Image courtesy of Ascender.

Tech companies from all over Pittsburgh have made quite an impression on XPRIZE, a leader in seeking innovative solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.

The organization recently announced that 59 teams representing 14 countries advanced to round two of the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, a four-year, $5 million global competition showing how artificial intelligence (AI) technology can tackle various problems. Pittsburgh pulled ahead of every other U.S. city by producing seven chosen teams, including one which made the top 10. The city also came out second globally.

The seven teams that advanced are:

Behaivior — Uses machine learning and wearable tech to support people recovering from opioid addiction. This team was in the top 10.

BlipIQ — Helps memory loss patients keep track of their memories and share them with family and caretakers.

Choitek — Produces low-cost responsive humanoid robots to engage students in STEM education.

CleanRobotics — Produces TrashBot, an automated waste sorter that separates landfill waste from recyclables.

Expii — Combines learning algorithms with crowdsourced interactive lessons to deliver free personalized education with the aid of AI tutoring. (Read more about them in our Meet the UpPrize Impactful Technologies finalists feature.)

Marinus Analytics — Develops artificial intelligence tools to help law enforcement stop human trafficking and rescue victims. (Read about them here and here.)

SCAD AI – Uses a digital assistant to catalyze strategic learning by bridging the work + life continuum.

Of the seven Pittsburgh teams, three — Behaivior, Marinus Analytics, and SCAD AI — are either part of or related to the East Liberty startup incubator and co-working space, Ascender, which has conducted several programs as an XPRIZE partner. (Behaivior formed during a hackathon last January at Ascender for entry into the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, but is now part of the Alphalab accelerator program and Carnegie Mellon University’s Project Olympus incubator.)

“XPRIZE’s mission to solve grand challenges resonates closely with the ethos of our city, and we have exactly the kind of community, values, talent and resources needed to produce winning teams in all of the current and future XPRIZEs,” says Kenny Chen, Ascender’s program director and the region’s XPRIZE ambassador. “I believe that XPRIZE offers the perfect stage for Pittsburgh to shine as a global leader in technological and socially impactful innovation, and I want to see us answer that call.”

Screenshot of Marinus Analytics’s anti-sex trafficking FaceSearch technology. Image courtesy of Marinus Analytics.
Screenshot of Marinus Analytics’s anti-sex trafficking FaceSearch technology. Image courtesy of Marinus Analytics.

Launched in June 2016, the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE will end with three finalists participating in the grand prize competition at the TED 2020 conference. The final winner will be determined based on the results of live in-person and online audience voting during the event.

Teams will also vie for a $3 million grand prize, a $1 million second place prize and a $500,000 third place prize, as well as various $500,000 Milestone Prizes, which will be awarded to 10 teams during the fall of 2018 and 2019.

In other XPRIZE news:

RoboTutor, a Carnegie Mellon Universtiy spin-off company that designs educational apps, became a finalist in the $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE.

Hera Global Tech made it to the semi-finals in the $1 million Women’s Safety XPRIZE competition, which looks for ways to combat sexual assault and harassment. The Pittsburgh-based company created a low-cost device that monitors a wearer’s breathing, heart rate and movement, and alerts responders when she’s in distress.

The Strip District-based aerospace company, Astrobotic, was a frontrunner for the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE before it withdrew from the competition last year. At that point, it was the only team to win all three of the Google Lunar’s Milestone Prizes, all totaling $1.75 million.

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.