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.
Real-Time Tracking System
A real-time locating system (RTLS) developed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center uses ultra-wideband (UWB) radio frequency (RF) signals for tracking and reporting the position of transmitter-equipped people and objects. The technology has 100 to 1,000 times finer granularity than conventional narrowband RF RTLS systems, and achieves a tracking resolution of less than 1 percent of the range (tested up to 3,500 feet). The technology’s commercial applications include long-range tracking of emergency, military, and mining personnel in limited-access or hostile environments where GPS is not reliable; high-value inventory tracking; oil drilling applications; and for aerospace rovers, robots, and astronauts on exploratory missions.
Contact: NASA Johnson Space Center
Technique Sees Objects Hidden Around Corners
Stanford University developed a system that can produce images of objects hidden from view. Researchers set a laser next to a highly sensitive photon detector that can record a single particle of light. Pulses of laser light are shot at a wall and, invisible to the human eye, those pulses bounce off objects around the corner and bounce back to the wall and to the detector. Once the scan is finished, an algorithm untangles the paths of the captured photons, and the blurry object takes much sharper form. It does all this in less than a second and can run on a laptop. Initial applications include autonomous vehicles, seeing through foliage from aerial vehicles, or giving rescue teams the ability to find people blocked from view by walls and rubble.
Contact: Taylor Kubota, Stanford University
Smart Contact Lens for Diabetics
UNIST, the Ulsan National University of South Korea, developed a biosensing contact lens capable of detecting glucose levels in patients with diabetes. It uses electrodes comprised of highly stretchable and transparent materials. This clear, flexible lens also contains a glucose sensor that sends electrical signals to an LED. Patients can transmit their health information in real time using the embedded wireless antenna in the lens, which monitors glucose levels from tears in the eye. Electric power activates the LED pixel; the glucose sensor is wirelessly transmitted to the lens through the antenna. After detecting the glucose concentration in tear fluid above the threshold, the LED pixel turns off. The smart contact lens provides a platform for wireless, continuous, and noninvasive monitoring of physiological conditions, as well as the detection of biomarkers associated with ocular and other diseases.