UCF recognized with an ‘Oscar of Invention’

The University of Central Florida, NASA’sKennedy Space Center and HySense Technology, an early stage startup company, will be recognized by R&D Magazine later this year for developing and producing one of the top 100 innovations of the year.

UCF and NASA Team Photo

A team of UCF researchers at the Florida Solar Energy Center developed breakthrough technology implemented by NASA engineers under a grant from NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

This award, known as the R&D 100, is widely regarded as the “Oscars of Invention,” whose past winners include the fax machine (1975) and HDTV (1998).

According to a release from the university, UCF researchers at the Florida Solar Energy Center began work on the breakthrough technology, a color-changing tape to visually detect hydrogen leaks, under a grant from NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

Use of hydrogen as fuel for space exploration carries the risk of an accident if a hydrogen leak isn’t pinpointed and fixed quickly.

Adding to the difficulties in dealing with hydrogen: Potentially dangerous leaks in environments like a shuttle launch pad are hard to detect because hydrogen is odorless and colorless. However, by wrapping leak-susceptible areas with the new tape, leaks can be “seen” with a color change in the presence of hydrogen.

The color-changing concept for a visual cue was conceived by UCF’s Ali Raissi, with a team of scientists including Nahid Mohajeri, who would later bring the invention to market as UCF searched for a partner to commercialize the technology.

Mohajeri, who founded HySense Technology, introduced the award-winning hydrogen detection tape to the market.

On Nov. 7, UCF, NASA Kennedy and HySense will be recognized internationally at the R&D 100 banquet and award presentation held at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.


Ex-Tesla and NASA Engineers Make a Light Bulb That’s Smarter Than You


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Sometime in early 2013, one of the delivery operations engineers at Tesla leaned back in his chair and took a look around the Silicon Valley office. “It was a sunny day, and I looked up and I thought, ‘Why are these lights on with full power, when full sunlight is coming through the window?’” says Neil Joseph. An online search for a better, responsive bulb only yielded a few expensive commercial products. That October, Joseph (who says even as a kid, his two fascinations were lights and cars) left Tesla to start his own lighting company.


The company is Stack, and its first product is Alba (alba is Italian for ‘sunrise’). The Alba bulbs are designed to work autonomously, both by adjusting light output based on sunlight and by learning and adapting to its owners’ household habits. As Joseph sees it, it’s the first in a new wave of lighting products to follow the Philips Hue and the LIFX. Those bulbs are smarter than the usual drugstore variety—they can sync with a smartphone app, and even keep rhythm with a song—but they aren’t intelligent by the same standards as the Nest Thermostat or even a tool like Google Maps. In short: They’re connected, but not responsive.

More Than a Gimmick

Embedded in Alba’s light diodes are sensors for motion, occupancy, and ambient light. This meant cofounder Jovi Gacusan, who worked on sensors at NASA, had to create a new core technology, because in order to work efficiently Alba has to both read and react to available light. “If you think about noise-canceling headphones, we have to cancel out the light being emitted by the light itself to understand how much light is in the light source,” Joseph says. The result is a light bulb that can see-saw with natural light and in doing so uses 60 to 80 percent less energy than a regular LED bulb.

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Alba’s other main function involves tailoring itself around its owners. Like the Nest, Alba runs algorithms and remembers user habits at home. “If we notice that people are in a certain part of the house, at certain times of day, and then they mosey on over to a bedroom, and then they spend more time awake in the bedroom before they go to bed we can start to light a pathway,” Joseph says. Alba emits light with blue tones in the morning, to help users become alert, and then glows warmer shades of white as the day wears on. Users can adjust all this in the Stack app, and create profiles (‘dinner party,’ ‘nap time,’ and so on), and Alba will fold that data into its learning curve too.

It’s fairly easy to see how Stack, by riding the light bulb’s coattails, could quickly become the spine of the connected home. Everyone has to buy light bulbs, and many of them. And because each Alba bulb contains a Bluetooth module that acts like iBeacon technology, the hardware is already poised to start talking to other smart gadgets.

For now, it’s being used to track users and their movement patterns around the house. (This feature has a dystopian ring to it. Joseph says, “We don’t track any personal data, or anything that’s on an individual user. It’s environmental and used for learning and product performance.”) Down the line, though, Joseph has ambitions of partnering with other companies, from “thermostats to smart beds that track how people sleep,” to eventually build a home that goes beyond convenience, and is actually healthier. “The more data we have, we can see if you’re in a REM cycle, and then know not to wake you.”

Alba is sold as a starter kit with two bulbs, for $150.


Calling All Inventors! NASA Wants Your Ideas For Mindshift


Inventors, get your minds in gear to apply NASA’s Mindshift technology to your next invention.  NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has partnered with Edison Nation to identify the best consumer inventions or product adaptations to use with its powerful mind control tool, Mindshift.

For those of you who are not familiar with the technology, Mindshift is a physiological feedback system, developed by NASA’s Langley Research Center, that monitors and provides feedback about a person’s heart rate, muscle tension, and brainwave activity – all stress indicators.  The feedback system allows you to control these stress indicators so that you can perform optimally.

Today, NASA’s Mindshift technology is being used alongside motion-sensing gaming technology like the Wii and Xbox.  As the Mindshift controls are independent of the gaming program and control, Mindshift provides biofeedback to the user without interfering with the game, thus allowing the gamer to modify his stress levels so he or she can play better. Mindshift is also being explored for use in educational, psychological, and medial situations.

Now, NASA is looking for new and adapted consumer products to use with Mindshift.  What activities of home or work life would benefit from the ‘mind control’ that the Mindshift technology offers?  What application can you create or modify to enhance this activity?


Tools Ensure Reliability of Critical Software

NASA Technology

In November 2006, after attempting to make a routine maneuver, NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) reported unexpected errors. The onboard software switched to backup resources, and a 2-day lapse in communication took place between the spacecraft and Earth. When a signal was finally received, it indicated that MGS had entered safe mode, a state of restricted activity in which the computer awaits instructions from Earth. After more than 9 years of successful operation—gathering data and snapping pictures of Mars to characterize the planet’s land and weather—communication between MGS and Earth suddenly stopped.



Months later, a report from NASA’s internal review board found the spacecraft’s battery failed due to an unfortunate sequence of events. Updates to the spacecraft’s software, which had taken place months earlier, were written to the wrong memory address in the spacecraft’s computer. In short, the mission ended because of a software defect.


Over the last decade, spacecraft have become increasingly reliant on software to carry out mission operations. In fact, the next mission to Mars, the Mars Science Laboratory, will rely on more software than all earlier missions to Mars combined. According to Gerard Holzmann, manager at the Laboratory for Reliable Software (LaRS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), even the fault protection systems on a spacecraft are mostly softwarebased. For reasons like these, well-functioning software is critical for NASA.

In the same year as the failure of MGS, Holzmann presented a new approach to critical software development to help reduce risk and provide consistency. He proposed “The Power of 10: Rules for Developing Safety-Critical Code,” which is a small set of rules that can easily be remembered, clearly relate to risk, and allow compliance to be verified. The reaction at JPL was positive, and developers in the private sector embraced Holzmann’s ideas.


To demonstrate the feasibility of using a tool to automatically check software for compliance with Holzmann’s rules, JPL awarded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding to GrammaTech Inc. of Ithaca, New York. The software development company adapted its existing software code analysis product, CodeSonar, to include verification of The Power of 10. Michael McDougall, a senior scientist at GrammaTech, says, “JPL was already using CodeSonar to check its software; however, there are things that might be acceptable in a desktop application that are unacceptable in an environment like on Mars or the Moon. CodeSonar didn’t have rules specifically crafted for this type of critical software.” After successfully adapting CodeSonar to check for the NASAderived rules, GrammaTech transitioned the changes into its commercial version of the product in 2008.




Items as varied as infusion pumps, cell phones, and aircraft components are made using CodeSonar, a product from GrammaTech Inc. that incorporates rules developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to quickly find problems in the products’ software.

As a static analysis tool, CodeSonar finds problems in software without executing any part of the program. The tool produces a list of potential violations, including complex programming bugs that can result in system crashes and memory corruption. Compared to traditional software testing methods, CodeSonar checks more code in less time and saves time and expense by finding problems before the software is completed and distributed to users.

The design of CodeSonar allows users to configure how thoroughly it performs a check. The tool can warn about every potential issue, only critical violations, or a combination of both. McDougall explains, “Depending on the application, the software may not need to be as reliable as a Mars rover, but it can still be troublesome if it crashes at the wrong time. Users can choose the level of compliance that suits their context.”

Today, CodeSonar has hundreds of users worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies, startup businesses, educational institutions, and government agencies working on satellites, avionics, industrial controls, medical devices, wireless devices, networking equipment, and consumer electronics.

In response to a widespread medical device recall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) started encouraging manufacturers of infusion pumps to utilize static code analysis tools like CodeSonar to check the pumps’ software. Commonly used to deliver fluids into a patient’s body, infusion pumps have been responsible for a number of deaths and injuries since 2005. In one instance, investigators at the FDA used CodeSonar to help determine the root cause of malfunction in a widelydeployed, commercial infusion pump.


Cell phone developers like LG Electronics Inc., Samsung, and Panasonic are also using CodeSonar. McDougall explains, “Cell phones are expected to function 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The software that runs the internal cell phone, changes what is on the screen, and manages the address book, all has to be very reliable. Users do not want to have to reboot or install updates in the middle of a phone call.”

GE Aviation, a provider of jet engines and components, as well as avionics, electric power, and mechanical systems for aircraft, uses CodeSonar to ensure the software in aircraft functions properly. “Software is an important part of engine design, and a lot of how planes work is controlled by software. You want it to be perfect—or as close to perfect as possible,” says McDougall.

With public and private entities employing CodeSonar, Holzmann is hopeful that more organizations will be inspired to improve software development practice. “If the technology continues to be adopted, we will have made a contribution to making the computer systems we rely on safer and more reliable,” he says.

Since developing The Power of 10, Holzmann has devised a single coding standard called the JPL Institutional Coding Standard for the Development of Flight Software. McDougall expects the standard will be incorporated in the next commercial version of CodeSonar.

CodeSonar® is a registered trademark of GrammaTech Inc.


Electronic Handbooks Simplify Process Management

NASA Technology

Getting a multitude of people to work together to manage processes across many organizations —for example, flight projects, research, technologies, or data centers and others—is not an easy task. Just ask Dr. Barry E. Jacobs, a research computer scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center. He helped NASA develop a process management solution that provided documenting tools for process developers and participants to help them quickly learn, adapt, test, and teach their views. Some of these tools included editable files for subprocess descriptions, document descriptions, role guidelines, manager worksheets, and references.



NASA’s SBIR program provides opportunities for small businesses to participate in research and development projects. The STTR program awards contracts to small businesses for cooperative research and development with a non-profit research institution, such as a university.

First utilized for NASA’s Headquarters Directives Management process, the approach led to the invention of a concept called the Electronic Handbook (EHB). This EHB concept was successfully applied to NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, among other NASA programs. Several Federal agencies showed interest in the concept, so Jacobs and his team visited these agencies to show them how their specific processes could be managed by the methodology, as well as to create mockup versions of the EHBs.



In partnership with NASA and under the guidance of Jacobs, REI Systems, a Herndon, Virginia-based small business, received a NASA SBIR award in 1989 to build an integrated, uniform, and extensible framework for storage, retrieval, and update of heterogeneous objects. REI’s solution employed the NASA-developed EHB paradigm.

Using a familiar, easy-to-learn “handbook” interface, the EHB guides each user through complicated procedures that formerly required using multiple paper documents or legacy systems. This web-based business process management system was used to automate, integrate, execute, and optimize the business processes for NASA’s SBIR and STTR programs, which receive approximately 2,500 Phase I and Phase II proposals annually.

The team worked closely with the stakeholders at every level in order to fully understand the roles and business processes involved, which helped ensure the successful functionality, efficiency, and usability of the system. The way Jacobs sees it, “To truly understand one’s universe, one must see it through multiple ‘eyes’ and also have tools to communicate these views.”

The first NASA SBIR/STTR EHB was deployed in 1996 for the Phase I Review and Selection process. Now, the NASA SBIR/STTR EHB is a complete end-to-end paperless system for management of the SBIR/STTR programs ranging from solicitation development to contract administration processes and commercialization. The EHB continues to be used by all program participants, with approximately 6,000 active users from NASA Centers and firms.

According to REI, each firm that uses the EHB system to apply to the NASA programs saves the costs associated with printing and mailing of eight paper copies. For NASA, there has been a more than 30-percent reduction in the time required for processing, with commensurate reductions in the effort to manage the paper submissions.




Originally featured in Spinoff 2001, REI has grown from a startup to a large business that provides a variety of Web-enabled, database-driven knowledge management and performance support solutions for Federal agencies, State governments, and the commercial sector. REI Systems continues to innovate with the EHB concept nurtured by NASA 22 years ago.


The company has applied the approach to managing information in every one of their custom software applications that manage the grants-making processes for Federal agencies as diverse as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice, and the Department of Energy (DOE). Specifically, REI’s NASAderived EHB model has more than 60,000 users with over $6 billion in financial transactions per year.

REI has also taken its NASA SBIR domain knowledge to other agencies—DHS’s Science and Technology, the Small Business Administration, and DOE—where it is currently developing systems for their SBIR programs. In turn, REI has leveraged its open government and dashboarding solutions for the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration (Recovery.gov, ITDashboard.gov, and USASpending. gov are some eGov sites developed by REI) and brought those solutions back to NASA to provide data visualization capabilities. Innovation with the EHB has been a two-way street.


According to REI, EHBs create a system that has lower maintenance, support, and upgrade costs, as well as reduced publication, distribution, and storage costs. An organization using an EHB will benefit from increased productivity and efficiency, enhanced communication and collaboration, enterprise-wide knowledge management, and increased data quality and accuracy. Samidha Manu, senior program manager at REI, says, “We look at what our customers’ needs are, and then we provide what makes the most sense in an automated tool. The big push is to make the process efficient, to make it work more effectively.”

REI’s largest EHBbased system supports HRSA, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, to provide competitively awarded grant funding to states and localities in providing healthcare and affiliated services to underserved communities nationwide. The EHB supports more than 300 grant programs and cooperative agreements, more than 10,000 grantees, and 1,500 HRSA employees.

Manu expresses appreciation to NASA for helping REI get to where it is today. “The tools deployed for NASA Goddard, in one form or another, have been adapted to the technology or solutions that we are deploying for other Federal agencies and doing a variety of things we probably never anticipated,” she says. “In 1998, there were hardly any Federal Internet applications to speak of. Since then, all types of Web applications have exploded.”


Home Air Purifiers Eradicate Harmful Pathogens

NASA TechnologyLettuce grown on the ISS

Mizuna lettuce growing aboard the International Space Station before being harvested and frozen for return to Earth. NASA funded the development of Ethylene scrubbers to remove the plant-produced gas from the air, which help to keep vegetables fresh in space.

In the 1990s, NASA scientists were thinking of what astronauts would need to survive long-term missions to the moon and even to other planets in the solar system. One important requirement was a dependable source of food, which could be accomplished by astronauts growing their own produce in space-age greenhouses. But cultivating crops in a sealed-off environment results in the buildup of an undesirable gas called ethylene. Plants release the odorless, colorless fume into the air, which has the unfortunate effect of accelerating decay, hastening the wilting of flowers and the ripening of fruits and vegetables.

To address the problem, the Marshall Space Flight Center’s Space Product Development Program funded the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics, located at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, to develop plant growth chambers that included an ethylene reduction device. In this device, called a “scrubber,” air is drawn into tubes coated with thin layers of titanium dioxide (TiO2). When an ultraviolet (UV) light source located in the tubes strikes the TiO2, the ethylene gets converted to water and carbon dioxide, both of which are beneficial for plants.

Technology TransferThe ethylene scrubber was first used in 1995 aboard Space Shuttle Columbia mission STS-73, where it successfully preserved a crop of potato seedlings. Updated versions of the device were subsequently flown on several missions to the International Space Station.

While NASA’s main objective in developing the technology was to get rid of ethylene, the scrubbers were capable of purging all kinds of unwanted organic particles from the air. Recognizing its powerful air purification abilities, KES Science & Technology, based out of Kennesaw, Georgia, licensed the technology from the University of Wisconsin (Spinoff 2001 and 2002). The company then partnered with Jacksonville, Florida-based Akida Holdings, which marketed the technology as Airocide (Spinoff 2009).

In 2013, Airocide finally found its way into people’s homes when Akida Holdings adapted the technology for home use by developing an eye-catching portable unit with enough power to purge an entire room of pathogens.

The home Airocide unit made its public debut with an appearance on the Ellen Degeneres Show, immediately generating a great deal of attention for it. “It was a lot of fun putting that together and it was also great publicity for our product,” said Barney Freedman, who is vice president at Akida Holdings.


According to the company, Airocide is the only air purifier that completely destroys airborne bacteria, mold, fungi, mycotoxins, viruses, volatile organic compounds, and odors. And because of the technology’s versatility, the product is now used in a variety of settings. Grocery stores and produce distribution facilities now use it, in addition to a host of wineries, distilleries, and floral businesses. The device has also found its way into refrigerators that are used for both homes and for distributing food aid to remote towns. In hospitals and clinics, Airocide’s powerful germ-killing properties are on full display as it purges the air of harmful bacteria like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus.

“In two days, you’ll notice how the bedroom just feels different. And as you get the chance to breathe in the air, you’ll start feeling better physically. You’re going to wake up feeling refreshed.”

—Barney Freedman, Akida Holdings 

The home Airocide unit has a sleek, glossy, rectangular body accented with orange-peel-colored inside walls. The product, which can either be mounted on a floor stand or hung on a wall, could easily pass for a modern work of art. But, beyond its aesthetics, according to Freedman, the product will change consumers’ quality of life. “You’re going to sleep better, and you’re going to feel better,” he says.

Airocide home unit
The Airocide unit can be laid on a flat surface, hung on a wall, or mounted to a floor stand.

Freedman notes that Airocide works differently from High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which are designed to capture particles that are 0.3 microns across and larger. If the strings on a tennis racquet represent the best of these filters, he says, and marbles represent dirt particles, the racquet’s ability to capture them is how the filter collects dust. But if your aim were to capture particles smaller than dust—like viruses, bacteria, and volatile organic compounds—they would just slip right through the filter, as BB gun pellets would drop through a racquet’s strings. Not so with Airocide. “We’re able to eliminate those particles on contact,” he says.

Airocide is simple to operate—just plug it into an outlet, turn it on, then forget about it. The only upkeep required is replacing the reaction chamber, which houses the UV light source, every 12-14 months. There’s a high and a low-intensity mode, as well as automatic, which alternates from high in the day to low at night.

While the unit functions in any room, Freedman suggests putting your first one in the bedroom. With all the hours spent sleeping, it’s the most important space to keep clear of contaminants. “In two days, you’ll notice how the bedroom just feels different,” he says. “And as you get the chance to breathe in the air, you’ll start feeling better physically. You’re going to wake up feeling refreshed. You’re not going to be stuffy in the morning nor will you have any of the issues associated with air quality that you had before.”

According to testimonials shared on the Airocide website, people credit the product with helping them and their loved ones attain relief from symptoms associated with asthma, allergies, and sinuses. Freedman isn’t the least bit surprised by their claims.

“We know technology-wise that this device works,” he says. “It was developed by NASA, it’s FDA-approved, and it’s been tested and vouched for by a host of universities. Not to mention the fact that we’ve been selling this for 10 years. We’re very confident in what it can do.”

AiroCide® is a registered trademark of KesAir Technologies LLC.



NASA Paves the way for a Greener Future

Green energy has been on everyone’s minds lately. With climate shift occurring at an alarming rate, America will begin shifting it’s investments towards cleaner, more renewable energy.  Over the years, NASA has  paved the way for alternative energy, creating tens-of-thousands of high-paying jobs along the way.

From being able to predict pot holes to designing a chip that will allow plants never to go without water, NASA has helped a great portion of this country achieve an easier life. Even outside the country, NASA has outfitted our military with stronger body armor, and have even created water-purifying bottles for those without a clean water supply.

Due to NASA’s need for renewable energy on space missions, they’ve been a pioneer in green energy creations. Some of their most important contributions to the world are:

Solar Energy – NASA has pioneered photovoltaic power systems for spacecraft applications. Solar energy technology has been developed for space programs to expand terrestrial applications where no other long term energy sources exist.




Forest Management – A satellite scanning system has been developed that monitors and maps forestation. It detects radiation reflected and emitted from trees.




Oil Spill Control – The concept was invented by Petrol Rem, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Penn. Also, Marshall Space Flight Center and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory helped to design the tiny beeswax balls (microcapsules). These microcapsules made of beeswax are designed so that water can’t get in, but oil can. The microorganisms inside release enzymes that digest the oil when the oil seeps through the shell. Once the balls are full of digested oil, they explode. The microcapsules release enzymes, carbon dioxide and water, all environmentally safe. The residue is even eatable fish food!


Fishing from Orbit – A series of satellites were launched in 1972 by NASA to observe the changing conditions of the earth’s surface. The ability to monitor changes to the earth for a long period of time provides invaluable information such as: preserving wildlife, monitoring air and water pollution, mapping the growth of cities, flood control and more.




Feeding Our World-And Prepping to Feed Other Worlds – Disney and NASA are working together in a unique partnership. They are striving to find ways to use human and industrial waste to provide the ingredients needed for growing edible plants. This technology will be needed for establishing human colonies on other worlds.




Other spin-offs include: Environmental Control Sensors, energy saving air conditioning, air purification, sewage treatment, pollution control and measuring devices, a whale identification method, and a earthquake prediction system. You can find more information about NASA Spinoffs at http://spinoff.nasa.gov



Space-Inspired Trailers Encourage Exploration on Earth

NASA Technology

An inch can make a world of difference. Which is why Garrett Finney moved the office coffee-maker into the full-size, cardboard mockup of the new trailer he was designing. The need for caffeine—and the threat of hot coffee accidentally dumped on a coworker—provided motivation and means for assessing the feasibility of a confined living space.

“We all had to go inside and bump into each other and figure out when 20 inches is much different from 21 inches in terms of the size of a table or passage,” Finney says.

altFinney has what he calls a “nonstandard expertise in people in small spaces.” He developed it while part of a NASA team designing living quarters for the International Space Station (ISS).

Though its crew of six—plus one Robonaut—has space larger than a five-bedroom house to live and work in, the ISS is also packed with electronics, life-support systems, racks of experiments, and more. Then consider that all of these components must be built to strict performance specifications for operation in a harsh space environment.

“It’s very difficult to write human beings into those performance specs,” says Finney.

Then add in further complications such as microgravity; long-duration stays far from family and friends; the lack of any nearby maintenance assistance; and crew-members with diverse backgrounds, cultures, and concepts of personal space. Accommodating all of these considerations while offering the greatest possible ease and comfort for the crew becomes a significant challenge.

Technology Transfer

In order to help address the problems arising from long-term living in space, NASA’s Johnson Space Center established the Habitability Design Center. In 1999, Finney, an award-winning architect in New York City, joined the center to collaborate with engineers on the design of a Habitation Module, planned as the main living quarters for the ISS crew.

“My interest in going there intellectually was to be working on the first permanent settlement, or home, in space. There’s science fiction, and then there’s that exciting place where dreams become reality, and I thought of the space station as that,” Finney says.

Whereas everything on the ISS must in a technical sense be operable and repairable by any crew-member regardless of that person’s size or strength, Finney explains, “That has nothing to do with irritation and emotion and function over time and comfort.” Finney formed a connection between the astronauts and the engineers, applying his architectural expertise not with an eye toward aesthetics, but instead “trying to remove irritation from astronauts’ lives.” This included finding space-friendly solutions to considerations that would be minor to those not orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth—such as a place, Finney says, “to accommodate a laptop and a book and a picture of your family, and yet not have it be wrong if you didn’t have a family photo. I wanted to let the crew use the space as they wanted. Physically, but also culturally, demographically.”

While Finney contributed a number of innovative approaches to living in space, including a table that substituted toeholds for chairs, funding for the Habitation Module was ultimately cancelled. (The partially built structure was later appropriated as a testbed for ground-based life support research.) Finney’s NASA experience, however, would prove a significant influence on his vision for “a piece of equipment people just happen to live in,” a new means for exploring Earth informed by the exploration of space.

Combining his NASA expertise with his love of the outdoors, Finney turned to an industry where space is also at a premium: recreational vehicles. In 2009, he launched Cricket, based in Houston, and set about designing the first Cricket trailer. Beginning with the coffee-machine-equipped cardboard model—testing ideas in full-scale cardboard form was a holdover from Finney’s time at NASA—the company soon arrived at a highly versatile, user-friendly trailer that it believes can revolutionize the camping experience and how people interact with the natural environment.


alt“The RV industry in general makes houses on wheels,” Finney says. “We think many people want to—and should—leave their house at home.”

The Cricket trailer hits a midway point between camping and home living. Suitable for a full hookup campsite or going completely off-grid, the trailer can accommodate two adults and two children for sleeping and can be customized with a range of features including a shower, refrigerator, toilet, an array of storage options, and more. As in space where every surface—floor, walls, ceiling—can be functional, Finney designed the Cricket for maximum utility by virtually any user. The children’s berths, for example, are suspended from the ceiling and serve as storage when not in use.

Designing for the ISS, Finney explains, meant accommodating crew-members of different nationalities, each with different ideas of what personal space means, how close people should be when talking, how one acts when in a bad mood. “For Cricket, the question was how to design a trailer whose space evolved from the inside out and be able to claim with a straight face that it is perfect for a 75-year-old and a 25-year-old, a fly fisherman and a duck hunter and a family camper—even though it’s the same trailer.”

In a NASA-like way, Finney says, the company devised a shorter performance specification for the trailer. It designed the trailer to be light enough (1,300–1,400 pounds) to be towed by a 4-cylinder car and crafted an aerodynamic shape that is easy to see around and fits into most garages. And as is required of ISS equipment, the Cricket’s components are readily accessible and fixable. In that sense, “It’s more like a mountain bike than a house on wheels,” Finney says.

The Cricket trailer has attracted significant coverage from media outlets such as Dwell magazine and the Travel Channel. Finney hopes Cricket will prove the ideal tool for helping people connect with the natural world and revitalize interest in and sustainable use of the Nation’s park system.

“To be better stewards of our national parks, we need to go see them and fall in love with them again. We need to be inspired to be light on the land and part of the big ecosystem instead of pretending the parks are just postcards for looking at.”

When he talks about the Cricket trailer’s design, Finney says, he’s actually talking about what he learned at NASA.

“I’m tremendously glad I went to work at NASA and got a whole new set of eyes, a way to view the world and all the systems that interact in it.”


Web Solutions Inspire Cloud Computing Software

NASA Technology

In 2008, a NASA effort to standardize its websites inspired a breakthrough in cloud computing technology. The innovation has spurred the growth of an entire industry in open source cloud services that has already attracted millions in investment and is currently generating hundreds of millions in revenue.

William Eshagh was part of the project in the early days, when it was known as NASA.net. “The feeling was that there was a proliferation of NASA websites and approaches to building them. Everything looked different, and it was all managed differently—it was a fragmented landscape.”

altNASA.net aimed to resolve this problem by providing a standard set of tools and methods for web developers. The developers, in turn, would provide design, code, and functionality for their project while adopting and incorporating NASA’s standardized approach. Says Eshagh, “The basic idea was that the web developer would write their code and upload it to the website, and the website would take care of everything else.”

altEven though the project was relatively narrow in its focus, the developers soon realized that they would need bigger, more foundational tools to accomplish the job. “We were trying to create a ‘platform layer,’ which is the concept of giving your code over to the service. But in order to build that, we actually needed to go a step deeper,” says Eshagh.

That next step was to create an “infrastructure service.” Whereas NASA.net was a platform for dealing with one type of application, an infrastructure service is a more general tool with a simpler purpose: to provide access to computing power. While such computing power could be used to run a service like NASA.net, it could also be used for other applications.

Put another way, what the team came to realize was that they needed to create a cloud computing service. Cloud computing is the delivery of software, processing power, and storage over the Internet. Whether these resources are as ordinary as a library of music files or as complex as a network of supercomputers, cloud computing enables an end user to control them remotely and simply. “The idea is to be able to log on to the service and say ‘I want 10 computers,’ and within a minute, I can start using those computers for any purpose whatsoever,” says Eshagh.

As the scope of the project expanded, NASA.net came to be known as Nebula. Much more than setting standards for Agency web developers, Nebula was intended to provide NASA developers, researchers, and scientists with a wide range of services for accessing and managing the large quantities of data the Agency accumulates every day. This was an enormous undertaking that only a high-powered cloud computing platform could provide.

Raymond O’Brien, former program manager of Nebula, says the project was in some ways ahead of its time. “Back in 2008 and 2009, people were still trying to figure out what ‘cloud’ meant. While lots of people were calling themselves ‘cloud enabled’ or ‘cloud ready,’ there were few real commercial offerings. With so little clarity on the issue, there was an opportunity for us to help fill that vacuum.”

altAs the team built Nebula, one of the most pressing questions they faced was that of open source development, or the practice of building software in full view of the public over the Internet.

On the one hand, proprietary code might have helped the project overcome early hurdles, as commercial software can offer off-the-shelf solutions that speed up development by solving common problems. Proprietary software is sometimes so useful and convenient that the Nebula team wasn’t even sure that they could create the product without relying on closed source solutions at some point.

On the other hand, open source development would facilitate a collaborative environment without borders—literally anyone with the know-how and interest could access the code and improve on it. Because Nebula had evolved into a project that was addressing very general, widespread needs—not just NASA-wide, but potentially worldwide—the possibility of avoiding restrictive licensing agreements by going open source was very attractive.

O’Brien says that broad appeal was an important part of Nebula’s identity. “From the beginning, we wanted this project to involve a very large community—private enterprises, academic institutions, research labs—that would take Nebula and bring it to the next level. It was a dream, a vision. It was that way from the start.”

Despite uncertainties, the development team decided to make Nebula purely open source. Eshagh says the real test for that philosophy came when those constraints were stretched to their limits. “Eventually, we determined that existing open source tools did not fully address Nebula’s requirements,” he says. “But instead of turning to proprietary tools, we decided to write our own.”

The problem was with a component of the software called the cloud controller, or the tool that can turn a single server or pool of servers into many virtual servers, which can then be provisioned remotely using software. In effect, the controller gives an end user access in principle to as much or as little computing power and storage as is needed. Existing tools were either written in the wrong programming language or under the wrong software license.

Within a matter of days, the Nebula team had built a new cloud controller from scratch, in Python (their preferred programming language for the controller), and under an open source license. When the team announced this breakthrough on its blog, they immediately began attracting attention from some of the biggest players in the industry. “We believed we were addressing a general problem that would have broad interest,” says Eshagh. “As it turns out, that prediction couldn’t have been more accurate.”

Technology Transfer

Rackspace Inc., of San Antonio, Texas, was one of the companies most interested in the technology. Rackspace runs the second largest public cloud in the world and was at the time offering computing and storage services using software they had created in-house. Jim Curry, general manager of Rackspace Cloud Builders, says they faced hurdles similar to those NASA faced in building a private cloud. “We tried to use available technology,” he says, “but it couldn’t scale up to meet our needs.”

The engineers at Rackspace wrote their own code for a number of years, but Curry says they didn’t see it as a sustainable activity. “We’re a hosting company—people come to us when they want to run standard server environments with a high level of hosting support that we can offer them. Writing proprietary code for unique technologies is not something we wanted to be doing long-term.”

The developers at Rackspace were fans of open source development and had been looking into open source solutions right at the time the Nebula team announced its new cloud controller. “Just weeks before we were going to announce our own open source project, we saw that what NASA had released looked very similar to what we were trying to do.” Curry reached out to the Nebula team, and within a week the two development teams met and agreed that it made sense to collaborate on the project going forward.

Each of the teams brought something to the table, says Curry. “The nice thing about it was that we were more advanced than NASA in some areas and vice versa, and we each complemented the other very well. For example, NASA was further along with their cloud controller, whereas we were further along on the storage side of things.”

The next step was for each organization to make its code open source so the two teams could launch the project as an independent, open entity. Jim Curry says the team at Rackspace was stunned by the speed at which NASA moved through the process. “Within a period of 30–45 days, NASA completed the process of getting the agreements to have this stuff done. From my perspective, they moved as fast as any company I’ve ever worked with, and it was really impressive to watch.”

The OpenStack project, the successor to Nebula with development from Rackspace, was announced in July 2010. As open source software, OpenStack has attracted a very broad community: nearly 2,500 independent developers and 150 companies are a part of it—including such giants as AT&T, HP, Cisco, Dell, and Intel. Semi-annual developers’ conferences, where members of the development community meet to exchange ideas and explore new directions for the software, now attract over 1,000 participants from about two dozen different countries.


Because OpenStack is free, companies who use it to deploy servers do not need to pay licensing fees—fees that can easily total thousands of dollars per server per year. With the number of companies that have already adopted OpenStack, the software has potentially saved millions of dollars in server costs.

“Before OpenStack,” says Curry, “your only option was to pay someone money to solve the problem that OpenStack is addressing today. For people who want it as a solution, who like the idea of consuming open source, they now have an alternative to proprietary options.”

Not only is OpenStack saving money; it is also generating jobs and revenue at a remarkable pace. Curry says that dozens of Rackspace’s 80 cloud engineering jobs are directly attributable to OpenStack, and that the technology has created hundreds of jobs throughout the industry. “Right now, trying to find someone with OpenStack experience, especially in San Francisco, is nearly impossible, because demand is so high.”

The technology is currently generating hundreds of millions in revenue: Rackspace’s public cloud alone— which largely relies on OpenStack—currently takes in $150 million a year. Curry, Eshagh, and O’Brien all predict that the software will be its own billion-dollar industry within a few years.

Because OpenStack is open source, and is modified and improved by the people who use it, it is more likely to remain a cutting-edge solution for cloud computing needs. Says Eshagh, “We are starting to see the heavyweights in the industry adding services on top of OpenStack—which they can do because they have a common framework to build from. That means we’ll see even more services and products being created.”

In 2012, Rackspace took steps to secure OpenStack’s future as a free and open source project: the company began the process of spinning off the platform into its own nonprofit organization. By separating itself from any one commercial interest, Curry says, the project will be better positioned to continue doing what its founders hoped it would.

O’Brien maintains that OpenStack’s potential is far from being realized. “It’s hard to characterize in advance. If you had asked an expert about Linux years ago, who could have predicted that it would be in nearly everything, as it is today? It’s in phones and mobile devices. It’s in 75 percent of deployed servers. It’s even used to support space missions. OpenStack has a chance to hit something similar to that in cloud computing.”

Curry agrees: “In the future, you can envision almost all computing being done in the cloud, much of which could be powered by OpenStack. I think that NASA will need to receive significant credit for that in the history books. What we’ve been able to do is unbelievable— especially when you remember that it all started in a NASA lab.”


‘NASA Invention of the Year’ Controls Noise and Vibration

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center, the Macro-Fiber Composite (MFC) is an innovative, low-cost piezoelectric device designed for controlling vibration, noise, and deflections in composite structural beams and panels. It was created for use on helicopter blades and airplane wings as well as for the shaping of aerospace structures at NASA.

The MFC is an actuator in the form of a thin patch, almost like a 3- by 2-inch bandage comprised of piezoelectric fibers, an epoxy matrix, and polyimide electrodes, and is also called a piezocomposite. If one applies a voltage to the MFC it will stretch, and if attached to a structure it will cause the surface to bend. The major advantages of a piezofiber composite actuator are higher performance, flexibility, and durability, compared to a traditional piezoceramic actuator.

MFCs consist of rectangular piezoceramic rods sandwiched between layers of adhesive film containing tiny electrodes that transfer a voltage directly to and from ribbon-shaped rods that are no thicker than a few tenths of a millimeter. These miniscule actuators are roughly equivalent to human muscles—flexing, stretching, and returning to their original position when electricity is applied.

Because any external mechanical deformation of an MFC package produces a charge on the electrodes proportional to the deflection, its compression or stretching also enables the MFC to be used as a self-powered sensor. Defects within structures can therefore be detected, or small amounts of energy can be collected and stored for later use.

Macro-Fiber Composite
The Macro-Fiber Composite’s flat profile and use as a sensor and an actuator allows for use in critical or tight areas where other technologies with larger volumetric profiles cannot be used.

The MFC’s combination of small size, durability, flexibility, and versatility allows it to be integrated—along with highly efficient electronic control systems—into a wide range of products. Potential applications include sonar; range-measuring and fish-finding equipment; directional-force and fingerprint sensors; flow meters; and vibration/noise control in aircraft and automobiles. Since its original development in 1999, the MFC has been used in government and industrial applications ranging from vibration reduction to structural health monitoring.

NASA has used MFC piezocomposites for alleviating tail buffeting in aircraft, controlling unsteady aerodynamics and noise on helicopter rotor blades, and actively reducing vibrations in large deployable spacecraft structures. The MFC has been used as a sensor for impedance-based health monitoring of launch tower structures at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, for strain feedback sensing and control in industrial arc welding equipment, in an STS-123 experiment, in solar sail technology, and in ultra-lightweight inflatable structures.

The MFC has been internationally recognized for its innovative design, receiving two prestigious “R&D 100” awards in 2000, including the “R&D Editor’s Choice” award as one of the 100 most significant technical products of the year. The MFC was also the recipient of the International Forum’s prestigious “iF Gold” award, in Germany, for design excellence in 2004. In March 2007, the MFC was awarded the title of “NASA Invention of the Year.”


Smart Material Corporation, of Sarasota, Florida, specializes in the development of piezocomposite components. The company licensed the MFC technology from Langley in 2002, and then added it to their line of commercially produced actuators.

It now combines the Langley MFC’s piezoelectric properties with the robustness and conformability of plastics to radically extend the spectrum of commercial applications.

A NASA partnership gives a small company access to research and technologies that allow it to compete with larger corporations. According to Thomas Daue, with Smart Material Corporation, “For a small business, it is almost not possible anymore to spend the money for basic research in high tech products. Licensing technology from the leading research facilities in this country is a very cost effective way to become a player in a new technology field. Many developments ready for licensing at government-owned facilities have already reached the proof of concept status, which would often cost a small business or start-up millions of dollars.”

Smart Material Corporation is now marketing MFCs internationally, with the majority of applications in the United States directed at Federal government research projects or defense-related government contracts. For example, Smart Material Corporation currently sells the materials to Langley, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Marshall Space Flight Center, where they are used as strain gauge sensors, as well as to the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army.

Product Outcome

Macro-Fiber Composite flexing
When compared to standard piezoelectric systems, the MFC is much more durable and provides increased unidirectional control. Furthermore, the MFC is designed to be readily integrated into a system as an add-on component or integrated during manufacture.

To date, Smart Material Corporation has sold MFCs to over 120 customers, including such industry giants as Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda, BMW, General Electric, and the tennis company, HEAD. The company also estimates that its customers have filed at least 100 patents for their unique uses of the technology.

Smart Material Corporation’s main manufacturing facilities are located in Dresden, Germany, in the vicinity of the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Sintered Materials, one of the world’s leading research institutes in the field of advanced ceramics. Dresden is also the center of the German semiconductor industry, and so provides crucial interdisciplinary resources for further MFC refinement. In addition to its Sarasota facility, the company also has sales offices in Dresden and in Tokyo, Japan.

The company’s product portfolio has grown to include piezoceramic fibers and fiber composites, piezoceramic actuators and sensors, and test equipment for these products. It also offers a compact, lightweight power system for MFC testing and validation.

Smart Material Corporation believes that solid-state actuator systems, including piezoceramics, will have healthy commercial growth in the coming years, with increasing penetration in industrial, medical, automotive, defense, and consumer markets. Consumer applications already on the market include piezoelectric systems as part of audio speakers, phonograph cartridges and microphones, and recreational products requiring vibration control, such as skis, snowboards, baseball bats, hockey sticks, and tennis racquets.