90.5 WESA: Features and Special Reports

90.5 WESA: Features and Special Reports

From 90.5 WESA

The 90.5 WESA newsroom digs deep into Pittsburgh community and regional issues, profiles interesting people and helps explain issues affecting us today.More from 90.5 WESA: Features and Special Reports »

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Need A Robot For That? CMU-Developed Software Helps You Design & 3D Print Them

CMU Robotics Institute assistant professor Stelian Coros was working to find ways to make animated characters navigate their simulated environments, such as in a video game or a movie, when he realized his work could be used to design and virtually test robots. "And what I'm really excited about is moving towards a new paradigm where robots will be able to approach the complexity of biological structures in both form and in function," Coros said. Typically, a robot is designed by engineers and a prototype is built and tested. That design is then sent back to the engineers to be redesigned and the process is repeated until the robot is ready to be sent to a manufacturing facility. Coros said that expensive and time-consuming process works when the goal is mass production. "In that case, the investment is worth it," Coros said. "But I imagine a future where everyone will have a different type of robot that matches their own needs or preferences." The goal is customizable robots made for

Need A Robot For That? CMU-Developed Software Helps You Design & 3D Print Them

Wolf Says Pension Reform Will Trim Liability By At Least $10B

Pennsylvania's unfunded pension liability stands at $70 billion . In other words, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, what Pennsylvania owes in pensions for retired and active state employees and public school teachers is only funded at about 60 percent . Pennsylvania ranks 38th in the country . But now the state Senate has approved pension reform legislation which would change pension plans for new state employees and public school teachers. "It's not the perfect dream act that any one of us would have picked. But it does move us forward," said Gov. Tom Wolf. Retired and current workers and teachers are in a defined benefit plan. Under this legislation , new hires would have three options including a 401(k)-style plan. Wolf said he believes a lot of incoming workers might like that approach. "You might want to work for the state for four years. Well, the old defined benefit plan that took a long time to get vested.. And with a 401(k)-style, it's a lot more portable to the

Defusing A Bomb With A Joystick Isn't Easy, So Pittsburgh Company Creates Scale Robotic Arm

RE2 Robotics first spun out of Carnegie Mellon University in 2001 to build off-road vehicles for the U.S. Department of Defense , but now its researchers are working to develop the next generation of robotic arms. The 40 people who work at the Lawrenceville-based company now focus on building arms for robots used to defuse improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. "These are robotic arms that are placed on things that move through the world," said the company's president, Jorgen Pedersen. "A robot can perceive the world, it can move through the world but when it's time to interact with the world, that's where we come in." Pedersen said RE2 is a leader in "mobile manipulators," and their work is more complicated than simply re-purposing robotic arms used in industrial settings. "[The arm] has to be very lightweight. It has to be compact. It has to be power-efficient," he said. "Because it has to fit on a small robot that's running off of a battery." As the company improved the weight-to

Defusing A Bomb With A Joystick Isn't Easy, So Pittsburgh Company Creates Scale Robotic Arm

Can This Green Method Of Disposing Leftover Drilling Water Beat A Hole In The Ground?

Every day, about 200 barrels of something called produced water bubbles out of each of the roughly 9,600 shale gas wells in Pennsylvania. The water is laced with chemicals and minerals, and since energy companies have been fracking gas wells, they have tried to figure out the best way to deal with it. Several companies ship the water to sites in Ohio where it is injected thousands of feet into the ground. It's a cheap solution – one that Shyam Dighe, president and CEO of AquaSource is trying to beat. "What the competition is, is the hole in the ground in Ohio, not GE or Halliburton," Dighe said. "The drillers will take it to the cheapest disposal site. So with that in mind, three of us started this company with a very laser focus that we have to beat the hole in the ground." According to Dighe, the deep injection wells in Ohio charge $3 to $5 a barrel to take fracking water. Depending on how for that water is shipped, it can add an additional $18 per barrel. The practice has also

Can This Green Method Of Disposing Leftover Drilling Water Beat A Hole In The Ground?

Allegheny County Is 3rd Worst In PA For Number Of Women Running For Office

One day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, women, men and children marched in Washington, D.C. and in cities across the country, including Pittsburgh. Women were encouraged to run for office at all levels: federal, state and local. But was that call to action taken to heart, and was it reflected in the recently held Pennsylvania Primary? Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, said there was only one woman candidate for every two male candidates in Allegheny County. That number could be skewed because it also includes judges of elections at the polling places throughout the county. She spoke with 90.5 WESA's Kevin Gavin about women in Pennsylvania politics. Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. KEVIN GAVIN: Immediately following the inauguration of President Trump and the day after the Women's March, there was great enthusiasm — a call for more women candidates for elected offices at various

Allegheny County Is 3rd Worst In PA For Number Of Women Running For Office

CMU Researchers Find If You Can Paint It, You Can Make It A Touch Screen

Touch screens have become part of our everyday lives, but the technology has its limits. They are always relatively flat and are fixed to another product, like a cell phone or a computer. But researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have figured out a way to make just about any object into a touch sensitive device. "We extracted sensing techniques from medical fields and things like that," CMU Human-Computer Interaction Institute Ph.D. student Gierad Laput said. "Very expensive equipment, million-dollar equipment. And we were like, 'Can we make that cheap?'" Laput and his co-researchers boiled the sensor down to a few electrodes and a computer chip that cost less than $100. They figured out that if you put these electrodes on a sheet of carbon-infused plastic used to keep electronics safe from static electricity during shipping, it's possible to send electric pulses among the electrodes. "You say, 'Hey electrode one, shoot a signal.' And then all the others receive it and then you go,

CMU Researchers Find If You Can Paint It, You Can Make It A Touch Screen

Fitzgerald: Partnership With Peduto Critical To The Region's Development

Among the supporters at Mayor Bill Peduto's primary election night victory party was Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. "We've had a good relationship for a long time," Fitzgerald said. "We talk all the time ... we have a very similar outlook in how we try to govern." Fitzgerald has been county executive since January 2012, two years longer than Peduto has been mayor, and he's looking forward to continuing to work together. "It works better for the region when that happens," Fitzgerald said. Without offering specific instances, he said cooperation hasn't always been the case. "When you have conflict [among local leaders], what typically happens is outsiders, meaning Washington, Harrisburg and businesses, tend to walk away," Fitzgerald said. According to the county executive, federal and state officials considering development projects, and businesses considering locating in the area want to be certain that local leaders are in synch. "We're working smoothly together, and I think

Fitzgerald: Partnership With Peduto Critical To The Region's Development

Scanning Feet Could Be Just The Start For This Pittsburgh Tech Firm

In 2007, Mike Formica had just sold his tech start up and was looking for something to do when he was approached by a group of scientists from The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. They wanted a device that would detect joint swelling in the hands of people who suffer arthritis. Formica jumped on board and started to look for a solution, but wasn't happy with what he found. "In the process of looking around the industry, I learned a lot about how 3-D scanning works and I said, 'You know, I think we can make our own,'" Formica said. "So we spent one weekend, we got a laser line level from Lowes and a digital camera and took a bunch of pictures and made our first 3-D image of a Starbuck's cup." He said it was far from perfect. "It looked like it got melted in the sunlight, but you could tell it kind of looked like a cup," Formica said. Once they improved the tool, Formica quickly realized he had something that would work for other industries and threeRivers 3D was

Pennsylvania Is One Of Few States That Has Partisan Judicial Elections

When voters in Allegheny County go to the poles May 16, they will see the names of at least 14 candidates hoping to become a judge. While it is often difficult for parties to find candidates to run for other offices, it is virtually never a problem to fill the slate with lawyers looking to earn a seat on the bench. So why is that? "Let me just say this, looking back on it, it's probably one of the greatest jobs you can have in this country," retired Common Pleas Judge Robert Gallo, 80, said. "It's an honor, it's a privilege because you are judging your contemporaries and it's a great responsibility when you do it." But it's harder for him to answer a different question: is the system used in Pennsylvania the best system? "Well, I don't know," Gallo said. "What's the alternative?" How Pennsylvania does it At both the trial and appellate level in Pennsylvania, lawyers run for a 10-year term as judge in partisan races, which means they identify as being a Republican, Democrat or third

Pennsylvania Is One Of Few States That Has Partisan Judicial Elections

As Medical Cannabis Implemented, Wolf Says PA Not Ready For Recreational Weed

Pennsylvania is on track to have medical cannabis on dispensary shelves come next April, according to Gov. Tom Wolf. However, the legally permissible forms of medical marijuana might be more varied than originally thought. The law, as passed, allows medical cannabis in pills, oils, topical treatments and liquids. "There is no THC in (those) forms of the marijuana," Wolf said. THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the part the creates a high. At the recent World Medical Cannabis Conference in Pittsburgh, state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) told attendees that he expects the medical marijuana will also be available in a smokeable plant form when the dispensaries open for business. Leach, a prime sponsor of the legislation, said there's a provision that allows and advisory panel to recommend increasing the types of permissible medical cannabis including the leaf form. Wolf said the bill only received legislative approval because it did not include the leaf form of marijuana.

As Medical Cannabis Implemented, Wolf Says PA Not Ready For Recreational Weed

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