The Create the Future Design Contest, launched in 2002 by the publishers of Tech Briefs magazine, helps stimulate and reward engineering innovation. The annual event has attracted more than 15,000 product design ideas from engineers, entrepreneurs, and students worldwide.
Over the past 16 years, many innovators have used the recognition afforded by the contest to advance the development and marketing of their technologies. In the following pages, we highlight some success stories of past winners who have brought their inventions to the marketplace.
The 2019 Create the Future Design Contest is now open for entries here . Enter your invention today and you may become a successful alumnus like those included here.
2014 Electronics Category Winner
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Alabama
Micro-coil springs (MCS) provide flexible electrical interconnections and allow significant movement in the x, y, and z axes to counteract the thermal expansion and dynamic forces between a microcircuit and a printed circuit board. Micro-coil springs are able to withstand harsh thermal and vibration environments. The springs replace solder balls and solder columns, preventing connection breaks due to thermal stress, and providing longer life for electronics.
NASA Marshall signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Topline Corporation (Milledgeville, GA) for the microcoil technology. Topline and Marshall are collaborating on advancing surface mount technology (SMT).
2017 Grand Prize Winner
Elvis Cao, Jessica Akemi Cimada da Silva, David Erickson, Tobias Hanrath, Jason Salfi, Clayton Poppe
Dimensional Energy Ithaca, NY
The extraction and consumption of fossil carbon accounts for more than 6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year, driving climate change. Developed by a team at Cornell University, the HI-Light Reactor is a solar-thermocatalytic “reverse combustion” technology that enables the conversion of CO2 and water to methanol and other high-value hydrocarbons.
The Cornell team's startup, Dimensional Energy, was awarded Phase 2 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding from the National Science Foundation in September 2018 to advance the technology. The company is also in the 10-team final round of the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE global competition. In addition, the team was approved for funding by Shell Oil through the Shell GameChanger program.
2016 Medical Category Winner
Continuous Wearable Blood Pressure Monitor
Sean Connell, Kyle Miller Ph.D., Dr. Jay Pandit, Dr. Jung-En Wu
Bold Diagnostics Chicago, IL
High blood pressure is a modifiable risk factor that can be managed with adequate monitoring; however, the traditional blood pressure cuff provides inaccurate and infrequent measurements.
Bold Diagnostics developed a continuous wearable blood pressure monitor that consists of wristbands that continuously measure blood pressure, and a smartphone application that uploads a report into the patient medical record for clinician review. The solution provides accurate measurements with greater frequency.
The company developed a strategy focused on direct distribution to tertiary care centers for a price between $155 and $195 at cost of goods sold at $25 to $40. The commercial handheld blood pressure monitor — the Bold CTRL — takes blood pressure at the fingertips and requires just a few heartbeats to measure blood pressure. A mobile app enables users to see trends, gain insights into their heart health, and share personalized reports with their physician.
2014 Grand Prize Winner
Robotic Building Construction by Contour Crafting
Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis
Contour Crafting Corp. Los Angeles, CA
Contour Crafting is a computerized, automated construction method that 3D-prints large-scale structures directly from architectural CAD models. Walls are built up by forming their outer surfaces via extrusion of a paste-like material, such as concrete, and the use of a robotic trowel to provide a smooth, contoured surface. Contour Crafting can significantly accelerate the construction process; a 2,000-square-foot house, for example, can be constructed in less than 24 hours.
Contour Crafting technology also has the potential to build safe, reliable, and affordable lunar and Martian structures, habitats, laboratories, and other facilities before the arrival of human beings.
According to inventor Behrokh Khoshnevis, the company is rapidly expanding and has received publicity from news and media sources including CNN, Forbes, The New York Times, Discovery Channel, and NBC News. In 2016, Dr. Khoshnevis won NASA's In-Situ Materials Challenge for his Selective Separation Sintering technique.
Through investment from Doka Ventures — which has taken a 30% stake in the company — Contour Crafting started production of the robotic 3D printers in a 33,600-square-foot facility in El Segundo, CA.
And last July, the Department of Defense awarded Contour Crafting a contract that is expected to result in technology to respond to disaster relief situations with expedient, safe, and sustainable structures and buildings.
2010 Grand Prize Winner
Rowheels, Inc. Middleton, WI
Prolonged manual wheelchair use is directly linked to repetitive stress injuries and pain in the upper extremities. The effects of muscle overuse become evident in the form of muscle pain, torn rotor cuffs, joint degeneration, and carpal tunnel syndrome. The Rowheel operates by means of a pulling/rowing motion as opposed to pushing.
After suffering a severe leg fracture in 2011, Rimas Buinevicius became a wheelchair user for the first time. He quickly realized the aches and pains a typical wheelchair user suffers. He began to research the field and discovered the Rowheel design by Salim Nasser, a mechanical engineer at NASA's Kennedy Space Center who had become paralyzed 15 years earlier. A joint venture was formed between Nasser and Madcelerator, comprised of Buinevicius and his partners.
The first product, the Rowheels REV-HX (High Gear), launched in 2015 when a patent on the Rowheels was granted; Rowheels REV-LX (Low Gear) launched in 2016. The Rowheels Revolution Wheelchair 1.0 launched in 2018 and is the world's first wheelchair with fully integrated Rowheels pull technology wheels. The company is taking pre-orders for deliveries starting this year.
2014 Automotive & Transportation Category Winner
Continuously Variable Displacement (CVD) Engine
Engine Systems Innovation Washington, UT
Passenger car engines are sized to produce very high horsepower to suit consumer demand. However, engines run inefficiently at low loads where they spend most of their time. This results in poor fuel economy and high CO2 emissions. With the patented CVD engine, advances in combustion, fuel, air delivery, valve trains, and other components can be adapted to the CVD engine with simple reconfiguration rather than redesign.
In 2016, Engine Systems Innovation received $149,488 in funding from a Department of Energy Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant for Phase I testing of CVD engine concept validation. An additional $996,810 was awarded in 2017 for Phase II testing.
2016 Automotive & Transportation Category Winner
Nexcel Oil Cell
Castrol innoVentures Nexcel Team
Castrol innoVentures Oxford, United Kingdom
The Nexcel sealed oil cell comes complete with high-quality oil, an integrated oil filter, and an electronic tag to ensure the right match for every engine. After every quick and efficient oil change — when the service center fits a fresh Nexcel cell — the used cell is collected, recycled, and reused up to five times; a process that includes the used oil being re-refined back into lubricants. Nexcel claims the system can compete on a carbon-savings basis with conventional environmental technologies.
The company is focusing on linking its system with hybrid drivetrains to achieve significant environmental gains. As engine efficiency improves, the warm-up period becomes proportionately more significant for emissions. By reducing the volume of oil in the engine sump during cold start, the Nexcel system enables faster warm-up.
With the oil filter housed in the Nexcel cell, vehicle designers would no longer be required to provide space around the engine block for conventional oil filter replacement.
Nexcel is already used on the Aston Martin Vulcan and Vantage GT8. Other manufacturers are integrating it into future production models. The company expects low-volume manufacturers to be utilizing Nexcel by 2020; the first mass-market passenger car systems should be on the road soon after.
2017 Medical Category Winner
Jeff Plott, Dr. Adeyiza Momoh, Dr. Ian Sando, Brendan McCracken, Dr. Mohammed Tiba, Dr. Kevin Ward, Dr. Jeffrey Kozlow, Dr. Paul Cederna
University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI
Developed by a team at the University of Michigan, the Arterial Everter is a surgical device that simplifies connecting arteries in complicated procedures such as reconstructing a breast after a mastectomy, or repairing a severely injured leg after a car accident. It can reduce the time it takes to connect arteries from 20 minutes to five minutes.
The device resembles a thin silicone pen with a flexible steel spine and works as an accessory to a currently available tool for connecting blood vessels, the GEM Microvascular Anastomotic Coupler system made by Synovis Micro Companies Alliance, a wholly owned subsidiary of Baxter International.
The University of Michigan and Baxter signed a licensing agreement for the expected future marketing and distribution of the everter device globally. Before the device can be used in surgeries, Baxter must obtain FDA and other approvals.
2015 Medical Category Winner
Smart X-ray Source
Mark Eaton, Dr. Ronald Hellmer, Dr. Shuo Cheng, Hugo Leon, Dr. Leif Fredin
Stellarray Austin, TX
The Smart X-ray Source combines classical x-ray physics and flat-panel display technology for a new x-ray source.
Smart means the source has a large array of x-ray spots that can be addressed electronically in whatever sequence, intensity, and pattern is programmed into the control computer.
Since their Create the Future contest win, Stellarray developed a radiographic medical imaging system for NASA that can be carried into space. It can be used not only for 2D x-ray imaging but also for 3D computed tomography. The system will meet imaging needs for musculoskeletal, head and neck, soft tissue, dental, and other conditions.
2015 Electronics Category Winner
Fiber Optic Sensing System
Lance Richards, Patrick Chan, Philip Hamory, Allen Parker, Anthony Piazza, Dr. William Ko
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center Edwards, CA
A Fiber Optic Sensing System (FOSS) developed for aeronautics research has the potential to solve a number of technical challenges for industries as diverse as medical, power, and automotive.
In the past, collecting aerodynamic data from research aircraft and transmitting it required infrastructure including miles of wires and bulky sensors. Armstrong researchers developed a simpler, lightweight solution for the system's electronics that started out as nearly table-sized, but soon will fit in a container the size of a box of cookies.
Various NASA centers are partnering on composite over-wrapped pressure vessel (COPV) tanks from Space X that are instrumented with FOSS, which would provide real-time data on strain and temperature in the unforgiving environment of cryogenic liquids and extreme pressures. Oil, gas, dairy, and other industries have inquired about a system that can help with a number of different applications.
2016 Consumer Products Category Winner
mifold Grab-and-Go Booster Seat
Carfoldio Ltd. Houston, TX
The mifold Grab-and-Go booster seat for children aged 412 is more than ten times smaller than a regular booster seat and just as safe. mifold secures the seat-belt in the correct position on the hips and shoulder by holding the seatbelt down at three points. In a collision, the child is protected in the same way as they would be with a conventional booster seat.
Because mifold doesn't need to lift the child, it doesn't need to be big and bulky. It is flat and can be folded to create a compact, portable package measuring 10 × 5 × 2”. The product is built with 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum and Dupont™ Delrin® 100ST, a super-tough plastic polymer with excellent impact resistance. The entire seat weighs just 1.6 pounds.
The Create the Future award was the first award the mifold grab-and-go received; it has since won 15 other international innovation, design, and consumer awards.
Today, there is a range of mifold grab-and-go booster seats: the original mifold Sport (sold exclusively at Nordstrom), and a B2B version called mifold One (a non-folding seat targeting taxi fleets that need compact storage but not the same portability).
The seats are now sold on Amazon, and in Target, BuyBuy Baby, Kohl's, and Walmart stores. Outside the USA, there are distributors covering 50 markets. In total, nearly three-quarters of a million seats have been shipped worldwide.
A crowdfunding campaign was recently completed for a new product: hifold by mifold. The portable, adjustable, high-back booster is three times smaller than a regular car booster seat. It folds down to fit in a small carry bag and has four different adjustable zones to fit as the child grows. The company is currently taking pre-orders for the hifold.
2014 Aerospace & Defense Category Winner
The Polariton Interferometer: A Novel Inertial Navigation System
Dr. Frederick Moxley
The Quantum Widget Company Toronto, ON, Canada
GPS navigation technology relies on a combination of signals from a satellite and ground station network. This is problematic in aerospace and defense, as GPS signal jamming is prevalent.
The Polariton Interferometer provides measurement sensitivities far superior to optical technologies, enabling aerospace and defense vehicles to operate completely independent of GPS satellites and ground station networks.
The performance capability is independent of scale, and the system is readily manufactured as a photonic integrated circuit on a microchip smaller than a dime. These microchips contain discrete optical components that are made using a direct laser-writing technique.
In 2016, Dr. Moxley formed The Quantum Widget Company (QuidgetCo), a quantum machine-learning company that specializes in quantum computing, quantum many-body systems, and quantum information processing.