This year's winners represent a broad range of technologies--from smart prosthetics to car seats made of soy, 3D computer chips, and a new type of landmine detector. They showcase work developed by industrial enterprises, government labs, and universities from around the globe.
This slideshow offers a sampling of the 2009 R&D award recipients, which were announced last month and will be honored at a November gala. Caption information was contributed by R&D Magazine staff members and photos were contributed by award recipients. Follow this link for a complete list of award winners.
Shown here is a sample of the first use of functionalized soybean oil in the manufacture of flexible, polyurethane foam for automotive seating, recently developed by Ford Motor and Lear Corp.
Development of the Automotive Soy Foam, an effort to replace petroleum-based products with sustainable materials, was not easy. Soy-based foams pose challenges to manufacturers like low chemical reactivity, blend separation, odor, fogging, and green strength. The team invented and developed new foam formulations to overcome all of these limitations and meet the stringent mechanical requirements of automotive seating, including adequate manufacturing cycle time. First used in the company's Mustang car, the seat will soon be added to other automotive lines.
The Artificial Retina is a retinal prosthesis that can be used to treat age-related macular degeneration and inherited retinal disorders such as retinitis pigmentosa.
The device uses application-specific integrated circuits to transform digital images from a camera into electrical signals in the eye that the brain uses to create a visual image. The system features a video camera and transmitter mounted in sunglasses, a visual processing unit, and a battery pack to power the device that is worn on the belt. The retinal implant receives a signal via wireless transmission, encodes it into specific patterns of stimulation pulses that are conducted through a cable to the electrode array that stimulates the retina. The brain perceives the patterns of light spots corresponding to the stimulated electrodes.
Developers include: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory, United States Department of Energy, California Institute of Technology, Doheny Eye Institute, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, North Carolina State University at Raleigh, University of California at Santa Cruz, and Second Sight Medical Products.
The device works by measuring relaxation times of protons exposed to magnetic fields. Because the energy of the fields is so much smaller than used by traditional MRI, the relaxation time is obtained with extremely sensitive magnetic-field detectors called superconducting quantum interference devices, or "squids," which are cooled to liquid-helium temperatures.
Although images from MagViz lack the fine detail of traditional MRI, they are still able to deliver information about the chemical properties of different tissue types and tissue conditions. When it comes to liquids, MagViz can gauge the properties to determine if the liquid is harmless or a threat.
The technology, which also reduces the potential for heat by creating conductive features within 3D fibers of silicon or other semiconductors, should help enable the creation of high-density electronic packages and other complex 3D structures.
The key innovation is a type of diamond--ultrananocrystalline--that takes advantage of the mineral's properties by achieving extremely small grain sizes for extra hardness. It is made using standard semiconductor techniques, which helps keep the cost low. A low inherent friction and adhesion value also reduces wear.
Photometry and measuring of focus, once performed by conventional mirror boxes, are carried in the G1 by reading information picked up the imaging sensor directly.
During evaluations in the clinic, a master module is mated to the sensor, a permanent part of the prosthesis, providing power, Bluetooth connection, gyroscope, and laser. Compas communicates with a host computer running software system that automatically interprets the Compas data with proprietary fuzzy logic algorithms, and displays and records the output numerically and graphically.
The Land Mine Locator combines two technologies, Landmarc and Hystar. The Landmarc features an array of ground-penetrating, ultrawideband radar sensors, and a signal-processing engine capable of detecting and mapping landmines buried at shallow depths. The Hystar is an aerial platform that is remotely operated, highly maneuverable, and stable. Capable of navigating meters off the ground, hovering over a spot, or cruising at 45 mph, the Hystar permits remote, reusable, safe operation for sensor platforms.
A technological innovation--Superconducting Wires by Epitaxial Growth on SSIFFS--developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has enabled the fabrication of a round or low-aspect ratio, single-crystal superconducting wire.
According to the developer, this is the only known technology that allows fabrication of a round or low-aspect ratio, single-crystal, high-temperature superconducting wire, which can operate at temperatures of 65K-77K and has intrinsically low hysteretic AC losses.
The core technology uses an assembly of ultrathin thermocouples in a unique configuration that exploit small (>2°Celsius) temperature differences occurring naturally in the environment of the application (e.g. ground to air, water to air, or skin to air interfaces). The individual thermocouples, 1 cm high by 1.5 cm wide and a few micrometers thick, are deposited in a linked chain onto a thin, flexible plastic substrate, using sputtered thin-film deposition thermocouples to be assembled into products of all shapes and sizes. These devices generate useful energy from temperature differences as low as 1°C to 2°C, while larger temperature differences produce correspondingly larger outputs. The devices can also be designed to work regardless of which thermal side is warmer or cooler.
The Precision Robotic Assembly Machine for Building Nuclear Fusion Ignition Targets, invented at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif., is able to perform this task, which involves piecing together a small, but complex assembly that requires micrometer clearances. The dimensional accuracy of these targets is 2 to 20 micrometers, which indicates the manipulative precision of the assembly machine: 100 nm precision and 100 mg resolution force feedback in an operating arena the size of a sugar cube. The machine has a work volume the size of a shoe box.
Innovative use of visual and force feedback and real-time dimensional metrology gives the operator the ability to use the machine like a surgical robot, initiating and controlling the movement of the motorized instruments with hand movements that are precise in the millimeter-scale world, yet scaled to precision in the 100-nm world. This machine can be adapted to manufacturing other complex miniature machines.
The radiation sensor relies on a crystalline material, CZT. When struck by an incident X- or gamma-ray, a tiny current pulse is generated in the crystal that can be measured with an electronic readout circuit.
Integrating the detectors and electronics into a trans-rectal probe, minimizes the working distance between the imaging system and the prostate gland, so allowing urologists to obtain better signals with a small amount of injected radioactive tracer. This capability entails more rapid measurements, improved images, and greater comfort for the patients.