Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
In order for NASA astronauts to explore the solar system, they will need to travel not just as pioneers but as settlers, learning to live off the land. Current mission needs have NASA scientists exploring ways to extract oxygen from the lunar soil and potable water from human wastes. One of the basic goals, however, will be for pioneering space travelers to learn to grow and manage their own crops. This requires the development of space-age greenhouses where astronaut farmers can experiment with harvesting large-scale food crops.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
Beginning in 1968, NASA began researching garments to help astronauts stay cool. The Agency designed the Apollo space suits to use battery-powered pumps to circulate cool water through channels in the inner layers of the garments. This led to commercial cooling vests for patients with heat control disorders (first featured in Spinoff 1979) and for workers in heat stress occupations (featured in Spinoff 1982).
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
Since designing the first space suits in the 1950s, NASA has been interested in developing materials to keep astronauts comfortable and cool. In order to protect an astronaut from the extreme temperatures in space, engineers at Johnson Space Center created liquid-cooled garments that run water in small channels throughout the suit in what is called an active control system. However, in the 1980s, NASA began to investigate passive control strategies—fabric that could control temperature without pumped liquids—building on work by the U.S. Air Force.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
Johnson Space Center, NASA’s center for the design of systems for human space flight, began developing high-resolution visual displays in the 1990s for telepresence, which uses virtual reality technology to immerse an operator into the environment of a robot in another location. Telepresence is used by several industries when virtual immersion in an environment is a safer option, including remote training exercises and virtual prototyping, as well as remote monitoring of hazardous environments. Microdisplay panels, the tiny screens that comprise the visual displays for telepresence, are also used in some electronic viewfinders for digital video and still cameras.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
Recently, NASA’s Stardust mission used a block of aerogel to catch high-speed comet particles and specks of interstellar dust without damaging them, by slowing down the particles from their high velocity with minimal heating or other effects that would cause their physical alteration. This amazing accomplishment, bringing space particles back to Earth, was made possible by the equally amazing properties of aerogel.
Due to its extremely light weight and often translucent appearance, aerogel is often called solid smoke. Barely denser than air, this smoky material weighs virtually nothing. In fact, it holds the world record for being the world’s lightest solid—one of 15 records granted it by Guinness World Records. It is truly an amazing substance: able to hold up under temperatures of 3,000 °F. Aerogels have unsurpassed thermal insulation values (providing three times more insulation than the best fiberglass), as well as astounding sound and shock absorption characteristics.
As a class, aerogels, composed of silicone dioxide and 99.8 percent air, have the highest thermal insulation value, the highest specific surface area, the lowest density, the lowest speed of sound, the lowest refractive index, and the lowest dielectric constant of all solid materials. They are also extremely fragile. Similar in chemical structure to glass, though 1,000 times less dense, they are often prone to breaking when handling—seemingly their only drawback—aside from their cost.
Invented nearly 80 years ago, aerogels are typically hard-to-handle and costly to manufacture by traditional means. For these reasons, the commercial industry found it difficult to manufacture products incorporating the material. However, a small business partnered with NASA to develop a flexible aerogel concept and a revolutionary manufacturing method that cut production time and costs, while also solving the handling problems associated with aerogel-based insulation products.
These robust, flexible forms of aerogel can now be manufactured into blankets, thin sheets, beads, and molded parts.
James Fesmire, senior principal investigator at Kennedy Space Center’s Cryogenics Test Laboratory, and one of the key inventors of this new technology, says of the advancements, “This aerogel blanket insulation is not only the world’s best insulator, but, combined with its favorable environmental and mechanical characteristics, also opens the door to many new design possibilities for buildings, cars, electrical power, and many industrial process systems.”
Aspen Aerogels Inc., of Northborough, Massachusetts, an independent company spun off from Aspen Systems Inc., rose to the challenge of creating a robust, flexible form of aerogel by working with NASA through a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract with Kennedy. That contract led to further partnerships for the development of thermal insulation materials, manufacturing processes, and new test methods. This collaboration over many years was a pivotal part for the founding of NASA’s Cryogenics Test Laboratory.
Aspen responded to NASA’s need for a flexible, durable, easy-to-use aerogel system for cryogenic insulation for space shuttle launch applications. For NASA, the final product of this low thermal conductivity system was useful in applications such as launch vehicles, space shuttle upgrades, and life support equipment. The company has since used the same manufacturing process developed under the SBIR to expand its product offerings into the more commercial realms, making aerogel available for the first time as a material that can be handled and installed just like standard insulation. The development process culminated in an “R&D 100” award for Aspen Aerogels and Kennedy in 2003.
According to Fesmire, “This flexible aerogel insulation idea originated 16 years ago. The problem was to make the world’s best insulation material in an easy-to-use form at an affordable price. All these goals have now been achieved through many years of dedicated work.”
Based on its work with NASA, Aspen has developed three different lines of aerogel products: Cryogel, Spaceloft, and Pyrogel. Its work has also infused back into the Space Program, as Kennedy is an important customer.
Cryogel is a flexible insulation, with or without integral vapor barrier, for sub-ambient temperature and cryogenic pipelines, vessels, and equipment. It comes as flexible aerogel blanket insulation engineered to deliver maximum thermal protection with minimal weight and thickness and zero water vapor permeability. Its unique properties—extremely low thermal conductivity, superior flexibility, compression resistance, hydrophobicity, and ease of use—make it an ideal thermal protection for cryogenic applications.
Spaceloft also comes in flexible blanket form and is easy to use. (It can be cut using conventional textile cutting tools, including scissors, electric scissors, and razor knives.) It is designed to meet the demanding requirements of industrial, commercial, and residential applications. Spaceloft is a proven, effective insulator in the oil and gas industries, building and construction, aerospace, automotive, cold chain, and other industries requiring maximum thermal protection within tight space and weight constraints. Spaceloft is used for low-pressure steam pipes, vessels, and equipment; sub-sea pipelines, hot pipes, vessels, and equipment; footwear and outdoor apparel. Other applications include tents, insulation for interior wall renovation, mobile home exteriors, tractor heat shielding, bus heat shielding, hot water pipes, and solar panels.
Pyrogel is used in medium-to-high pressure steam pipes, vessels, and equipment; aerospace and defense applications; fire barriers; welding blankets; footwear and outdoor apparel. Applications have included insulating an entire polycarbonate plant, a reactor exterior, high- altitude boots, water and gas piping, tubing bundles, yacht exhausts, large vessels, exhaust ducts, ships’ boilers, and underground steam lines. The insulation has been proven to be an effective underfoot barrier to extreme cold in the form of insoles for climbers on Mt. Everest, where their light weight and flexibility are also prized. They have even been tested as insoles for ultramarathoners—runners who jog past the 26.2 mile standard marathon distance and sometimes up to 100 miles at a time—who prize
the material for its light weight and excellent heat- insulating properties.
It is not just industry and the commercial realm that are benefiting from Aspen’s products, though. The work has come full circle, and Aspen is a regular provider of aerogel insulation to NASA, where the material is used on many diverse projects, for space shuttle applications, interplanetary propulsion, and life support equipment. On the space shuttle, it is used as an insulation on the external tank vent’s quick-disconnect valve, which releases at liftoff and reaches temperatures of -400 °F. It is also found on the shuttle launch pad’s fuel cell systems. At Stennis Space Center’s E-3 engine test stand, the blankets are used on the liquid oxygen lines.
In the laboratory, NASA scientists are working to incorporate insulating Aspen aerogels with new polymer materials to create a new category of materials and to create composite foam fillers.
Sponsored by NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, engineers are experimenting with the products to create an insulating material that could replace poured and molded foams for a plethora of applications, including in test facilities, on launch pads, and even on spacecraft.
Cryogel™, Spaceloft™, and Pyrogel™ are trademarks of Aspen Aerogels Inc.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
In addition to the mammoth engineering challenge posed by launching a cargo-laden craft into space for a long-distance mission, keeping the crews safe and healthy for these extended periods of time in space poses further challenges, problems for which NASA scientists are constantly seeking new answers. Obstacles include maintaining long-term food supplies, ensuring access to clean air and potable water, and developing efficient means of waste disposal—all with the constraints of being in a spacecraft thousands of miles from Earth, and getting farther every minute. NASA continues to overcome these hurdles, though, and is in the process of designing increasingly efficient life support systems to make life aboard the International Space Station sustainable for laboratory crews, and creating systems for use on future lunar laboratories and the upcoming long trip to Mars.
Ideal life support systems for these closed environments would take up very little space, consume very little power, and require limited crew intervention—these much-needed components would virtually disappear while doing their important jobs. One NASA experiment into creating a low-profile life support system involved living ecosystems in contained environments. Dubbed the Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems (CELSS) these contained systems attempted to address the basic needs of crews, meet stringent payload and power usage restrictions, and minimize space occupancy by developing living, regenerative ecosystems that would take care of themselves and their inhabitants—recreating Earth-like conditions.
Years later, what began as an experiment with different methods of bioregenerative life support for extended-duration, human-crewed space flight, has evolved into one of the most widespread NASA spinoffs of all time.
In the 1980s, Baltimore-based Martin Marietta Corporation worked with NASA to test the use of certain strains of microalgae as a food supply, oxygen source, and a catalyst for waste disposal as part of the CELSS experiments. The plan was for the microalgae to become part of the life support system on long-duration flights, taking on a plethora of tasks with minimal space, energy, and maintenance requirements. During this research, the scientists discovered many things about the microalgae, realizing ultimately that its properties were valuable to people not only in space, but here on Earth, as a nutritional supplement. The scientists, fueled by these discoveries, spun off from Martin Marietta, and in 1985, formed Martek Biosciences Corporation, in Columbia, Maryland.
Now, after two decades of continued research on the same microalgae studied for use in long-duration space flight, Martek has developed into a major player in the nutrition field, with over 500 employees and annual revenue of more than $270 million. The reach of the company’s space-developed product, though, is what is most impressive. Martek’s main products, life’sDHA and life’sARA, both of which trace directly back to the original NASA CELSS work, can be found in over 90 percent of the infant formulas sold in the United States, and are added to the infant formulas sold in over 65 additional countries. With such widespread use, the company estimates that over 24 million babies worldwide have consumed its nutritional additives.
Outside of the infant formula market, Martek’s commercial partners include General Mills Inc., Yoplait USA Inc., Odwalla Inc., Kellogg Company, and Dean Foods Company’s WhiteWave Foods division (makers of the Silk, Horizon Organic, and Rachel’s brands).
Why would so many people consume these products? The primary ingredient is one of the building blocks of health: A fatty acid found in human breast milk, known to improve brain function and visual development, which recent studies have indicated plays a significant role in heart health. It is only introduced to the body through dietary sources, so supplements containing it are in high demand.
The primary discovery Martek made while exploring properties of microalgae for use in long-duration space flights was identifying Crypthecodinium cohnii, a strain of algae that produces docosahexaenoc acid (DHA) naturally and in high quantities. Using the same principles, the company also patented a method for developing another fatty acid that plays a key role in infant health, arachidonic acid (ARA). This fatty acid, it extracts from the fungus Mortierella alpina.
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid, naturally found in the body, which plays a key role in infant development and adult health. Most abundant in the brain, eyes, and heart, it is integral in learning ability, mental development, visual acuity, and in the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease.
Approximately 60 percent of the brain is composed of structural fat (the gray matter), of which nearly half is composed of DHA. As such, it is an essential building block for early brain development, as well as a key structural element in maintaining healthy brain functioning through all stages of life. It is especially important in infancy, though, when the most rapid brain growth occurs—the human brain nearly triples in size during the first year of life. Breast milk, which is generally two-thirds fat, is a chief source for DHA for children, both a testament to the body’s need for this substance and an argument for sustainable sources that can be added to infant formula. Studies have shown that adults, too, need DHA for healthy brain functioning, and that the important chemical is delivered through the diet.
DHA is also a key component in the structural fat that makes up the eye, and is vital for visual development and ocular health. The retina, for example, contains a high concentration of DHA, which the body forms from nutritious fats in the diet. With heart tissue, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found supporting evidence that DHA consumption may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
This important compound, previously only found in human breast milk, and with undeniable nutritional value, is now available throughout the world. It is one example of how NASA research intended to sustain life in space has found its way back to Earth, where it is improving the lives of people everywhere.
life’sDHA™ and life’sARA™ are trademarks of Martek Biosciences Corporation.
Silk®, Horizon Organic®, and Rachel’s® are registered trademarks of the WhiteWave Foods Company.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
Developed by Jonathan Lee, a structural materials engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center, and PoShou Chen, a scientist with Huntsville, Alabama-based Morgan Research Corporation, MSFC-398 is a high-strength aluminum alloy able to operate at high temperatures. The invention was conceived through a program with the Federal government and a major automobile manufacturer called the Partnership for Next Generation Vehicles. While the success of MSFC-398 can partly be attributed to its strength and resistance to wear, another key aspect is the manufacturing process: the metal is capable of being produced in high volumes at low cost, making it attractive to commercial markets.
Since its premiere, the high-strength aluminum alloy has received several accolades, including being named Marshall’s “Invention of the Year” in 2003, receiving the Society of Automotive Engineering’s “Environmental Excellence in Transportation Award” in 2004, the Southeast Regional Federal Laboratory Consortium “Excellence in Technology Transfer Award” in 2005, and the National Federal Laboratory Consortium’s “Excellence in Technology Transfer Award” in 2006.
Realizing the potential commercial applicability of MSFC-398, Marshall introduced it for public licensing in 2001. The alloy’s subsequent success is particularly apparent in its widespread application in commercial marine products.
A worldwide leader in the design, development, and distribution of a wide variety of land and water vehicles, including outboard motors, Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) Inc., came across a description of the NASA alloy and was immediately intrigued. The Canada-based company decided to meet with NASA in April 2001, to explore how the technology could strengthen its products. BRP and NASA identified an application for high-performance outboard engine pistons. Prototype production started in July, and the Boats and Outboard Engines Division of BRP, based in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, signed the licensing agreement exactly 1 year later.
“Having a proper mixture of the alloy’s composition with the correct heat treatment process are two crucial steps to create this alloy for high-temperature applications,” said Lee. “The team at Bombardier worked hard with the casting vendor and NASA inventors to perfect the casting of pistons, learn and repeat the process, and bring its product to market. Chen and I are honored to see something we invented being used in a commercial product in a very rapid pace. We still have to pinch ourselves occasionally to realize that BRP’s commercialization effort for this alloy has become a reality. It’s happened so quickly.”
The usual cycle for developing this type of technology, from the research stage to the development phase, and finally into a commercial product phase may take several years and more than a $1 million investment,” Lee said. In this case, it occurred in fewer than 4 years and at a fraction of that cost.
BRP also applauded NASA for its prompt assistance. “The demands of the outboard engine are more significant than any other engine NASA had ever encountered,” claims Denis Morin, the company’s vice president of engineering, outboard engines. “The team from NASA was on the fast track, learned all the intricacies, and delivered an outstanding product.” BRP incorporated the alloy pistons into a brand new mid-power outboard motor that the company affirms is “years beyond carbureted two-stroke, four-stroke, or even direct injection” engines.
While a four-stroke engine generally runs cleaner and quieter than its two-stroke counterpart, it lacks the power and dependability; and the two-stroke engine, which generally contains 200 fewer parts than a comparable four-stroke motor, literally has fewer things that can go wrong. Evinrude E-TEC is a line of two-stroke motors that maintain the power and dependability of a two-stroke with the refinement of a four-stroke. The Evinrude E-TEC is also the first outboard motor that will not require oil changes, winterization, spring tune-ups, or scheduled maintenance for 3 years of normal recreational use. It incorporates the NASA alloy into its pistons, significantly improving durability at high temperatures while also making the engine quieter, cleaner, and more efficient.
The E-TEC features a low-friction design completely free from belts, powerhead gears, cams, and mechanical oil pumps; a “sure-start” ignition system that prevents spark plug fouling and does not require priming or choking; and speed-adjusting failsafe electronics that keep it running even if a boat’s battery dies. A central computer controls the outboard engine’s single injector, which is completely sealed to prevent air from entering the fuel system and thus minimizes evaporative emissions. Furthermore, the E-TEC auto-lubing oil system eliminates the process of having to mix oil with fuel, while complete combustion precludes virtually any oil from escaping into the environment. When programmed to operate on specially designed oil, the E-TEC uses approximately 50 percent less oil than a traditional direct injection system and 75 percent less than a traditional two-stroke engine. Additionally, when compared to a four-stroke engine, the E-TEC creates 80 percent less carbon monoxide while idle.
As an added bonus for fishermen, the new piston design also reduces the slapping sound usually made when pistons slide up and down in the engine’s cylinder, a sure sign to fish that someone is coming for them with a worm on a hook.
Ranging from 40-horsepower (hp) models to 300-hp models, Evinrude E-TEC engines won the prestigious “2003 Innovation Award” from the National Marine Manufacturers Association at the annual Miami International Boat Show, and are the only marine engines to have ever received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Air Technology Excellence Award.”
E-TEC also received a testimonial from an individual who put the engine to an incredible test in the most unusual of conditions: While BRP often hears from boaters who depend on its engines in tropical, warm, and temperate climates, the company had heard about an individual from the small Alaskan village of Koyukuk who runs the Yukon River with his Evinrude just about everyday, from break-up of the iced-over body of water to freeze-up during the long Alaskan winter. The nearest “sizable” town is 400 miles upstream from Koyukuk, so the turbid and turgid river serves as the only “highway” on which to acquire goods, tools, and groceries. That’s a pretty good vote of confidence.
Evinrude® is a registered trademark, and E-TEC™ is a trademark of Bombardier Recreational Products Inc.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
Timeless, beautiful, and haunting images: A delicate blue marble floating in the black sea of space; a brilliant white astronaut suit, visor glowing gold, the entire Earth as a backdrop; the Moon looming large and ghostly, pockmarked with sharp craters, a diaphanous grey on deep black. Photographs from space illustrating the planet on which we live, the space surrounding it, and the precarious voyages into it by our fellow humans are among the most tangible products of the Space Program. These images have become touchstones of successive generations, as the voyages into space have illuminated the space in which we live.
In 1962, Walter Schirra blasted off in a Mercury rocket to become the fifth American in space, bringing with him the first Hasselblad camera to leave the Earth’s atmosphere, recently purchased from a camera shop near Johnson Space Center in Houston—but not the last. The camera, a Hasselblad 500C, was a standard consumer unit that Schirra had stripped to bare metal and painted black in order to minimize reflections. Once in space, he documented the wonder and awe-inspiring beauty around him, and brought the images back for us to share. The Hasselblad 500C cameras were used on this and the last Project Mercury mission in 1963. They continued to be used throughout the Gemini space flights in 1965 and 1966.
Since then, a number of different camera models have been put to use, but the images taken with the boxy, black Hasselblads have remained true classics. Noted for the amazing sharpness of the photos, the Hasselblads stood up to the rigors of operating in space, facing from -65 °C to over 120 °C in the sun. Many shots have become historic treasures: the first spacewalk during the Gemini IV mission in 1965; the first venture to another celestial body during Apollo VIII, including the iconic “Earthrise” photograph; and the first landing on the surface of the Moon during Apollo XI. These pictures were published around the world, and have become some of the most recognizable and powerful photographs known.
Several different models of Hasselblad cameras have been taken into space, often modified in one way or another to ease use in cramped conditions and while wearing space suits, such as replacing the reflex mirror with an eye-level finder.
Victor Hasselblad AB, of Gothenburg, Sweden, has enjoyed a very long-lived collaboration with NASA. Working primarily with Johnson, the last four decades have seen a frequent exchange of ideas between Hasselblad and NASA via faxes, telephone calls, and meetings both in Sweden and the United States. Initially, most meetings were held at Hasselblad headquarters in Gothenburg, to be as close to the core activities as possible. Since then, collaboration with NASA has allowed what was once a very small company in international terms to achieve worldwide recognition. Hassleblad’s operations now include centers in Parsippany, New Jersey; and Redmond, Washington; as well as France and Denmark.
One direct development of this partnership, the 553ELS, is the space version of the 553ELX model, available commercially for years. This camera has adopted several key features and improvements, such as: the fixation of the mirror mechanism was removed from the rear plate to the side walls; aluminum plating replaced the standard black leatherette as the outer covering; the standard 5-pole contact was replaced by a special 7-pole contact equipped with a bayonet locking device; and the battery cover was equipped with a hinge. These changes resulted in increased durability and reliability, and the ELS model has seen frequent use in the shuttle program.
Hasselblad incorporated and refined other modifications by NASA technicians into new models, such as a 70mm magazine developed to meet Space Program needs. Camera modifications included new materials and lubricants to cope with the vacuum conditions outside the spacecraft, and often improved reliability and durability of the cameras. In addition, technicians modified camera electronics to meet NASA’s special demands for handling and function, reconstructing lenses and adding large tabs to the focusing and aperture rings to ease handling with the large gloves of an astronaut suit in zero gravity.
For over four decades, Hasselblad has supplied camera equipment to the NASA Space Program, and Hasselblad cameras still take on average between 1,500 and 2,000 photographs on each space shuttle mission. Just as the remarkable pictures on the surface of the Moon defined an era, the fine pictures of astronauts at work in and around the shuttles and International Space Station (ISS) have helped define the latest era of man’s continued exploration of the universe around us.
Likewise, the commercial line of Hasselblad cameras continues to incorporate lessons learned from these voyages. Consumer models have enjoyed such refinements as the revised fixation of the mirror mechanism—the Hasselblad 503CW still features the space-influenced improved mirror mechanism—a design change that gave far better stability for the mirror assembly, and an enlarged exposure button, similar to the one designed for the space models.
In October 2001, the Space Shuttle Discovery, in addition to transporting modules to the ISS, carried a new Hasselblad space camera: a focal-plane shutter camera based on the standard commercial version (203FE) equipped with data imprinting along the edge of the film frame, enabling the recording of time and picture number for each exposure. Since the computers onboard have full control over the position of the shuttle, identification of the exact location captured in a frame has become much easier.
Now that NASA is returning to the Moon and is also looking on to Mars for the next stage of exploration, it is without doubt that Hasselblad cameras will be along to document the voyages for those of us remaining on Earth. The relationship that began in a camera shop in Houston, blossomed on the Moon, and matured on the space shuttle, now prepares to reach new heights. As one more small step for a man and giant leap for mankind approaches, we anxiously await the photographs.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
NASA uses 3-D immersive photography and video for guiding space robots, in the space shuttle and International Space Station programs, cryogenic wind tunnels, and for remote docking of spacecraft. It allows researchers to view situations with the same spatial awareness they would have if they were present. With this type of photography, viewers virtually enter the panoramic image and can interact with the environment by panning, looking in different directions, and zooming in on anything in the 360-degree field of view that is of interest. As the perspective changes, the viewer feels as if he or she is actually looking around the scene, which enhances situational awareness and provides a high level of functionality for viewing, capturing, and analyzing visual data.
A Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract through Langley Research Center helped Interactive Pictures Corporation (IPC), of Knoxville, Tennessee, create an innovative imaging technology. This technology is a video imaging process that allows real-time control of live video data and can provide users with interactive, panoramic 360° views.
In 1993, the year that the first IPIX camera entered the market, it also received an “R&D 100” award, a prestigious honor given by R&D magazine for significant contributions to the scientific community.
The camera system can see in multiple directions, provide up to four simultaneous views, each with its own tilt, rotation, and magnification, yet it has no moving parts, is noiseless, and can respond faster than the human eye. In addition, it eliminates the distortion caused by a fisheye lens, and provides a clear, flat view of each perspective.
In 1995, an inventor named Ford Oxaal showed the company a technology he had developed which gives users the ability to combine two or more images, whether fisheye or rectilinear, into a single, navigable spherical image. Oxaal convinced IPIX to commercialize this useful showcasing technology, and combined with the advent of the World Wide Web, IPIX was able to execute a successful initial public offering.
The company has changed names at several points along the way. It started out as Telerobotics International, but changed its name to Omniview in 1995 after Oxaal showed his spherical media technology. In 1998, it became Interactive Pictures Corporation, and then later, Internet Pictures Corporation, and finally, IPIX Corporation.
In 2007, Minds-Eye-View Inc., founded by Oxaal in 1989 and based in Cohoes, New York, purchased most of the operating assets of IPIX and is now in the process of taking the company and the technology to the entertainment industry. Oxaal is currently president and CEO.
Applications now include what Oxaal calls “homeland reconnaissance,” wherein critical infrastructure and public facilities are documented with spherical media; military reconnaissance; real estate and product showcasing; security and surveillance; and soon, interactive Webcasts.
Through the NASA SBIR work, IPIX has created two 3-D immersive photography suites: a still image program and a video complement.
The IPIX package is a convenient and powerful documentation and site management tool. It is compatible with many off-the-shelf digital cameras and the final pictures are viewable in any immersive viewing formats, giving users a handful of benefits, including ease of use and the ability to capture and save an entire spherical environment with just two shots. The two images are fused together with no discernable seam, and the viewer can navigate throughout the picture from a fixed location. This is particularly helpful for virtual tours and has been widely embraced by the real estate, hotel, and automobile industries.
IPIX’s immersive video suite also offers many benefits. Users can count on immersive video to capture and save digital representations of entire environments, while providing multiple simultaneous views with a single camera and no moving parts. From within the immersive video view, users can electronically pan, tilt, and zoom, while the camera remains motionless. The system also provides wide, complete coverage, with no blind spots, and the files can be transmitted efficiently over networks, even over existing, commercial IP-based platforms.
Both of these camera systems can be employed in virtually any situation where immersive views are needed. They have been used in casinos, airports, rail systems, parking garages, schools, banks, stores, gas stations, automobile dealerships, amusement parks, hotels, homes for sale or rent, cruise ships, warehouses, power plants, incarceration facilities, theaters, stadiums, shopping centers, military facilities, government centers, assisted living centers, hospitals, gated communities, multi-tenant complexes, manufacturing plants, museums, hospitals, office buildings, colleges and universities, courts, and convention centers, to name just a few. Potential applications, however, are limitless.
In 2004, IPIX security cameras were chosen for surveillance of the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston and the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. That same year, the technology was used for surveillance at the 30th G8 Summit at Sea Island, Georgia, and during the President’s second inaugural parade in Washington, DC. More recently, the technology has been used to secure everything from the CircusCircus Las Vegas Hotel and Casino to Meade High School at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, to the Mt. Pleasant, Illinois, City Hall.
The technology isn’t only applicable to safety and surveillance uses, though. It is a popular complement to real estate and hotel Web sites, where visitors can take virtual tours of properties online.
Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
A space shuttle and a competitive swimmer have a lot more in common than people might realize: Among other forces, both have to contend with the slowing influence of drag. NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate focuses primarily on improving flight efficiency and generally on fluid dynamics, especially the forces of pressure and viscous drag, which are the same for bodies moving through air as for bodies moving through water. Viscous drag is the force of friction that slows down a moving object through a substance, like air or water.
NASA uses wind tunnels for fluid dynamics research, studying the forces of friction in gasses and liquids. Pressure forces, according to Langley Research Center’s Stephen Wilkinson, “dictate the optimal shape and performance of an airplane or other aero/hydro-dynamic body.” In both high-speed flight and swimming, says Wilkinson, a thin boundary layer of reduced velocity fluid surrounds the moving body; this layer is about 2 centimeters thick for a swimmer.
In spite of some initial skepticism, Los Angeles-based SpeedoUSA asked NASA to help design a swimsuit with reduced drag, shortly after the 2004 Olympics. According to Stuart Isaac, senior vice president of Team Sales and Sports Marketing, “People would look at us and say ‘this isn’t rocket science’ and we began to think, ‘well, actually, maybe it is.’” While most people would not associate space travel with swimwear, rocket science is exactly what SpeedoUSA decided to try. The manufacturer sought a partnership with NASA because of the Agency’s expertise in the field of fluid dynamics and in the area of combating drag.
A 2004 computational fluid dynamics study conducted by Speedo’s Aqualab research and development unit determined that the viscous drag on a swimmer is about 25 percent of the total retarding force. In competitive swimming, where every hundredth of a second counts, the best possible reduction in drag is crucially important. Researchers began flat plate testing of fabrics, using a small wind tunnel developed for earlier research on low-speed viscous drag reduction, and Wilkinson collaborated over the next few years with Speedo’s Aqualab to design what Speedo now considers the most efficient swimsuit yet: the LZR Racer. Surface drag testing was performed with the help of Langley, and additional water flume testing and computational fluid dynamics were performed with guidance from the University of Otago (New Zealand) and ANSYS Inc., a computer-aided engineering firm.
“Speedo had the materials in mind [for the LZR Racer],” explains Isaac, “but we did not know how they would perform in surface friction drag testing, which is where we enlisted the help of NASA.” The manufacturer says the fabric, which Speedo calls LZR Pulse, is not only efficient at reducing drag, but it also repels water and is extremely lightweight. Speedo tested about 100 materials and material coatings before settling on LZR Pulse.
NASA and Speedo performed tests on traditionally sewn seams, ultrasonically welded seams, and the fabric alone, which gave Speedo a baseline for reducing drag caused by seams and helped them identify problem areas. NASA wind tunnel results helped Speedo “create a bonding system that eliminates seams and reduces drag,” according to Isaac. The Speedo LZR Racer is the first fully bonded, full-body swimsuit with ultrasonically welded seams. Instead of sewing overlapping pieces of fabric together, Speedo actually fused the edges ultrasonically, reducing drag by 6 percent. “The ultrasonically welded seams have just slightly more drag than the fabric alone,” Isaac explains. NASA results also showed that a low-profile zipper ultrasonically bonded (not sewn) into the fabric and hidden inside the suit generated 8 percent less drag in wind tunnel tests than a standard zipper. Low-profile seams and zippers were a crucial component in the LZR Racer because the suit consists of multiple connecting fabric pieces—instead of just a few sewn pieces such as found in traditional suits—that provide extra compression for maximum efficiency.
The LZR Racer reduces skin friction drag 24 percent more than the Fastskin, the previous Speedo racing suit fabric; and according to the manufacturer, the LZR Racer uses a Hydro Form Compression System to grip the body like a corset. Speedo experts say this compression helps the swimmers maintain the best form possible and enables them to swim longer and faster since they are using less energy to maintain form. The compression alone improves efficiency up to 5 percent, according to the manufacturer.
Olympic swimmer Katie Hoff, one of the American athletes wearing the suit in 2008 competitions, said that the tight suit helps a swimmer move more quickly through the water, because it “compresses [the] whole body so that [it’s] really streamlined.” Athletes from the French, Australian, and British Olympic teams all participated in testing the new Speedo racing suits.
Similar in style to a wetsuit, the LZR Racer can cover all or part of the legs, depending on personal preference and event. A swimmer can choose a full-body suit that covers the entire torso and extends to the ankles, or can opt for a suit with shorter legs above the knees. The more skin the LZR Racer covers, the more potential it has to reduce skin friction drag. The research seems to have paid off; in March 2008, athletes wearing the LZR Racer broke 13 world records.
Speedo®, LZR Pulse®, LZR Racer®, and FastSkin® are registered trademarks of Speedo Holdings B.V.