The Create the Future Design Contest was launched in 2002 by the publishers of NASA Tech Briefs to help stimulate and reward engineering innovation. The competition has attracted more than 7,000 product design ideas that have the potential to change the way we live and work. As the 2011 contest opens for entries this month (enter at ), we caught up with a few past winners to learn now their inventions have advanced.

Integrated Motor/Pump

David Torrey of Advanced Energy Conversion (AEC) was the Grand Prize winner in the 2006 Create the Future contest. The integrated fluid pump is an important element in advancing the state of the art in fluid handling for high-performance applications such as the transportation and fuel cell areas. The mixed-flow pump design provides a power-dense electric machine that improves thermal performance of the electric motor due to direct liquid cooling of the windings.

Since his win, Torrey explained, the integrated motor/pump has been used in even more applications. “For the last year, we have been applying our integrated motor/pump to capture energy from wastewater effluent. In this application, the pump is acting as a turbine, and the motor as a generator,” he said.

AEC has won Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards from the U.S. Department of Defense for integration of embedded controls, power electronics, and electric machines into larger systems for ship steering and propulsion of unmanned underwater vehicles. SBIR awards from the U.S. Department of Energy include low-head hydroelectric power and inverter technology, as well as solar photovoltaic inverter technology, which is now being commercialized through AEC’s wholly-owned ecoPower, LLC.

“The prize and recognition has helped us to develop the partnerships necessary to address this other application of our technology,” said Torrey. “Receiving this award is still one of our proudest moments.”

For more information on the integrated motor/pump, visit

Litroenergy™, a New Light Source Material

Steve Stark, Michael P. Kohnen II, and Michael P. Kohnen created an innovative material that lit up the 2007 Create the Future contest, taking home the Grand Prize. Their Litroenergy™ material contains self-luminous microparticles that emit light continuously for more than 12 years without recharging.

According to Stark, winning the Create the Future Grand Prize provided connections with Fortune 500 companies. “That would’ve taken years to build. Within a short period of time, the majority of Fortune 500 companies were knocking on our doors, and that was priceless,” he said.

The $20,000 prize money was used to create samples for evaluations for the Department of Defense, and for investors to actually see the product work and test it. Said Stark, “Everyone could see applications for use within their industries, and it was surprising to see a broad range of industries that it would work with -— from using it within computers, to using it within automobiles, to using it in deep-sea applications.”