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.
Data Monitoring System
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center developed a method to collect suspicious data and analyze them without extensive costs. This system operates on top of existing information technology infrastructure with minimal additional support requirements. The independent monitor system uses a combination of components for detecting unusual or unauthorized activity that appears to be new. The monitoring system continually ingests multiple time-series streams of data related to individual authorized users; data from workstations, personal mobile devices, and facilities. These time-based streams are analyzed to establish self-consistency based upon a defined rule set, effectively identifying discrepancies in the passive tracking of behavior patterns suggesting unauthorized activity. The uniqueness of this system is the ongoing integrated collection, correlation, and analysis of the multiple location and activity streams for purposes of defining authorized legitimate computer use versus anomalous behavior.
Contact: Goddard Space Flight Center
The University of Maryland has engineered wood that is more than ten times stronger and tougher than before, creating a natural substance that is stronger than many titanium alloys. This kind of wood could be used in cars, airplanes, buildings, or any application where steel is used. The process begins by removing the wood's lignin, the part of the wood that makes it both rigid and brown in color. Then it is compressed under mild heat — about 150 °F. This causes the cellulose fibers to become very tightly packed. Any defects such as holes or knots are crushed together. The fibers are packed so tightly that they can form strong hydrogen bonds, making the wood five times thinner than its original size. It is as strong as steel, but six times lighter, and it takes ten times more energy to fracture than natural wood. It can also be bent and molded at the beginning of the process.
Contact: Martha Heil, University of Maryland
Balloon-Borne Sensor for Explosion Detection
Sandia National Laboratories built a solar-powered hot air balloon that detects infrasound from explosions. Infrasound is used by the U.S. and the international community to monitor explosions, including those caused by nuclear tests. Traditionally, infrasound is detected by ground-based sensor arrays, which don't cover the open ocean and can be muddled by other noises such as the wind. A solar-powered hot air balloon takes three hours to make, and uses about $50 worth of materials. The balloons can be launched on partly cloudy days. Multiple balloons can form a 3D array of sensors. In addition to potential treaty monitoring and national security uses, the balloons may be flown in non-terrestrial experiments.