Cool Tech in Pittsburgh

Much has been written about how the Pittsburgh area has reinvented itself from a steel city to a tech town, how the region has held up as the gleaming example of never-say-die renewal.

The region’s technology sector is rich with diversity, from robotics to biomedicine to green endeavors. Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh are deservedly two of the names that lead the way when talk turns to tech. But what are the others? Truth is, dozens of local companies and organizations make contributions, building Pittsburgh’s reputation bit by byte. We’ve collected just a handful, a showcase of some of the coolest tech companies in town. Prepare to be impressed.


Cardiorobotics has built several generations of snake robot platforms, which allow minimally invasive procedures to be performed in parts of the anatomy that were previously very difficult or even impossible to reach.

Apangea Learning

Math tutors can be exceptionally helpful to students, but they can be expensive, and arranging the logistics of where, when and how to meet can be troublesome. Apangea Learning says its Web-based SmartHelp tutoring solution helps students dramatically improve their achievement at a cost-effective price. Each student receives differentiated instruction, thanks to its intelligent tutoring technology system and its roster of certified teachers, who tutor students one-on-one online.

The system, designed to actively engage students and teach fundamental problem-solving skills, is based, says Apangea, on one of the world’s largest bodies of cognitive research, conducted by the U.S. Air Force. Apangea, based in downtown Pittsburgh, says that, to date, more than 150,000 middle- and high-school students have used its award-winning math-tutoring services.


One of the most innovative players in Pittsburgh’s biomedicine space is Cardiorobotics. The company has built several generations of snake robot platforms, which allow minimally invasive procedures to be performed in parts of the anatomy that were previously very difficult or even impossible to reach.

Picture the flexible “follow-the-leader” movement of a snake. The Cardiorobotics robots replicate that movement, allowing the operating physician to enter through a single point of the body then move along a variety of circuitous paths carrying instruments and a camera for constant visual monitoring along the way.

Dr. Howie Choset, associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the company’s founders, cites Pittsburgh’s unique combination of assets for making it a perfect home for his company. “Pittsburgh is the only place in the world that has world-class robotics at CMU, world-class medicine at UPMC and AGH [Allegheny General Hospital], and world-class enterprise development from organizations like the PLSG [Pittsburgh Life Science Greenhouse] and the Technology Collaborative,” he says.

Carnegie Speech Co.

Carnegie Speech Co. develops software for teaching and assessing spoken-language skills using state-of-the-art speech-recognition and artificial-intelligence technology licensed from CMU. With a worldwide student base in the fields of business, government, education, health care and education, downtown-based Carnegie Speech offers software that provides spoken-language instruction that is cost-effective and personalized. The downtown-based company’s specialized programs include Aviation English for international pilots, SpeakIraqi for defense personnel and NativeAccent, which helps international business people and immigrants to the U.S. learn English.


Type Less. Talk More!” is the idea behind Concert-oh, a free site that allows users to experience Web-based meetings with multiple attendees that can include audio, video (with a webcam) and sharing of photos, videos and documents. Powered by Chorus Call, a Monroeville-based company that for years has provided multimedia collaboration services to clients all over the world, Concert-oh is completely Web-based, so users do not need to download or install software, and the user interface is designed for elegance and simplicity.

According to the company, Concert-oh is attracting an audience of social-savvy users who want to virtually gather in a way that provides the richest possible experience. Users can upload photos and documents, download recordings of previous meetings, and the specialized Town Hall feature includes a Q & A window that allows political candidates to moderate sessions with potential voters and others.

deep local

For the 2010 World Cup, Deeplocal built a system for collecting social media messages in 16 different languages and displaying them on largest building in Johannesburg.



Deeplocal has received national attention for its fun, useful projects for such clients as Nike, EA Sports, The Gap and others. The company focuses on usability and simplicity to provide ways for transit riders to track current arrival times with RouteShout. One Deeplocal project that created quite a buzz was the Nike Chalkbot, an ingenious machine that traveled the roads of the 2009 Tour de France, spraying chalk messages of inspiration sent by social media users from around the world.

During the past two years, the company has racked up dozens of awards, including a Grand Prix at Cannes for its work in advertising. “Deeplocal is an art group disguised as a technology company,” says CEO Nathan Martin. “We built the company around the team’s passions and unique history. This allows us to basically make interactive art for a living.” Martin adds that he expects Deeplocal to continue to grow locally with more large-scale projects on the way.

Electric Owl Studios

Electric Owl Studios, a spinoff of CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center, creates technology for children that is intuitive to use and inspires creativity and exploration. The company’s first project, Kids Interactive Creation Kiosk (K.I.C.K.), is designed to ease children’s anxiety while they wait to see the doctor by giving them fun and creative games to play, and units are now used in hospitals in 27 states and on three continents.

Electric Owl, located in East Liberty, produces software, games and kiosks for children online and on-site, including at museums and at theme parks.

“We have given ourselves the task of providing an outlet for children’s creativity, and infusing joy into a situation where it’s sometimes greatly needed, such as in hospitals,” says Richard Cunningham, vice president of marketing for Electric Owl. “We get to think of new ways for people of all ages to play, learn, express, create and share.”

GreenOx Catalysts

GreenOx Catalysts Inc. is one of the companies leading the way in local environmental tech. Another CMU start-up, GreenOx uses a non-toxic oxidation technology to create environmentally safe cleaning products that reduce energy, water and chemical usage, lower the cost of waste disposal and improve efficiency. According to Colin Horwitz, chief technology officer, GreenOx uses emerging technology such as cloud computing tools to operate a global startup from the company’s base in Oakland.

GreenOx has international collaborations in Australia, China, England and elsewhere helping to find new and novel ways to use the technology. The goal, Horwitz says, is to allow GreenOx technology to “make the broadest impact in the shortest amount of time.” As CEO Tim Hall notes, “Pittsburgh is an excellent place for early-stage businesses” thanks to entrepreneurial support from organizations such as Innovation Works.

Later this year, the company is poised for a break-out, Horwitz says, with a new “truly green” laundry detergent for commercial laundries.


Speech recognition, something that very young children quickly master, has turned out to be one of the most difficult challenges for computers. It’s difficult even when attempting to recognize normal, everyday language, let alone something as complex as doctor-speak.

Yet Squirrel Hill-based M*Modal has developed a state-of-the-art speech-recognition technology that translates physician dictation in real time into searchable, structured electronic health records. The company’s AnyModal CDS (conversational documentation service) technology captures medical facts and orders for treatment in a way that, according to M*Modal, is highly accurate, shareable, increases patient safety, promotes continuity of care and reduces cost.


Imagine an electronic device with a bright color display like an iPad that’s also thin and rollable like a map. Plextronics is producing the technology that will enable electronic devices to be printed similarly to how magazines are now.

Furthermore, the company says its next-generation OLED (organic light-emitting diodes) displays for cell phones and televisions are crisper, brighter and more energy-efficient than current displays.

Plextronics CEO Andy Hannah says that when the company spun out of CMU in 2002, it could have picked anywhere to begin the business, but chose Pittsburgh because of the talent base coming out of local universities and industry and their desire to form partnerships with local world-leading companies. Plextronics, based near Springdale, has grown from four employees to 70, with approximately 50 percent moving to Pittsburgh for their jobs. “By 2015,” Hannah predicts, “Plextronics technology will enable hundreds of printed electronics used by tens of millions of end users.”


yinz cam

YinzCam’s apps give fans exclusive access to replays and live stats while they’re in their seats, or at the concession stand.



What kid (or cool adult) doesn’t like robots? Robomatter is an online robotics store that provides easy-to-use robotics educational learning resources. The products sold were created under the license of CMU, and much of it is based around the LEGO Mindstorms series of robotics systems.

Robotics integrates math, science, engineering and technology in ways that motivate and excite students. The array of Robomatter goods are designed to demonstrate fundamental math and science, promote technological literacy and use a “hands-on, minds-on” context that appeals to students.

Robin Shoop, director of the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy, says the current focus is “to integrate artificial intelligence and gaming into robotic virtual worlds where kids learn to program robots and other animated characters as they play an online game.”

Schell Games

It’s undeniably cool when one of your products is named by TIME magazine as a “Top 10 Toy of the Year.” South Side-based Schell Games describes itself as a full-service game-design and -development studio that specializes in creating innovative interactive experiences.

CEO Jesse Schell, a former creative director at Disney Imagineering Virtual Reality Studio and a faculty member of CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center, founded the company in 2004. Since then it has added an office in Austin, Texas, and most recently its Toy Story Mania was named by TIME as “Fourth-Best Toy of the Year. “ Based on a popular Disney theme park ride that shares its name, Toy Story Mania is a 3D gaming system that plugs directly into a TV without the need for a console. Schell Games also is known for its work on the Nintendo DSi system and other platforms.


Shadyside-based ShowClix is a full-service online ticketing company that is successfully taking on long-established goliaths like Ticketmaster by appealing to venues, promoters, artists and fans around the world. The ShowClix site combines an open, live-music database with an easy-to-use ticketing solution. Tickets are delivered exclusively by electronic means, which saves overhead and money for sellers and buyers.

ShowClix even developed a way to deliver tickets via MMS (text messages with images) in order to reach the broadest audience quickly. Co-founders Lynsie Camuso, president, and Joshua Dziabiak, CEO, have created a work environment at ShowClix that fosters innovation through fun, which is reflected by the office’s free cereal bar.


Songwhale is an interactive media company with headquarters in Lawrenceville and sales offices around the world. Songwhale allows companies to reach consumers with marketing campaigns on multiple platforms, including mobile devices and tablets, via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and direct-to-device.

The company works with NFL teams, major league baseball, fast-food chains and many others to reach consumers with special offers that they can act upon immediately, directly from their mobile phones or from other devices. At sporting events, for example, the Songwhale team helps clients reach guests with coupons for promotional merchandise or seating upgrades.

Dana Monaco, who works in business development for Songwhale, says the company has an international flair. “Even though we’re a startup, we have influence from so many cultures. With offices in China and Indonesia, and half the Pittsburgh office being from outside of Pittsburgh, we are a diverse and crazy group.”


YinzCam is a company built by sports fans, for sports fans,” says Priya Narasimhan, CEO and founder. “We love technology and we love sports, and we get to put them together for a living!”

YinzCam develops applications for mobile devices, including iPhones, iPads and Android devices, that give fans access to live video replays, stats and news. YinzCam’s first partner was the Pittsburgh Penguins, and since then it has added the NHL’s Washington Capitals, the NFL’s Steelers, Patriots, Falcons and 49ers, and the NBA’s Wizards. The company’s Penguins app even lets users isolate video on a particular player, like Sidney Crosby, while they’re at the game.

Along the way, YinzCam has received rave press from both the tech and sports media. “Being a Carnegie Mellon spinoff, we pride ourselves on creating more intellectual property and more breakthrough, unprecedented technologies in the sports landscape,” says Narasimhan. “We hope to leverage more platforms than just mobile devices. We want the name YinzCam to become synonymous with the ultimate fan experience.”


LifeVest is the world’s first and only wearable defibrillator, and it was invented and is manufactured and sold here by ZOLL’s Pittsburgh facility. The Blawnox company is a subsidiary of ZOLL Medical Corp., based in Massachusetts.

The amazing device is non-invasive and is worn by patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). It allows patients to return to their daily activities while having the peace of mind that they are protected from SCA.

The life vest does not require bystander intervention and continually monitors a patient’s heart. If it detects a life-threatening rhythm, a gel is automatically released over the defibrillation pads, and the device delivers a treatment shock to restore normal heart rhythm.

Just one more in a long list of astounding medical advances to be born in the ’Burgh.

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