This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.
Spoked Wheel Assembly
NASA's Glenn Research Center has developed a spoked drive mechanism for robots and other vehicles that is capable of two rotational modes. This robust ground traction (drive) assembly operates smoothly not only on surfaces that are flat, but also on surfaces that include rugged terrain, snow, mud, and sand. The first mode allows for smooth operation on even surfaces. The second mode allows the assembly to automatically rotate its entire spoked structure and attempt to climb an obstacle when encountered. This innovation can be applied to robots for use by first responders, and in oil and gas exploration, environmental monitoring/cleanup, and inspection.
Contact: Glenn Research Center
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Technique for Faster Medical Tests
University of Central Florida (UCF) researchers have combined nanoscience with a magnetic phenomenon discovered more than 170 years ago to create a method for speedy medical tests. The technique could lead to faster test results for HIV, Lyme disease, syphilis, rotavirus, and other infectious conditions. Nano-particles were coated with the antibody to bovine serum albumin (BSA), which is commonly used as the basis of a variety of diagnostic tests. The nanoparticles used had an iron core to which a magnetic field was applied, causing the particles to align in a particular formation. As proteins bind to the antibody-coated particles, the rotation of the particles becomes sluggish, which is easy to detect with laser optics — a Faraday rotation. Other antigens and their unique antibodies could be substituted for the BSA protein, allowing medical tests for a wide array of infectious diseases.
Contact: Mark Schlueb, University of Central Florida
Zero-Power Radio Receiver
Sandia National Laboratories has developed a miniature, zero-power radio receiver that can be easily integrated in a wide range of devices to provide continuous wireless connectivity. The underlying principle is that the powered radio frequency electronics that are used in most wireless receivers can be replaced with electronics that require no power supply or battery. Using this technology, a short-range radio receiver (<100 m) can be built that uses no power other than the received RF signal. A longer-range radio receiver can be built that uses only DC amplification, for a total power consumption that is about 10,000× lower than a conventional radio receiver operating at a comparable range. When incorporated into a cellular phone or GPS, it eliminates the need for the device to constantly power on and off waiting for contact, greatly extending battery life. Applications include automotive control and sensing, biomedical devices, wireless RFID tags, and national security.