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.
Built-In Temperature Sensing in a Microheater
NASA Ames Research Center developed a built-in temperature sensing method for microheaters. The temperature sensing of chip-based microheaters is conventionally done with the aid of a separate sensor that typically adds to the production cost and can cause inaccuracy. NASA's resistor-based microheater relies on a Joule heating mechanism. The resistance is dependent on the body temperature, which means that the microheater has an inherent sensing mechanism and eliminates the need for embedded sensors. Applications include electronic devices and MEMS.
Contact: Ames Research Center
Oak Ridge National Laboratory developed a low-cost, printed, flexible sensor that can wrap around power cables to monitor electrical loads from household appliances to support grid operations. Using an inkjet printer, researchers deposited wires on a flexible plastic substrate, then a magnetic strip was woven in to channel the flux produced by an electric current, making the sensor suitable to install in tight spaces. When tested on conductors in the lab and on a building HVAC unit, the sensor measured responses of up to 90 amps of electrical current and is expected to exceed 500 amps in larger applications. The inexpensive sensors provide real-time usage data needed to monitor and control devices such as smart HVAC and water heaters for better power grid efficiency and resilience.
Contact: Stephanie G. Seay
Water-Saving Crop Irrigation Sensor
University of Connecticut researchers developed a soil moisture sensor that is cost-effective and responds to the global need to regulate water consumption in agriculture. The sensor is small enough to insert into the soil with ease and could save nearly 35% of water consumption and cost far less than what exists. Wires are connected from the sensor to an instrument that logs data; the sensor can provide high spatio-temporal resolution data needed for hydrology model development. The small sensor can also be easily sent around the world since soil moisture plays a fundamental role in agricultural decision-making globally.