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Technology

Top Pittsburgh tech stories for 2017

Aaron Aupperlee
| Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Photo collage of the top Pittsburgh technology stories of 2017. (Photos by Tribune-Review)
Photo collage of the top Pittsburgh technology stories of 2017. (Photos by Tribune-Review)
Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf speaks with TechShop general manager Matt Verlinich they tour TechShop in East Liberty on Wednesday, April 8, 2015.
Tribune-Review
Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf speaks with TechShop general manager Matt Verlinich they tour TechShop in East Liberty on Wednesday, April 8, 2015.
Professional poker player Jason Les squares off Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, against Libratus, an artificial intelligence program playing heads-up, no-limit Texas Hold’em at Rivers Casino.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Professional poker player Jason Les squares off Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, against Libratus, an artificial intelligence program playing heads-up, no-limit Texas Hold’em at Rivers Casino.

The year is coming to a close, and we still don’t have time travel, teleportation or telephones implanted in our skulls.

But plenty else happened in the world of tech in 2017.

Check out some of Pittsburgh’s top tech stories of 2017 and stick around to see what happens next year.

1. Amazon's HQ2

Amazon opened on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, a one-day pickup location on the University of Pittsburgh's campus in Oakland. Jeremy Boren | Tribune-Review

It’s hard to believe that Amazon only announced it was looking for a spot of its second headquarters in September , because this story dominated 2017.

You know the story. Amazon’s offer of 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment sent cities across the continent to their knees, begging, pleading, sending strange gifts, offering prime real estate and piling on tax breaks and economic incentives .

Pittsburgh submitted a bid. So did nearly 240 others . Amazon is expected to announce the winner next spring. 


2. Self-driving cars

Noah Zych, Head of System Safety at Uber ATG, speaks to members of the media on the advancements made in the first year of the self-drivnig cars in Pittsburgh, at their offices in the Strip District on Sept. 20, 2017. Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review

Uber was everywhere this year, nationally, mostly for all the wrong reasons , and locally, for its continued testing of self-driving cars on Pittsburgh’s streets. The company celebrated a year of testing in May and hit the 1 million mile mark in September.

But 2017 was the year the self-driving car race got crowded in Pittsburgh. Ford invested $1 billion in the previously-unheard-of, Pittsburgh-born-and-bred, autonomous vehicle startup Argo AI. Aurora Innovation, sporting a dream-team of self-driving gurus, opened up shop. Aptiv, formerly Delphi, announced major plans to expand its autonomous car operations in the city , and other, more stealthier , operations are in the works around town.

And if self-driving cars are already “old news” for you, don’t worry. Pittsburgh is already working on self-flying cars.


3. Libratus

Professional poker player Daniel McAulay says he and other humans understimated Libratus, an artificial intelligence program playing heads-up, no-limit Texas Hold'em on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, at Rivers Casino. Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review

This year was also the year we were humbled by the power of machines.

If artificial intelligence hasn’t made a bid for your job, just wait; it’s coming.

Perhaps no one felt more humbled — and that’s being nice — by artificial intelligence than four of the top poker players in the world who were absolutely destroyed by Libratus , a poker-playing AI developed at Carnegie Mellon University.

Heads-up, no-limit, Texas Hold’em poker was seen as a last bastion of human supremacy as computers had already toppled the best players in checkers, chess, “Jeopardy,” Go and other games. The four humans lost, badly, very badly.

And in its absolute victory, Libratus was only flexing the muscles of what artificial intelligence is really capable of.


4. TechShop

Nick Thompson sorts papers and products for his business, Portable Espresso, which he started at and ran out of TechShop in Pittsburgh. Thompson cleared out his stuff when he heard TechShop filed for bankruptcy and was locking its doors. Aaron Aupperlee | Tribune-Review

News that Pittsburgh’s TechShop location in Bakery Square was slated to close galvanized the city’s community of makers, tinkerers and entrepreneur to save it .

Meetings were held; support was garnered; money was raised. Not even an all-out bankruptcy by TechShop and the immediate closure of all its locations nationwide stopped the momentum of those determined keep a maker space open in Pittsburgh.

Here's to 2018 being a big year for Protohaven, a nonprofit maker space by former TechShop members.


5. Aquion

Anodes displayed off of the assembly line on their way to assembly at Aquion Energy's production facility on Technology Drive near Mt. Pleasant in September 2014. Tribune-Review

It wasn’t all roses in 2017 tech.

Aquion, a promising, Pittsburgh-based battery company with a manufacturing facility in Westmoreland County, ran out of money and went bankrupt .

The company had raised about $190 million from investors, including Bill Gates, and received more than $13 million in state incentives but could still not compete with the falling prices of lithium ion batteries and the mega companies producing them.

An American company with Chinese financial support bought Aquion and moved its operations to China .

Jay Whitacre, the Carnegie Mellon University materials science and engineering professor who founded Aquion Energy in 2009, stayed in Pittsburgh. He is now the director of the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation. 

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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