10 Innovations Coming Out Of Pittsburgh That Will Change Life As We Know It

Change is hard. But changing the game is nearly impossible. Yet somehow, it’s happening in Pittsburgh

The city has gone from steel to startups, attracting top tech companies like Uber, Apple, Google, and Facebook. But Pittsburgh is doing more than attracting innovative companies, it’s innovating from within. And here’s proof, 10 game-changing innovations coming out of Pittsburgh that will change this city (and the world) as we know it.

Moon-Bound Deliveries

Astrobotics pittsburgh rover x prize

Pittsburgh-based, CMU spin-off company, Astrobotics is pioneering planetary exploration, science, tourism and resource utilization. The plan is for Astrobotics to send a lander to the moon, delivering payloads for companies, governments and the like. In the process, the hope is that they’ll also land $30M from Google as part of the XPRIZE Challenge – a competition that asked engineers and entrepreneurs to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration – for being the first privately-funded company to land on and explore the moon’s surface.

A 360-degree GoPro

When it comes to shooting first-person video, especially the action oriented kind, GoPro is pretty great. But, a Pittsburgh company has taken this kind of GoPro-esque video to a whole new level. 360fly has created a camera that shoots full 360-degree horizontal, and 240-degree vertical, video. By the way, they’ve also landed more than $20 million in funding ahead of their Spring 2015 launch – that will include an online platform for its videos, as well as iPhone and Android apps.

Landmine Seeking Robot

mine detecting robots pittsburgh carneige mellon univeristy

Detecting and neutralizing landmines is a dangerous job. Kind of goes without saying. So in an effort to protect soldiers and civilians on the ground, the Army wants a few good robots that can do the job. Except these sorts of robots don’t exist…yet. That’s why the Department of Defense awarded Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Robots with $23 million dollars to build Autonomous Mine Detection System (AMDS) capable of detecting, marking and neutralizing landmines.

Personalizing Cancer Diagnostics

Helomics pittsburgh cancer

The company formerly known as Precision Therapeutics changed its named, but kept its Pittsburgh HQ when raised $60M and became Helomics. The name change, made to avoid confusion stemming from the fact that therapeutics implies they are manufacturing a drug, was followed-up with changes in leadership. Still, the companies personalized approach to diagnosis and treating cancer remains the focus. Comprehensive tumor profiling allows physicians and patients to better understand treatment options, allowing for informed treatment decisions personalized to the patient’s’ specific tumor genetics.

DIY Robots for Kids

Nowadays a lot of people talk about STEM education. You know, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. But instead of just talking about it, Tom Lauwers, of BirdBrain Technologies, is bringing STEM to life by way of the Finch and Hummingbird Duo robot kits. The former teaches coding, while the latter supplies the tools and components for students to build their own robots. Best of all, these bot-building units are finding their way to underserved communities via library-based loaner programs that make computer sciences and engineering fun and accessible.

Next Generation Payment Cards

credit cards pittsburgh

In an increasingly interconnected work environment, privacy and security are always a concern – especially when it comes to payment processing. That’s where Dynamics comes in. From their Cheswick headquarters, Dynamics is pioneering advanced payment platforms. In the last six months they’ve announce a $70 million in series C funding and announced a partnership with MasterCard that allows the user to turn their card on and off using a secret code. The card number and security code both change every time the card is unlocked.

Driverless Cars

driverless car pittsburgh pa

Ridesharing is pretty straightforward. Uber and Lyft upgraded old taxi and jitney services via an app. Which was great. Still, there’s someone driving the car. But not for long. At least not if Uber has their way. In a move to outdo Google, one of their main investors, Uber “partnered” with CMU and its National Robotics Engineering Center to build an autonomous vehicle. That’s a car with no driver. Which, of course, is insane! That’s almost as crazy as the level of talent that was at the CMU-affiliated center. According to Tech Crunch, Uber “cleaned out” the Robotics Institute, hiring off some 50 senior scientists. Help wanted!

Turning Garbage into Garments

thread international pittsburgh

Recycling plastic bottles is one thing. Taking those bottles and turning them into fabric, is innovative. Doing it while creating jobs in a country stricken with poverty and unemployment is game changing. And that’s exactly what Thread, a Pittsburgh-based startup, is doing. Thread Founder, and Pittsburgh native, Ian Rosenberg traveled to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. He saw the devastation first hand. Since then he’s been working on creating a solution that includes creating jobs in Haiti by paying locals to pick up plastic waste, which is turned into fabric. Collaborations, like the Moop messenger bag, are just the start for this startup.

Firefighting Drones

Firefighting Drones cmu

The US Office of Naval Research has a 5 foot 10 inch tall robot that will be used to fight fires on naval vessels. But in order for that robot, known as SAFFiR, to fight said fire, it needs to know where the fire actually is. Enter, the “micro-flyer” quadcopter developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, in collaboration with the spin-off company Sensible Machines. The plan is that this drone sidekick heads out into, what’s sure to be, dark, smoke-filled hallways of the ship hunting for the fire. If it finds one, it transmits the location to SAFFiR, dispatching the robot into action. Day. Saved.

The Snake Monster 


There’s a program underway aimed at designing and building robots more rapidly while, at the same time, improving their ability to move in natural environments. The program, known as Maximum Mobility Manipulation, is sponsored by DARPA. And one of the researcher stepping up to deliver on this challenge hails from CMU’s Robotics Institute. Professor Howie Choset designed the Snake Monster, a modular that was designed in six months and programed in one week! But, even at that rapid rate of development, this robot can still maneuver around objects and adjust to being kicked, pushed or pulled around.