s solutions in healthcare logistics and the potential for applications outside of healthcare," says Zini. "We have an opportunity to grow the company rapidly, and this additional investment provides the resources necessary to accelerate our growth.”
 
Source: Tony Melanson, Aethon
Writer: Elise Vider

Palmyra's Robometrix starting production and sales of its consumer-market robots

Imagine remotely checking in on elderly loved ones with a mini-robot that you move around using your smartphone.  Or playing with your dog while you’re at work. 
 
Robometrix, a startup in Palmyra, is introducing its VisitorBot Mini, a compact telepresence device that can be operated on a tabletop or floor and sells for only $300. The larger VisitorBot Max stands four-feet-tall and, for example, can move around a factory floor to monitor overseas manufacturing from your Pennsylvania workplace. It sells for about $1,200.
 
George Keller, who founded Robometrix in 2010 with his son, Tyler, says the company has spent the last few years doing R&D, building and tweaking prototypes to create “telepresence robots that are as simple and inexpensive as possible. We think we’re pretty much there.”
 
Keller, who has a PhD in biochemistry and whose day job is at the National Institutes of Health, says that telepresence robots are widely used in medical applications. Robometrix’s aim is to bring the technology to consumer markets. 
 
The company is now moving into sales for its hand-built robots. Eventually, Keller says, they expect to go to more conventional manufacturing but “we don’t want to mass produce something that may not be what the market wants.”
 
Robometrix currently has three full-timers and Keller hopes to add a few more part-time positions as the company continues to ramp up production and sales. It helps that Robometrix won first prize recently at the eight-week business mentoring program sponsored by the Ben Franklin TechCelerator@ Hershey, a partnership of the Office of Technology Development at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania and the economic development arm of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber
 
Source: George Keller, Robometrix
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Hey! What's the big idea? (There's $25K and more for tech innovation.)

Do you live in Central or South Central Pennsylvania? Do you have an idea for a new, technology-based product or process? Get busy, because your idea could win one of two $25,000 cash prizes in Ben Franklin’s BIG IDEA Business Plan Contest
 
This year’s competition, sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA  (BFTP/CNP) and the BF Venture Investment Forum, targets 25 counties in Central and South Central Pennsylvania.  

To be eligible, you must live in one of the 25 counties; have developed or be developing, a new, innovative tech product or process; have had no significant sales if a product has already been developed; have fewer than 50 employees if a company has been formed and have never received previous BFTP funding.

Preferred industry sectors include (but are not limited to):  nanotechnology; green technologies; alternative energy; advanced manufacturing; advanced materials; medical devices; information technology and software.
 
The application deadline is December 9; final judging is set for February 20, 2014.
 
In addition to the $25,000 in cash, the two grand-prize winners will also receive:

  • One-year website hosting offered by Netrepid;
  • The opportunity to participate in a BF TechCelerator Boot Camp for Startups;
  • Six months free rent in the BF TechCelerator @ Carlisle (for a winner from that area);
  • Assistance from the Innovation Partnership in preparing a proposal to receive a federal research (SBIR) grant;
  • Access to all Ben Franklin’s business support services at no charge.
“We had a huge response to last year’s contest. Nearly 2,000 people came to the BIG IDEA landing page to check out the easy application process.  We believe that anyone with the courage, energy and enthusiasm to apply to a business plan contest is already a winner,” says Stephen Brawley, President/CEO of Ben Franklin.

Full details, a list of the eligible counties and an application forms are online
 
Source: BFTP/CNP
Writer: Elise Vider

Pittsburgh's RE2 designs a dexterous manipulation system to maintain performance aircraft

Take a Pennsylvania firm's core technology and an unaddressed need by the military and you have the formula for the latest research funding awarded to Pittsburgh's RE2
 
"We are known as experts in mobile manipulation, essentially robotic arms on things that move," says CEO Jorgen Pedersen. "And this is another application for our core technology, a custom design that solves this particular problem."
 
That problem is the military's need for a system to recoat damaged or worn air inlets on performance aircraft. Many engine air inlets become worn or damaged by foreign objects while in service. Between overhauls, this damage needs to be repaired, increasing aircraft downtime. And the maintenance requires a person to manually recoat any damaged areas, placing the worker at risk and often yielding unacceptable thickness variability.
 
The possible solution is RE2's Automated Air Inlet Coating (A2IC) system, a robotic manipulation system with the dexterity and accuracy required for the job.
 
RE2 won $150,000 in highly competitive Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding, which will cover A2IC development through February. Meanwhile, the company is preparing to compete for a Phase II award, which could start in spring 2014 and allow RE2 to further pursue the project. 
 
The company has a good track record with SBIR. Of 11 Phase I projects, 10 have gone on to Phase II, Pedersen says, and several have gone on to Phase III and commercial success.
 
The A2IC project has allowed RE2 to maintain its workforce of about 40. Meanwhile, Pedersen is hopeful for a major contract for next-generation robots for disposal of explosive ordnance. That project could mean a doubling of revenues and dozens of new jobs in 2015, Pedersen says.
 
Source: Jorgen Pedersen, RE2
Writer: Elise Vider
 

Nine young Philly-area companies share $1.5M+ from Ben Franklin

Fans of raw foods, sports, coupon savings and more, rejoice. Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP), celebrating its 30th anniversary, recently approved $1,550,000 in funding for nine early-stage companies.
 
They are:
AgileSwitch, LLC,  Philadelphia, $250,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $300,000)
AgileSwitch develops power converter technology to produce useful energy from renewable energy technologies, including solar panels and wind turbines. AgileSwitch's products can be fully customized to meet the needs and demands of virtually any customer application, and are better able to monitor and prevent problems such as overheating.
 
Brad's Raw Foods, Pipersville, $100,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $100,000) 
Brad's Raw Foods, manufactured with an advanced dehydration technology, offers a line of healthy, crunchy snacks made from dehydrated raw, healthy foods such as fresh vegetables, nuts and seeds. The company is developing other raw food products, including dog treats, onion rings, and zucchini sticks.
 
Cocurrent BioEnergy,  Doylestown, $250,000
Cocurrent BioEnergy is creating alternative solutions to landfills that produce renewable energy at competitive rates. The company's plan is to develop and operate renewable energy assets (which repurpose solid waste into sources of fuel) throughout North America over the next 20-30 years.
 
OneTwoSee (Mobile Reactor, LLC),Philadelphia, $75,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $300,000)
The OneTwoSee platform is a state-of-the-art suite of technologies that augments sports fans' experiences through any screen. The business-to-business platform is licensed to television broadcasters, online publishers, sports arena owners and smart TV manufactures, allowing them to deliver a rich interactive experience to their audience via their connected devices.
 
Real Food Works, Philadelphia, $175,000
Real Food Works provides customers with a subscription plan of meals that are cooked by local partners, restaurants, caterers and personal chefs and delivered fresh. The meals are mostly plant-based and are targeted to those who want to lose weight, enhance their energy levels or improve their overall health or have special dietary restrictions.
 
Smart Structures, Southampton,$150,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $230,000)
Smart Structures has developed a system that tests and monitors the health of the nation's physical infrastructure, such as highways, bridges, tunnels and buildings. Its technology can also dramatically alter the cost and time dynamics of traditional evaluation programs, by enabling real-time testing of all foundation elements.
 
SnipSnap App, LLC,  Philadelphia, $100,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $100,000)
SnipSnap is a mobile phone app for scanning, saving and redeeming printed coupons. The technology allows users to more efficiently and effectively organize their coupons, maximize their savings, and be reminded to use their coupons before expiration dates. They are also able to share their coupons both within their own social networks and with all other SnipSnap users.
 
Telefactor Corp., West Conshohocken, $400,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $230,450)
An offshoot of Chatten Associates, Telefactor is continuing its growth in explosive ordnance disposal, the process of rendering explosive devices safe. Telefactor is procuring the next-generation advanced robotic systems for the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology division.
 
TicketLeap, Inc., Philadelphia, $50,000 (Ben Franklin previously invested $525,000)
TicketLeap is an e-commerce, do-it-yourself system for ticketing and registration that enables event organizers to sell tickets to their events online. Services include event registration, event promotion, virtual box office software, and social network integration. The company also provides barcode scanning, instant credit card swiping, customized ticket design and ticket tracking services.
 
Source: BFTP/SEP
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 

Pittsburgh’s AlphaLab Gear proclaims hardware’s turn

Ten or 15 years ago, market forces and tech innovation made it possible for software companies to readily establish themselves. Now, says Ilana Diamond, director of Pittsburgh’s new AlphaLab Gear, it’s hardware’s turn.
 
The new hardware and robotics startup accelerator, one of only a few in the country, is aimed at providing physical product companies (“something you can touch and feel,” says Diamond) with investment, equipment, mentoring and more, all in service of boosting manufacturing, ideally in or around Pittsburgh.
 
Part of the impetus for AlphaLab Gear comes from the changing forces that make it possible, for example, to produce a prototype, which used to take thousands of dollars and months, for pennies and in minutes using a 3D printer. Add access to high-tech equipment in shared workspaces like Pittsburgh’s Tech Shop and crowdfunding, and the potential for hardware startups is significantly altered.
 
AlphaLab Gear will work on the same model at its parent startup accelerator, Innovation Works’ AlphaLab. Companies can choose to receive $25,000 or $50,000 in investment in exchange for 5% or 9%  equity. And AlphaLab Gear companies with a robotics focus will receive investment and help from Startbot, an investment firm specializing in early-stage robotics companies. “Their participation is a recognition that private capital thinks this is a successful model,” says Diamond.
 
AlphaLab Gear is accepting applications for its first cycle and is hearing interest from a wide range of companies that make everything, Diamond says, from medical devices to consumer products to sensors to games.
 
Source: AlphaLab Gear, Ilana Diamond
Writer: Elise Vider

Roboticists and engineers from Carnegie Mellon, Penn State making moves

Hear that buzz? It's news about robotics and engineering innovation in Pennsylvania.
 
In recent weeks:
 
A robotic paint-stripping system, being developed for the Air Force by Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center  and Concurrent Technologies Corporation of Johnstown, was named gold winner in the material science category of the 2013 Edison Awards. The system uses high-powered lasers mounted on mobile robotic platforms to remove paint and coatings from aircraft.
 
NREC is building six autonomous mobile robots, each equipped with a high-power-laser coating remover developed by CTC. As part of a two-year project, the robots will be deployed in teams to remove paint and other coatings from aircraft at Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah. The lasers eliminate the needs for abrasives or chemical paint removers; the robots make it possible to automate and precisely control the stripping process.
 
Carnegie Mellon researchers are also at work on the Lifelong Robotic Object Discovery Process, which helps robots augment their "vision" with other information – an object's location, size, and shape and even whether it can be lifted – to recognize and understand objects. The team enabled a two-armed, mobile robot to use color video, a Kinect depth camera and non-visual information to discover more than 100 objects in a home-like laboratory, such as computer monitors, plants and food items. Eventually the technology could help people accomplish tasks of daily living as part of the Home-Exploring Robot Butler, with the quaint acronym HERB, being developed in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh.
 
Thirteen Penn State teams took honors in semester-long, industry-sponsored engineering projects. Altogether, 163 projects by engineering undergraduates were judged at the 2013 Student Design Project Showcase. Three teams won first place in the Lockheed Martin Design Awards: "Project Assignment/Algorithm," "Maximum Allowable Gasket Seating Surface Degradation Before Seal Failure" and "Robotic Parallel Bars Walking Device." Six other teams took second and third-place honors. The Boeing Systems Engineering Award went to "Rotor Wake Survey."
 
Sources: Carnegie Mellon; Penn State
Writer: Elise Vider
 
 
 
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