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.
Infrared Real-Time Pyrometer
NASA Johnson Space Center developed a portable infrared pyrometer sensor system that tests pyrotechnic initiators for stray energy induced by electromagnetic interference (EMI). Stray energy can cause inadvertent initiation of an initiator loaded with explosives if it entered into the firing circuitry. This system provides a reliable safety check for equipment to pinpoint insufficient EMI shielding. Existing technologies can only determine the minimum threshold of current required to ignite an explosive but not the actual measured current present in the system. By contrast, this technology provides users a measurement of how much stray energy is present and if the stray current exceeds or meets the acceptable threshold. This system can be used to test rockets, missiles, explosives, and automotive airbag deployment systems.
Contact: Johnson Space Center
Process Removes Mercury from Water
Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden developed an electrochemical process that removes mercury from water. The method works by extracting the heavy metal ions from water by encouraging them to form an alloy with another metal. An electrode made of the noble metal platinum draws the toxic mercury out of the water to form an alloy of the two, cleaning the water of mercury contamination. The alloy formed by the two metals is very stable, so there is no risk of the mercury re-entering the water. The electrode can be recycled and the mercury disposed of in a safe way. The technique could be used to clean places with contaminated land and water sources. Since it can be powered totally by solar cells, it can be used to clean drinking water in badly affected environments.
Contact: Björn Wickman, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, Chalmers University
Phone: +46 31 772 51 79
Brain-Computer Interface for Tablet Control
The BrainGate consortium developed a brain-computer interface (BCI) that can enable people with paralysis to directly operate an off-the-shelf tablet device just by thinking about making cursor movements and clicks. The BCI records neural activity directly from a small sensor placed in the motor cortex, enabling users to navigate through commonly used tablet programs including e-mail, chat, music streaming, and video sharing apps. The aspirin-sized implant detects the signals associated with intended movements produced in the brain's motor cortex. Those signals are then decoded and routed to external devices. The interface could also open new lines of communication between patients with severe neurological deficits and their healthcare providers.