John Bertoty co-founder of Blueroof

John Bertoty (right) is Executive Director of Blueroof Technologies, Inc. This is a position John has held for the past 10 years when he founded Blueroof with Robert Walters (left). Listen to one of the sounds you might hear after you enter the front door.


In 2002, John was Academic Principal, McKeesport Area High School, McKeesport, Pennsylvania. John writes that he was “responsible for all aspects of the academic program (1500 Students).”

This following is a photograph of McKeesport Area High School as it is today:

The website All About McKeesport Area High School and Technology Center notes:

“The high school became a Grade 9-12 building with the start of the 2000-2001 school year. In 2003-2004, new additions to the high school building provided room for the five remaining vocational/technical classes that were housed at North Hall. Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Building Construction, Auto Body, and Auto Mechanics are now all a part of the comprehensive high school that offers its entire academic and vocational/technical curriculum under one roof.”

At the same time John was Principal, he also served as Acting Director of Vocational Education with full responsibility for the 700 student vocational/technical center. Indeed, it was John’s passion for vocational educational that led him to join with Robert Walters, a professor of engineering at the local Penn State campus, to create Blueroof.  As Blueroof noted in its initial website: “Blueroof will use innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship to develop state-of-the-art living facilities that will keep senior citizens safer, healthier, and living independently at home as long as possible.”


John Bertoty‘s Facebook picture

John’s perspective focused on the fact that the school system was training workers for technical jobs which required, in Rust-Belt-devastated McKeesport, that the young people leave the area to obtain work. One goal of Blueroof was to keep young, skilled workers in McKeesport constructing badly needed housing for the elderly and disabled who have been left behind by the exodus.

In 1940, McKeesport had a population of 55,000 residents. According to the 2010 Census, McKeesport’s population is 19,731. McKeesport, just outside of Pittsburgh at the junction of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, was steel country.

The largest employer, National Tube Works, once employed 10,000 workers. Now the factory—which graced the cover of postcards—is out of business. At its height, Tube City, as McKeesport was called, took pride in the fact that it was the largest supplier of tubing without seams in the world.

Site of U.S. Steel Tube Works, McKeesport

Tube City established a reputation for innovation which, according to Bob Walters, meant that in the 1950s, McKeesport had more patent attorneys than Pittsburgh. Penn State, the largest university in Pennsylvania established a campus at McKeesport which bore the city’s name, but when the city’s reputation became unsavory, the University changed the campus name to Greater Allegheny.

John Bertoty co-authored a scholarly paper on the program he helped found writing, “In 2005, Blueroof Technologies completed construction and dedication of its model Smart Cottage [shown in the photograph above], located at 400 Spring Street in the Third Ward of McKeesport.

“The model Smart Cottage was built to demonstrate and test the monitoring technology features and functions.  In addition, Blueroof used the Smart Cottage to guide the development of a floor plan that utilized universal design concepts; this enables it to be adapted to the ever-changing and unique personal needs of each individual owner in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“A modular home is a structure designed and built for residential use; constructed in one or more three-dimensional modules in a factory, and transported to the home site for final assembly and completion on a permanent foundation.

“Using modular home construction techniques, the Smart Cottage is easily replicated for new construction at a cost of approximately $150,000, excluding land cost.  About $10,000 (6.7%) of this $150,000 cost is associated with the technology add-ons (materials and labor) to facilitate aging in place.  The basic information technology infrastructure (wiring, controller, basic sensors) adds ~$2,000.  Internet connectivity, a computer server and an enhanced sensor array add ~$3,000.  Networked cameras and a more advanced sensor array add ~$5,000.”


As the first invited guest to spend the night at the Experimental Cottage, it is difficult to describe the feeling of exhilaration I felt sleeping in an apartment designed to meet my specific needs as a person who cannot walk. For about two years, I have been working at Penn State’s Immersive Construction (ICON) Lab working with graduate assistant and 3-D modeller Sonali Kumar to develop a virtual reality demonstration of how residences for elderly and disabled people, such as myself, should be built. The model is based on the reality of the cottage in which I was sleeping and living for two days, using, for example, an expertly designed roll-in shower where I did not fear about falling because the grab bars and shower seat fit so comfortably. I had served as Sonali’s model for the avatar in virtual reality and there were moments when I half expected to bump into myself going into the shower.

avatar in shower

If you go to this link at 9 am, (you do not need to log in, but you may have to wait because only one user can use the remote camera at a time), you will see John Bertoty sipping his one deeply cherished mug of coffee for the day, talking with Bob Walters and Rich Knapick, who designs the remote sensing equipment, and the rest of the crew, planning the day.

My first day of my two night stay, John had me drive my POV [Power Operated Vehicle] scooter to his car and I transferred to the passenger seat and took the tour. We seemed to go everywhere and everywhere we went, everyone knew John Bertoty.

“Sometimes,” John later told me, “I will see someone who was a student I expelled, and he will come up to me and apologize for having behaved so poorly 15 years ago.” John is the kind of guy, a respected former principal who has been in the area for generations, everyone likes. He is well-equipped to coordinate the area’s human and other resources into creating the kind of housing that will revolutionize the construction of residences for the elderly and disabled. All he needs are the right tools.

Praise for Charlotte Ames’ 30 second television report on the benefits of virtual reality

I write to praise television reporter Charlotte Ames. In 30 seconds, using 84 words and directing the camera to show six brief vivid images, WTAJ Nightly News for Central Pennsylvania ran the story at 6 PM, Tuesday, May 3, 2011 on Channel Six: PSU Using Virtual Reality to Help Seniors & Disabled.
Working, as I do, in PSU’s virtual reality lab, one of the most complicated and detail oriented places I have worked in my many decades working, I cannot help but admire Ames’ ability to summarize the story so briefly and to the point.
            The camera shows the following images:
1.     Charlotte Ames introducing the story. Ames presents herself as an attractive serious reporter wearing a blue jacket, a black blouse, and a suitably informal necklace. Behind her are images of the news room. Other visual information reveals that WTAJ is the CBS affiliate in Altoona, that this is the 6 pm newscast, and local weather information streams below her. She speaks quickly and clearly in a manner that conveys that during a busy day, this is something you should know. (She says, Researchers at Penn State are helping to design affordable high-tech homes you can safely stay in as you age. The camera then takes over showing images from Penn State’s Immersive Construction [Icon] lab where Ames continues her voice over.)
2.     A wide-angle view of the cavernous, dark virtual reality lab showing an audience looking at multiple large brightly lit screens.
3.     Graduate research assistant (to Professor John Messner) Sonali Kumar (whose 3-D model may very well establish the national standard for designing future elderly and disability housing) sitting at the controls at the rear of the lab.
4.     A close up of the 3-D virtual reality housing model as an avatar moves closer into a clearly visible kitchen.
5.     Two members of the audience, which includes elderly and disabled residents of State Colleges’ Addison Court, watching.
6.     Robert Walters sitting on a real Amigo Mobility Power Operated Vehicle (POV) scooter shown on a live video screen to McKeesport (a two and a half hour drive away) where he and John Bertoty at Blue Roof Technologies are currently building low-cost, high technology homes in a Bruce Springsteen town where over 20 per cent of the population is elderly.
None of the lab’s video images are identified with the specificity I have provided, but the totality of the experience conveys the gestalt in a way good television can only do.
Eighty-two words—six television images all in 30 seconds. The message: Some very smart and talented people are working to make life better for elderly people in a state that after Florida has the highest percentage of elderly population in the country. [See for yourself. Count the words. Brilliant reporting.]
[[Sad note from your Charlotte Ames enthusiast.
You cannot see for yourself. WTAJ has removed this link. If the bipartisan examination of the 2016 elections has taught the American people anything, it is not to trust the word of a hothead like me telling you on the Internet that I am telling the truth. If I were you I would do what I would do (if the battery on my mobility device were any good), picket WTAJ until the station manager cries uncle and shows you Charlotte Ames’ praiseworthy work.]]