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.

Biomaterial Replacement for Plastic Laminates

Penn State University researchers developed an inexpensive biomaterial that can be used to sustainably replace plastic barrier coatings in packaging and many other applications, greatly reducing pollution. Completely compostable, the material is comprised of nearly equal parts of treated cellulose pulp from wood or cotton, and chitosan, which is derived from chitin — leftover shells from lobsters, crabs, and shrimp consumed by humans. The environmentally friendly barrier coatings have applications ranging from water-resistant paper, to coatings for ceiling tiles and wallboard, to food coatings to seal in freshness. The potential reduction of pollution is immense if these barrier coatings replace millions of tons of petroleum-based plastic associated with food packaging used every year.

Contact: Jeff Mulhollem, Penn State University
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Phone: 814-863-2719

Passive Smart Container

A Passive Smart Container was developed by NASA’s Johnson Space Center to monitor and track items that are too small to tag individually. The system uses RFID circuits to identify the fill level in a container, and could be converted for use in industries such as individual healthcare management, pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution inventory tracking, and retail and supply chain inventory management. Use of this technology enables the manufacturer, distributor, supplier, or user to easily manage and control an inventory of small items that is difficult to tag such as foods, liquids, pills, mechanical parts (nuts, bolts, and washers), and small electronic components. The Passive Smart Container system comprises RFID circuits embedded in or around the container, an antenna, RF distribution system, and an interrogator/reader.

Contact: Johnson Space Center
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Phone: 281-483-3809

Computer Security System Using Heart Dimensions

A computer security system using the dimensions of the user’s heart as the identifier was developed by the University at Buffalo. The system uses low-level Doppler radar to measure the user’s heart, and then continually monitors the heart to make sure no one else runs the computer. The system is a safe and potentially more effective alternative to passwords and other biometric identifiers, and may eventually be used for smartphones and at airport screening barricades. It poses no health threat, and takes about eight seconds to scan the heart the first time; thereafter, it can continuously recognize the heart. The passive, noncontact device will not allow the computer to operate if a different person is in front of it, so no logging-off is required. It could be miniaturized for installation onto the corner of a keyboard.

Contact: University at Buffalo, State University of New York
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Phone: 716-645-6969