Founded in 1824 and located in Troy, NY, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is America’s first technological research university. RPI advances research in a wide range of fields, with an emphasis on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, data science, and the media arts and technology. RPI has an established record of success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, fulfilling its founding mission of applying science “to the common purposes of life.”

School of Engineering

Rensselaer Engineering focuses on solving the “grand challenges” facing humanity including human health and mitigation of diseases, energy and the environment, and infrastructure resilience, stewardship, and sustainability. The faculty, students, and staff are solving these grand challenges by performing cutting-edge research in five focal areas:

Engineering for Life Sciences is the interface of engineering, biotechnology, and life sciences through research in bioimaging, synthetic and computational biology, microbiome, stem cells/tissue engineering, neural engineering, bioprocessing and bio-manufacturing, metabolic engineering, and predictive medicine.

Advanced Materials form the basis of new discoveries in life sciences, energy, and all facets of sustainable infrastructure. This areas includes new polymers, glass/ceramics, two-dimensional materials, carbon and inorganic nanomaterials, biomaterials, and materials under extreme conditions for these applications.

Big Data, Computation, and Cognitive and Immersive Systems support all fields of science and engineering including new algorithms in exascale-path computing, uncertainty quantification, biocomputing, multiscale modeling, materials and big data, data analytics, and physical modeling.

Energy, Sustainability, and Resilient Infrastructure covers energy harvesting, conversion, and distribution; micro-grid and networks; energy efficient devices and systems; novel propulsion systems; materials for sustainability; and transportation.

Systems, Automation, and Control research is focused on resilient infrastructure and transportation, systems biology, distributed communication, sensing and actuation, connected health, human-automation interaction, and advanced manufacturing.

Rensselaer School of Engineering’s notable alumni include:

  • Steven Sasson, inventor of the first digital camera

  • Howard Isermann, inventor of sunscreen lotion

  • Dr. Jay Baliga, inventor of the insulated gate bipolar transistor

  • Allen B. Du Mont, inventor of the first commercially practical cathode ray tube for television

  • Lois Graham, first woman in the U.S. to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering

  • Marcian E. Hoff, father of the microprocessor

  • David L. Noble, designer of the floppy disk

  • John F. Schenck, developer of the first clinically viable MRI scanner

  • Raymond S. Tomlinson, inventor of e-mail

Technologies

Rensselaer researchers continually develop materials, technologies, and processes with significant commercial potential including those mentioned here.

Enhanced Robot Vision — A robot named Pepper is able to pick up on nonverbal cues — such as body gestures, facial expressions, and body poses — using enhanced vision developed at RPI. Pepper can perceive human action and naturally interact with humans through these nonverbal behaviors. The researchers mapped the human face and body so that computers, with the help of cameras built into the robots and machine-learning technologies, can perceive nonverbal cues and identify human action and emotion. Pepper can count how many people are in a room, scan an area to look for a particular person, estimate an individual’s age, recognize facial expressions, and maintain eye contact during an interaction.

Researchers are developing a new bioactive foam that can be used to replace skull bone lost to injury, surgery, or birth defect.

Internet of Airplanes — Researchers envision a future in which airplanes in flight share sensor data across an “Internet of Airplanes” to improve safety and efficiency. But when nodes in the network move at the speed of flight, achieving that vision requires a data-sharing framework adapted to the challenges and needs of the environment. RPI scientists developed the Virtual Sky platform to fuse and analyze flight sensor data correctly, reliably, and quickly. Virtual Sky, like the infrastructure of the Internet, will have basic protocols and basic ways to transmit data, on top of which applications will be built.

Battling Space Debris — Rensselaer built the Obsolete Spacecraft Capture and Removal (OSCaR), a semi-autonomous trash collector for space. OSCaR can inexpensively be sent into space aboard larger vehicles and then released to nearly autonomously seek out, capture, and then de-orbit space debris.

OSCaR is a three-unit CubeSat. One unit houses the “brains” including GPS, data storage, and communication, as well as the power and thermal management systems. Another holds propellant and the propulsion module and the third contains four gun barrels, nets, and tethers to physically capture debris, one piece at a time. OSCaRs could be routinely carried aboard space-bound craft as part of an ongoing cleanup effort.

RPI is working with NASA on a robot that could capture a satellite in space and pull it in to dock, where it would refuel.

Refueling Satellites in Space — RPI researchers are working with NASA on a solution that could keep satellites operating longer: a robot that could capture a satellite in space and pull it in to dock, where it would refuel. Complex algorithms and simulations are being tested, both computationally and physically, at RPI. For physical simulations, the team uses an air bearing setup (an air hockey table, essentially) where a small satellite model can float along the surface, simulating a zero-gravity environment. A smaller robotic arm models the movement that will need to take place in space.

Aqueous Lithium-Ion Battery — As the lithium-ion batteries that power most phones, laptops, and electric vehicles become increasingly fast-charging and high-performing, they also grow increasingly expensive and flammable. RPI engineers used aqueous electrolytes instead of typical organic electrolytes to assemble a substantially safer, cost-efficient battery that still performs well. For emerging applications such as portable electronics, electric vehicles, and grid storage, the ability to pack the maximum amount of energy into a limited volume becomes critical.

Virtual Sky fuses and analyzes flight sensor data, creating an “Internet of Airplanes” to improve safety and efficiency.

3D-Printed Living Skin — RPI developed a way to 3D-print living skin, complete with blood vessels. It is a significant step toward creating grafts that are more like the skin our bodies produce naturally. Two types of living human cells are made into bio-inks, which are then printed into a skin-like structure.

This 3D bioprinting can be used in precision medicine, where solutions can be tailored to specific situations and eventually to individuals. More work needs to be done to address the challenges associated with burn patients, which include the loss of nerve and vascular endings.

Moldable Scaffold for Bone — Researchers are developing a new material that can be used to replace skull bone lost to injury, surgery, or birth defect. The bioactive foam is malleable when exposed to warm saline, allowing surgeons to easily shape it to fit irregular defects in the skull, where it hardens in place. Once implanted in the skull, specially coated pores within the foam attract bone cells, naturally regenerating bone to replace the foam, which dissolves over time.

Technology Transfer

Scientists at Rensselaer are among the most productive in the nation when it comes to turning research dollars into marketable technology. Research is focused, purposeful, and designed to meet the technology needs of industry and society.

The Office of Intellectual Property and Tech Transfer at RPI supports researchers in protecting intellectual property and bringing inventions into the commercial marketplace.

Technologies are available for licensing through the Rensselaer Office of Technology Commercialization. The office works to promote the introduction of RPI technology into the commercial marketplace by building relationships with a diverse group of qualified companies, from start-ups to multinational corporations.

For more information on licensing RPI technologies, contact Bruce Hunter, Director of the Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit RPI on the Web here .


Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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