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.
Behind-the-Ear Noise Canceling Device
Current noise canceling technology comes in the form of headphones and earbuds. To cancel noise, these headphones emit an anti-noise signal to contrast the external sounds. The time available for the headphones to produce this anti-noise signal is extremely short. This results in some noise getting through, which is why all these devices must cover the entire ear with noise-canceling material. The University of Illinois developed a behind-the-ear device that achieves noise cancellation without headphones. The device combines wireless IoT networks with noise cancellation, enabling the device to get sound information in advance, with much more time to produce a better anti-noise signal. The device is analog, with no capacity to record the sound. The moment the device hears the sound, it is sent out wirelessly.
Contact: Romit Roy Choudhury, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
A material developed by the University of Colorado Boulder can transform into complex, pre-programmed shapes via light and temperature stimuli. The controllable shape-shifting material could have broad applications for manufacturing, robotics, biomedical devices, and artificial muscles. The material achieves readily programmable two-way transformations on a macroscopic level using liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) — the same technology underlying modern television displays. A hand-folded origami swan, for example, programmed in this fashion will remain folded at room temperature. When heated to 200 °F, however, the swan relaxes into a flat sheet. Later, as it cools back to room temperature, it will gradually regain its preprogrammed swan shape. The ability to change and then change back gives this new material a wide range of possible applications.
Contact: Trent Knoss, University of Colorado Boulder
Optically Transparent Polyimide Aerogels
NASA's Glenn Research Center developed an optically transparent polyimide aerogel that can be fabricated to achieve specific, desirable traits, including various ranges of optical transparency. The polyimide aerogel maintains the robust nature of a polyimide network, while providing the added feature of extremely high surface areas and uniform pore size and distribution. This unique combination of strength, transparency, and exceptional insulating properties makes these aerogels suitable for replacing windows and windshields. They also can be used for water bottles, screen protectors, optical sensors, and protective clothing and gear.