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Solarize to kick off Allegheny program in Point Breeze

Pittsburgh residents interested in converting to solar power can now turn to a new program for help. On Feb. 8, Solarize Allegheny, a community-supported solar campaign, officially kicked off in Point Breeze with a celebration at Pino’s Restaurant on Feb. 8. That event, along with a workshop taking place at the St. Bede School on Feb. 11, launches a 20-week long project to bring solar energy to the neighborhood.

The program, which is called Solarize Point Breeze, was made possible through a partnership between the Point Breeze Organization and Solarize creator, SmartPower, a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing the adoption of solar technology in participating communities across the country. Solarize Point Breeze also marks the first phase of a plan to expand and double the number of solar installations in Allegheny County over the next two years.

“Solarize campaigns are successful because we tap into the social networks and interest in clean energy that already exists in the community,” says SmartPower Vice President Sharon Pillar. “The Point Breeze Organization is leading the Solarize Point Breeze effort and connecting the campaign to their contacts and in turn, the effect ripples throughout the community. “

As Pillar explains, Solarize Allegheny will provide residents with solar information and resources by engaging them where they live, work and worship. Those interested in adopting solar power are then connected directly to local, pre-screened, qualified solar installers who will offer competitive bids. With the help of the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment  Authority, the program will also find financial assistance, such as zero down or zero interest loans, for qualifying homeowners.

Solarize has already proven successful in other states, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Arizona, where each community campaign spawned an average of 30 to 40 installations. The most successful two-year program, Solarize Connecticut, covered 52 communities and converted more than 1,900 homeowners, which constitutes one-third of all the residential solar power in the state.

“Solarize is so successful because it taps into a rapidly exploding interest for people to produce their own energy, to save money on their electric bills and to help the environment,” says Pillar.

Besides Point Breeze, Solarize Allegheny will also branch out into Moon Township, South Fayette Township, and the Etna and Millvale boroughs. The next phase will begin in late spring when the program selects and launches in another four or five local communities.

Those interested in learning more about Solarize Allegheny can register for the Solarize Point Breeze launch party or the Solarize Point Breeze workshop through Eventbrite.
 

Local industry leaders needed for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Astrobotic and CMU work toward moon landing with Google Lunar XPRIZE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitt ensures healthier organ transplants with new preservation system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dynamics protects credit card information with innovative security features

In 2014, data breaches at major retailers such as Target, Home Depot and Neiman Marcus compromised credit card information belonging to millions of customers. As companies work to prevent future attacks, one local innovator has partnered with MasterCard to help protect cardholders from being victimized no matter where they shop.

Cheswick-based Dynamics Inc. specializes in designing and manufacturing intelligent battery-powered payment devices and advanced payment platforms. Recently, the company -- which was founded in 2007 by Carnegie Mellon University graduate Jeff Mullen -- introduced security-enhanced interactive payment cards to global MasterCard customers at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The card technology is the first of its kind to offer data protection through three interactive functionalities.

Flor Estevez, a leader of Worldwide Communications at MasterCard, believes there are multiple advantages that come with the Dynamics card.

"Dynamics is at the forefront of interactive payment card manufacturing, and their technology has both functional benefits, like adding an extra layer of security, and strategic benefits, like helping consumers understand the benefits of using an electronic device for payments," Estevez said.

The Dynamics interactive features include an unlock function that enables customers to turn cards on or off with secret pass codes, which prevents lost or stolen cards from being used. The card also offers two distinct dynamic code generators that safeguard each in-store or online purchase with random security codes. These unique codes ensure that a cardholder's account data will stay protected even in the event of a merchant breech.

In addition to its security features, the Dynamics card design boasts a thin computer circuit board enclosed within the plastic, as well as customizable buttons, displays and LEDs. Dynamics also pairs its interactive card technology with mobile applications for consumers to better manage their accounts in real time.

MasterCard is currently working with a number of issuers in the United States and worldwide to bring Dynamics technology to the market. Issuers will then determine whether the extra security features will come at an additional cost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

Diamond Kinetics goes to bat with motion-sensor sports technology

Athletes of all ages and skill levels have one thing in common -- the drive to excel in a chosen sport. When it comes to batters looking to add a little oomph to their swings, Diamond Kinetics has found a way to monitor and improve performance using a new motion-sensor technology.

The Pittsburgh-based company recently joined with SportsBoard to streamline the way coaches evaluate various aspects of a player's performance. The partnership will integrate the newly launched Diamond Kinetics SwingTracker device and app into SportsBoard's mobile player assessment tool. SwingTracker -- which combines a sensor with mobile and web tools to provide science-based motion analysis -- was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where it was selected as a 2015 Bluetooth Breakthrough Awards Program finalist in the Product category.

Built upon intellectual property developed at the University of Michigan and the University of Pittsburgh, SwingTracker works to simplify the process of gathering, assembling, analyzing and distributing swing metrics. To collect data, players mount the small, knob-like SwingTracker sensor onto the bat. With each swing, the sensor collects and sends data to the SwingTracker app via Bluetooth. The data then syncs with the player's profile on SportsBoard, where it's evaluated for 15 different swing metrics, including power, speed efficiency, and distance the bat travels in the hitting zone.

Diamond Kinetics Co-founder and CEO CJ Handron and his team spent two years developing SwingTracker, which, with the addition of SportsBoard, will act as a comprehensive resource for baseball and softball players and their coaches.

"SportsBoard provides a unique and valuable platform for coaches and organizations to better manage their recruiting and scouting efforts, including tracking objective and measurable data," says Handron. "Incorporating our motion data into their platform in a completely seamless manner provides another piece of valuable information to coaches with no effort on their part. For Diamond Kinetics, the partnership will provide new opportunities to introduce our technology within an important segment of the amateur baseball and softball market."

To ensure its efficacy, SwingTracker -- now available for purchase at $149.99 -- was tested by hundreds of players and coaches ranging from youth to professional. Some of the test subjects included Pittsburgh-area amateur baseball and softball organizations, who, as Handron explains, now utilize the technology on a regular basis.

With SwingTracker established in the SportsBoard platform, Handron hopes to expand the product's reach when winter winds down.

Says Handron, "We'll look forward to adding additional teams and programs as baseball season approaches this spring."

Carnegie Mellon University makes robots easier to use with customizable system

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who's hiring in PGH? Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, Deeplocal and more

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

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership has an immediate opening for a full-time Director of Planning. The chosen candidate will work closely with senior leaders of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the City of Pittsburgh, funders and Downtown stakeholders to carry out projects that support the creation of a vibrant and accessible Downtown for everyone. All application materials must be sent by Jan. 28, 2015.

The Western PA regional chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), a national construction industry trade association, is seeking a full-time Director of Education and Workforce Development. The qualified candidate will oversee all workforce development programs, including apprenticeship, craft training, management training, and green technologies. Interested candidates must submit a cover letter, resume, salary history and expectations, and three references to President, Associated Builders and Contractors of Western PA, 2360 Venture Drive, Gibsonia, PA 15044 or to orpgum@abcwpa.org before 4 p.m. on Jan. 30, 2015.

Quantum Theatre is hiring a full-time technical director to serve as the primary team member responsible for each show’s maintenance in performance. 

The innovation studio Deeplocal has openings for multiple full-time positions, including a UX/interaction designer, a creative designer, a software engineer/web developer, and a technical producer/project manager.

Industrial Scientific, a leading provider of gas detection products and services, is hiring a full-time marketing communications specialist. Qualifications include a BS in marketing, public relations, journalism, communications or related field and a minimum three years of experience in business-to-business communications or marketing, including social media.

The Heinz History Center is hiring a Director for its Rauh Jewish History Program. Duties include collecting and preserving records, artifacts, and other collections of historical value that document the Jewish experience in western Pennsylvania. Requires a graduate degree in history or a related field, as well as knowledge of Jewish history. Please send resumes to Renee Falbo, Director of Human Resources, Senator John Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

Phipps simplifies grocery shopping with Green Light Foods app

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out last week's listings for more opportunities.  

Project Eviive brings clean water and hope to Kenya

In Machakos County, a region located east of Nairobi, Kenya, unpredictable rainfall and drought leaves much of the rural population without clean water. Now one local nonprofit will work to provide access to the precious resource with the help of crowd-funding.

Project Eviive seeks to bring clean water solutions to people throughout the developing world, especially in Africa. The organization recently launched a Tilt campaign to raise $15,000 for their first effort, a program that will assist three Machakos County communities in the construction of earthen dams. The dams, which will create reservoirs to collect and store water throughout the long dry seasons, are expected to improve the lives of around 2,000 people by preventing the onset of famine and the spread of water-borne diseases.

“Crowd-funding works really well because it will get some start-up money for the nonprofit and allow us to actually start the Kenya project,” said Project Eviive Managing Director David Tye. “It’ll be the first step in a long series of steps.”

Tye -- who lived and worked in Africa for five years and maintains contacts in Nairobi -- believes that organizations should focus not on just completing projects, but finding ways to make them sustainable. To achieve this, Project Eviive will coordinate construction of the dams by enlisting the help of Machakos County residents and area technicians who can oversee the project directly on a day-to-day basis. Once established, the dams are expected to give the communities control over their own environment, as opposed to depending on outside assistance.

In their continuing mission to provide sustainable clean water solutions, Project Eviive plans to partner with Epiphany Solar Water Systems, a Pittsburgh-based company that develops solar water purification technology, for future projects. Tye hopes that Project Kenya will enable the organization to expand and serve other communities throughout Africa, and in places such as Haiti and the Middle East.

First Insight offers better way to predict fashion trends

Students at SUNY's Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) will gain valuable professional experience thanks to one local startup. First Insight, a technology company based in Sewickley, recently brought its cloud-based predictive analytics platform to the school, where it will serve as part of FIT’s Fashion Merchandising Management curriculum.

Chief Marketing Officer at First Insight, Jim Shea, believes that the partnership will enable students to compete in today's retail environment.

"Merchants, designers, and planners use our predictive analytic solution to make better decisions on new products," said Shea. "FIT students are the future leaders of the retail industry and will be making these types of decisions soon after they graduate. It was natural to partner with FIT to ensure the students are familiar with the First Insight solution so they are ready to hit the ground running once they enter the real world."

First Insight -- whose clients include such big-name brands as Abercrombie & Fitch and The Limited -- enables companies to determine customer demand faster and more easily by collecting data through online consumer engagement and using it to choose, price and correctly market the best new products. As opposed to in-store testing, which can usually take weeks or months to gather data, First Insight's approach only takes one to three days, and costs much less to perform. It also provides more accurate data that can help companies boost profits: In 2013, Vera Bradley credited First Insight for an overall four percent sales increase, which was due to using predictive analytics in developing a market strategy for their line of baby accessories.

So far, FIT students have garnered some success from using data and analytics. Last September, First Insight sponsored a team of four students from the Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology who competed in and won the Future Retail Challenge at the annual World Retail Congress in Paris. Challenged to create a new retail concept for the Samsung Life Store, the team used data-backed insights to develop and present an extensive proposal for their original concept, The Smart Apartment.

While the connection to fashion has proven a natural fit, Shea believes that First Insight could benefit other academic programs.

"First Insight’s platform has applications in many industries, including consumer goods, automotive, and consumer electronics," said Shea. "As such, it would make sense to incorporate the First Insight platform into a general business or marketing curriculum."

UPMC and Pitt make strides in robot arm study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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