Assisted by NASA funding, Automotive Resources, Inc. developed the SmartPlug, a new device for igniting fuel in engines. The SmartPlug, a non-fouling, faster, cleaner-burning device for igniting fuel in engines, was developed to be a self-contained ignition system that may be retrofitted to existing engines with no electrical noise. The SmartPlug needs little power for warm-up, requires no electricity at all when the engine is running and has exceptionally high altitude capabilities. In addition to general-purpose applications, such as lawn mowers and chainsaws, SmartPlugs can also be used in the recreational, marine, aviation and automotive industries, as they are not sensitive to moisture and can be used on a variety of engines.
Nitrogen Oxide Reduction
With NASA funding, Precision Combustion, Inc. (PCI) developed the Advanced Technology Catalytic Combustor, which allows cleaner combustion by reducing the formation of nitrogen oxides, while preserving the efficiency of advanced combustion turbine designs. The completed research proved the viability of efficient, cost-effective catalytic reduction of gas turbine nitrogen oxide emissions along with fuel efficiency. The product has been introduced to gas turbine manufacturers to develop a catalytic combustor for their hybrid electric vehicles, with combustion technology that offers emission reductions and cost savings.
NASA funding under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and work with NASA scientists advanced the development of the certification and integration of a thermoelectric deicing system called Thermawing, a DC-powered air conditioner for single-engine aircraft called Thermacool, and high-output alternators to run them both. Thermawing, a reliable anti-icing and deicing system, allows pilots to safely fly through ice encounters and provides pilots of single-engine aircraft the heated wing technology usually reserved for larger, jet-powered craft. Thermacool, an innovative electric air conditioning system, uses a new compressor whose rotary pump design runs off an energy-efficient, brushless DC motor and allows pilots to use the air conditioner before the engine even starts.
Optics for High-speed Ticket Processing
NASA worked closely with scientists and engineers of Texas Instruments, Inc. on a new family of components known as Deformable Mirror Devices (DMD), a type of spatial light modulator (SLM) in which mirrors fabricated monolithically on a silicon chip are deformed, or tilted, under electronic control to modulate, or change the direction of, light that falls upon the mirror. The technology greatly accelerates certain types of image processing and opens up a new range of space, military and civil use applications. The initial application is the DMD 2000 Travel Information Printer for high speed, high volume printing of airline tickets and boarding passes. Other possible applications range from real-time object tracking to advanced industrial machine vision systems.
Virtual Biofeedback Training
Flight simulator research carried out at the Langley Research Center led to an innovative biofeedback video game device used to help people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The biofeedback video game concept evolved from a physiologically adaptive simulator system developed during NASA flight deck research primarily performed by a NASA psychologist and an electrical engineer at Langley. It grew out of work focused on registering and analyzing “hazardous states of awareness,” the inattention that can lead to in-flight accidents and stems from the often monotonous task of piloting a vehicle. The goal of the research was to determine what level of cockpit automation best kept pilots engaged. Using this knowledge of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt to new skill sets, tbe researchers realized that, with practice, pilots could train themselves to stay focused; the work was subsequently transformed into a virtual biofeedback training system.
Jet Lag Prevention
Based on technology developed under a NASA-sponsored study of infrared stress measurement, Ometron’s SPATE 900 Dynamic Stress Analyzer detects stress-induced temperature changes in a structure and indicates the degree of occurring stress. Consisting of a scan unit and a data display, SPATE 900 collects thermal radiation readings and provides stress data by detecting ultra-minute temperature changes resulting from “dynamic loading” the test structure. SPATE is widely used to analyze structural stress in research studies and manufacturing operations involving a wide range of structures, among them air, rail and automotive transportation vehicles, propulsion systems, earth moving equipment, composite materials, transmission towers, mechanical gears, nuclear power plants and marine structures.
Cabin Pressure Devices
As a result of technology developed at NASA, pilots now have a hand-held personal safety device to warn them of potentially dangerous or deteriorating cabin pressure altitude conditions before hypoxia becomes a threat. The Personal Cabin Pressure Altitude Monitor and Warning System monitors cabin pressure to determine when supplemental oxygen should be used according to Federal Aviation Regulations. The device benefits both pressurized and nonpressurized aircraft operations-warning pressurized aircraft when the required safe cabin pressure altitude is compromised, and reminding nonpressurized aircraft when supplemental oxygen is needed. Other applications for this technology include scuba diving, skydiving, mountain climbing, meteorology, altitude chambers, and underwater habitats.
NASA"s Langley Research Center awarded Ballistic Recovery Systems, Inc., three Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts to research and develop a new, low cost, lightweight recovery system for aircraft in both civilian and military markets. The company responded with a unique ballistic parachute system that lowers an entire aircraft to the ground in the event of an emergency. BRS parachutes are designed to provide a safe landing for pilots and passengers while keeping them in their aircraft. They currently fit ultralights, kit-built aircraft, and certified small business aircraft. The parachutes are lifesavers in cases of engine failure, mid-air collisions, pilot disorientation or incapacitation, unrecovered spins, extreme icing, and fuel exhaustion. To date, over 200 lives were saved as a result of a BRS parachute system. With a new NASA contract, BRS is investigating the possibility of installing emergency parachute systems in corporate jets carrying 4 to 12 people.
In 1985, Power Efficiency Corporation of Las Vegas licensed NASA voltage controller technology from Marshall Space Flight Center. In the following years, Power Efficiency made patented improvements to the technology and marketed the resulting products throughout the world as the Performance Controller and the Power Efficiency energy-saving soft start. Soft start gradually introduces power to an electric motor, thus eliminating the harsh, violent mechanical stresses of having the device go from a dormant state to one of full activity; prevents it from running too hot; and increases the motor’s lifetime. The product can pay for itself through the reduction in electricity consumed (according to Power Efficiency, within 3 years), depending on the duty cycle of the motor and the prevailing power rates. In many instances, the purchaser is eligible for special utility rebates for the environmental protection it provides. Common applications of Power Efficiency’s soft start include mixers, grinders, granulators, conveyors, crushers, stamping presses, injection molders, elevators, and escalators. The device has been retrofitted onto equipment at major department store chains, hotels, airports, universities, and for various manufacturers.