The Create the Future Design Contest was launched in 2002 to help stimulate and reward engineering innovation. In the past 16 years, the annual contest has drawn more than 13,000 product design ideas from engineers, students, and entrepreneurs worldwide.

Top prizes in the 2018 contest — including the Grand Prize and winning designs in seven categories — were awarded on November 9 in New York City.

Find descriptions of all winning inventions and honorable mentions here. See more event photos online here.

A Nanoscience Disappearing Act

Grand Prize winners Andreas Liapis (l) and Charles Black.

If you've watched television in anything but total darkness, used a computer near a window, or taken a photo outside on a sunny day with a smartphone, you've experienced a major nuisance of modern display screens: glare. Most of today's electronics devices are equipped with glass or plastic covers for protection against dust, moisture, and other environmental contaminants, but light reflection from these surfaces can make information displayed on the screens difficult to see.

Charles Black, Director of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) at Brook-haven National Laboratory, and Andreas Liapis, a former CFN postdoc and current research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital's Wellman Center for Photomedi-cine, won this year's Grand Prize with a method for reducing the surface reflections from glass surfaces to nearly zero by etching tiny nanoscale features into them.

This “invisible glass” could do more than improve the user experience for consumer electronic displays. It could enhance the energy-conversion efficiency of solar cells by minimizing the amount of sunlight lost to refection and could be an alternative to the antireflective coatings used in medical lasers and aerospace components.

Said Black, “We're excited about the possibilities. Not only is the performance of these nanostructured materials extremely high, but we're also implementing ideas from nanoscience in a manner that we believe is conducive to large-scale manufacturing.”

“We have eliminated reflections from glass windows not by coating the glass with layers of different materials, but by changing the geometry of the surface at the nano-scale,” added Liapis. “Because our final structure is composed entirely of glass, it is more durable than conventional antireflective coatings.”

Their method of creating surface nano-textures is amenable to almost any type of material including silicon (for solar cells) and several types of plastic. The antireflective glass can also be made water-repellent, self-cleaning, and anti-fogging — ideal properties for car and aircraft windshields.

“Our role in the CFN is to demonstrate how nanoscience can facilitate the design of new materials with improved properties,” said Black. “This work is a great example of that.”

Solving a Landmine Crisis

“Currently, there are more than 10 million PFM-1 ‘butterfly’ landmines scattered throughout Afghanistan and other countries,” according to Jasper Baur of Binghamton University in New York. “These heinous devices cause thousands of fatal injuries and amputations each year.” In fact, said Baur, “80% of the victims are civilians — primarily children.” Due to their small size and plastic composition, common detection methods fail to locate them.

Baur — with William Frazer, Tim deSmet, and Alex Nikulin — developed a low-cost solution to detect these devices. Winner of the Aerospace & Defense category, the system uses drone-based infrared sensing to detect the difference in thermal conductivity between the mines and their surrounding environment, enabling successful identification of the devices.

Said Frazer, “Applying our methods and technology to detect and remediate PFM-1 mines in post-conflict developing nations has the potential to save thousands of lives.”

Driving Electromobility

Jasper Baur, winner of the Aerospace & Defense category.
Nanci Hardwick, winner of the Robotics/ Automation/Manufacturing category.

The future of mobility is electric — but how can the cost of electric drives be reduced, and their efficiency and range increased? Volabo addressed these problems with the Intelligent Stator Cage Drive (ISCAD), winner of the Automotive & Transportation category.

Common electric vehicles use drive components based on voltages up to 400V; however, they require extra safety measures during crashes and maintenance. ISCAD is based on a battery voltage of 48 V, fundamentally eliminating the electrical hazard potential for passengers, even in heavy crash situations.

ISCAD is an electric traction drive that, instead of copper windings, uses aluminum bars in the stator. With the same size battery, driving range can be increased by 25%. ISCAD works with batteries, fuel cells, or other types of energy sources and is not limited to the automotive market, since especially at sea, a low-voltage system is very desirable for safety reasons.

Power from Waste

Winner of the Medical category, Patrick Nercessian.

A groundbreaking power system that turns scrap aluminum into a highly efficient, safe fuel source is the winner of the Consumer Products category.

Aluminum has an incredibly high energy density — double that of gasoline and an order of magnitude greater than lithiumion; however, an oxide layer forms on its surface when in contact with air, preventing it from reacting. Processes have been developed to circumvent this in order to use this energy density in applications such as rocket fuels, but they are very dangerous and create serious risks of combustion.

Peter Godart and Jason Fischman of MIT developed a reaction that has the energy density of rocket fuel, with high levels of control and safety. The fuel can be made easily and cheaply from scrap aluminum, and produces recyclable byproducts. A 3-kW emergency power supply was created that generates electricity from this fuel; it can be run in enclosed spaces safely without worry of inhalation hazards.

Said Godart, “I want to give people in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane the ability to provide clean water and electricity for themselves using locally sourced materials.”

Shrinking Antennas

Antennas have come a long way from the rabbit ears on your old TV. But the antenna developed by Northeastern University's Hwaider Lin is about 100 times smaller than the one currently in a smartphone. Winner of the Electronics/Sensors/IoT category, Lin said the magnetoelectric (ME) antenna could eventually be used in a chip implanted in a patient's brain to help treat disorders such as depression or severe migraines.

Conventional antennas send signals by bouncing electrons back and forth along a metal cable. This creates waves of electromagnetic radiation that can be picked up by other antennas tuned to the right frequency. Changing the size of the antenna changes the frequency.

Lin's antenna starts with a different kind of wave: an acoustic wave. These are slow-moving physical vibrations and because of their slower speed, they can match the frequency of an electromagnetic wave, but will have a wavelength that is thousands of times smaller.

Applications include biomedical applications, wearable antennas, and Internet of Things devices. “So far, the best choice is biomedical applications,” Lin said. “They need a really small antenna that can receive power and transmit information back to the computer outside.”

Advanced Prosthetic Control

It is estimated that 1.7 million people in the U.S. have undergone an amputation. Prosthetic devices can vary widely in functionality, from devices that look like an upper limb amputee's hand to prostheses that have motorized, articulated joints.

Hai Minh Duong, winner of the Sustainable Technologies category.
Lena Honsberg accepts the award for the Automotive & Transportation category.

Patrick Nercessian and his team at the Alfred Mann Foundation developed the Implantable Myoelectric Sensor (IMES) system — winner of the Medical category — that transmits myoelectric signals from residual muscles of an amputated limb into the prosthesis. The matchstick-sized sensors can be implanted into the target muscles through a small incision. The signals are captured and wirelessly transmitted from the implanted sensor to a decoder box, which serves as an electronic brain.

The IMES System bridges the brain to the artificial limb, enabling the signals sent from the brain to the remaining portions of the amputated muscles to intuitively control the prosthesis without the need for invasive brain or muscle surgery.

No-Melt Metal Manufacturing

Winner of the Consumer Products category, Peter Godart.

Traditional methods for additive manufacturing of metal parts require the metal to be melted, which introduces weakness and other issues. MELD™ technology from MELD Manufacturing is a solid-state process that puts the material in a malleable state without melting. Winner of the Robotics/Automation/Manufacturing category, MELD can produce high-quality materials and parts with low residual stresses and full density, with significantly lower energy requirements than conventional processes.

MELDing also produces materials that are not susceptible to porosity, hot-cracking, or other common problems that plague melt-based technologies. Since MELD is an open-atmosphere process, no special vacuums or chambers are needed for operation, making it a safer, more efficient, and fully scalable technology.

The MELD process prints large metal parts at a scale not yet seen in the metal additive market. It is not limited in the metal alloys that can be deposited — aluminum, titanium, steel, and nickel-based super alloys use the same machine and the same process.

Added Nanci Hardwick of MELD, “There is very little waste — it's a very green process. In addition, we can repair unweld-able materials, join or coat dissimilar materials — the options that this process creates open up new product opportunities.”

Waste Not …

The Electronics/Sensors/IoT category winner, Hwaider Lin.

Plastic waste often ends up in oceans and landfills, affecting marine life and causing problems such as groundwater contamination. Globally, the annual consumption of plastic bottles is expected to exceed half a trillion tons per year by 2021. A team from the National University of Singapore — winners of the Sustainable Technologies category — developed a simple, cost-effective, and green method to convert plastic bottle waste into polyethylene terephthalate (PET) aerogels for many uses.

“One plastic bottle can be recycled to produce an A4-sized PET aerogel sheet. In this way, we can help cut down the harmful environmental damage caused by plastic waste,” said Associate Professor Hai Minh Duong.

The PET aerogels are soft, flexible, durable, extremely light, and easy to handle. They also demonstrate superior thermal insulation and strong absorption capacity. These properties make them attractive for a wide range of applications.

Said co-inventor, Professor Nhan Phan-Thien, “By adopting PET aerogels that are coated with fire retardants as a lining material, firefighter coats can be made much lighter, safer, and cheaper.” He added, “In highly urbanized countries like Singapore, carbon dioxide absorption masks and heat-resistant jackets made using PET aerogels can be placed alongside fire extinguishers in high-rise buildings to provide added protection to civilians when they escape from a fire.”

THE 2018 CREATE THE FUTURE DESIGN CONTEST WAS SPONSORED BY COMSOL AND MOUSER ELECTRONICS.

COMSOL is a global provider of simulation software for product design and research to technical enterprises, research labs, and universities. Its COMSOL Multiphysics® product is an integrated software environment for creating physics-based models and simulation apps. COMSOL employs more than 450 people in 19 offices worldwide and extends its reach with a network of distributors.

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Mouser Electronics, a Berkshire Hathaway company, is an award-winning, authorized semiconductor and electronic component distributor focused on rapid New Product Introductions from its manufacturing partners for electronic design engineers and buyers. The global distributor's website, Mouser.com, is available in multiple languages and currencies and features more than 5 million products from over 700 manufacturers. Mouser offers 23 support locations around the world to provide best-in-class customer service and ships globally to over 600,000 customers in more than 220 countries/territories from its 750,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility south of Dallas,Texas.

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Mark Your Calendars! The 2019 contest opens for entries on March 1 online