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 www.createthefuture2011.com ), 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 www.advanced-energyconv.com.

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.”

Today, there is a shift in Litroenergy, from light to power. “We were looking at the cost-effectiveness of the light source being mass-produced. That is a goal that we think we can eventually achieve, but in order to get to that point, we have to look at the most profitable applications first,” explained Stark. “And that turned out to be in power generation — an electrical long-term-life battery, which is not affected by heat or cold, and could last 20 years. [Litroenergy light] does create a lot of electricity, but we had difficulties with its ability to generate enough electricity. We are looking at photocell market advancements to hopefully bring us to a point where we can start production,” he said. “There has been a lot of work with bioluminescence, which is very similar to our light output. We’re working with metamaterials to bend the light for the right frequencies and obtain the highest output. We’re still a little bit away from making that work effectively enough.”

Stark added that the demands for this type of product are massive. “This is really what the world is looking for — the long-life battery that doesn’t cost much and lasts for 20 years to power the electric car and to use in everyday life, from computers to iPods. We’re in the right field at the right time. We’re just looking at a short life to achieve the right solar cell, the thin-film solar cell, to turn our light into electricity.”

For more information on Litroenergy products, visit www.glopaint.com.

LifeBelt CPR Device

Thom Lach of Deca-Medics was the Grand Prize winner of the 2008 contest for his work with the LifeBelt®-CPR device, which has an innovative attaching belt that allows users to perform high-quality CPR compressions. The LifeBelt CPR device is lightweight, easy to use, and features a patented method for incorporating a mechanical advantage to allow rescuers, regardless of their size or physical strength, the ability to perform adequate compressions over an extended period of time. The device is designed to attach quickly, enabling a rescuer to start CPR in 15 seconds or less. An intuitive readout warns if the compression depth is too deep or shallow, giving the rescuer confidence that he or she is pushing properly.

According to Lach, since his win, the company has applied for and won an award from the Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center, which is a partnership between the Ohio Department of Development and the Cleveland Clinic, for new technology in the area of cardiovascular research. “The award was a $400,000 matching grant for us,” said Lach, “providing we’re able to find some additional funding. That was a big recognition for us locally. It really signifies that there’s some value in what we’re doing and the approach we’re taking.”

Lach feels that visibility was the biggest benefit of the Create the Future contest award. “We probably received contacts and inquiries from 30-plus countries and distributors from across the world, and we never would have gotten that kind of exposure without winning the contest.” Added Lach, “I think the contest is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who has an idea that hasn’t quite gotten the visibility yet. This is one of those competitions that can really turn the prospect of success around, or help accelerate the prospect. When we won the contest, it made a significant difference in our company’s focus and confidence going forward.”

The future of the LifeBelt looks bright, according to Lach. “We’re looking at it from the point of view that there’s not only a commercial opportunity, but there’s significant opportunity in the first-responder and home markets, where we think that good CPR is going to make a difference between life and death.”

Lach believes that “maybe the proper strategy is instead of putting defibrillators everywhere, the need is to increase the quality of CPR. We’re really coming up with something that can be universally applied and as ubiquitous as a fire extinguisher.”

For more information on the LifeBelt CPR device, visit www.deca-medics.com.


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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