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South Fayette alum creates low oxygen alert device

| Saturday, April 1, 2017, 12:33 a.m.
Eric Wise graduated South Fayette High School in 2010 and Carnegie Mellon University in 2014 with a double major — bachelor’s degree in mechanical and biomedical engineering and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
Eric Wise graduated South Fayette High School in 2010 and Carnegie Mellon University in 2014 with a double major — bachelor’s degree in mechanical and biomedical engineering and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Eric Wise graduated South Fayette High School in 2010 and Carnegie Mellon University in 2014 with a double major — bachelor's degree in mechanical and biomedical engineering and a master's degree in mechanical engineering.

He then worked as a mechanical engineer in the robotics industry, completed data analyst work in Westinghouse's nuclear component engineering division and assisted with research at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute.

But it was his grandparents who inspired him to be the inventor-entrepreneur he is today.

“When I was a junior at CMU, both of my grandparents were using medical oxygen therapy,” Wise said. “It is not the most convenient experience because you have to be constantly checking how much gas is left in the cylinder to ensure it does not run out. So I decided to design a device that would display exactly how much time remained until the cylinder was empty and then sound an alarm.”

CMU has a program called the Small Undergraduate Research Grant into which he was accepted. That gave him some money to pursue an independent research project and to develop a first prototype of the device. He worked on the gas sensor project in his spare time while employed in the robotics field.

He was accepted into the National Science Foundation I-Corps program at CMU which provided additional funding to further refine his product.

He learned that in the gas distribution business, the primary cost is not the gas itself, but distributing it in large metal cylinders to customers. About 180 million tanks are used globally every year; delivery expenses add up to 40 percent of distribution costs.

Distributors, however, have no way of knowing when to make the next delivery to a customer because they do not know when the customer will run out of gas.

Wise's smart sensor device is attached to the cylinder and determines how much gas is at each customer site and communicates that information back to the distributors wireless connections. The distributors then know exactly when to make their next delivery.

After determining the commercial viability of his technology, he formed the company BreatheWise and decided to work on this venture full-time.

BreatheWise was accepted into a Pittsburgh accelerator called AlphaLab Gear, which provides investment and mentoring to startups. It is a subsidiary of Innovation Works — a partnership between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and various private foundations.

Last year his company presented at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, and was featured in the June 2016 issue of Gas World Magazine, among other trade publications. BreatheWise was awarded a patent on this technology.

“We are now expanding from strictly compressed gases into some liquefied gases as well as home propane,” Wise said. “We also have some inquiries from a number of foreign countries regarding solutions for the propane market.”

He gives back to the community by being a CMU alumni interviewer and a coach for the McGinnis Venture Competition, an entrepreneurial competition for CMU students. Among his other activities include membership with the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and the Teutonia Männerchor, a 163-year-old German choral and cultural organization on the North Side.

“Starting a company is very challenging, but it is a very rewarding experience if one has the determination to see it through,” he said.

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Charlotte Smith is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. Reach her at 724-693-9441 or

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