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 technologylike 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?
Over the past 50 years, the US government space agency has built an awful lot of stuff for, well, space. But with its $17 billion (£10 billion) annual budget, it has also done quite a bit of research and development in other areas, and even its space gear managed to influence so many other things down here on earth.
The liquid cooled space clothing worn by lunar astronauts in the ’70s has been adapted to help burn-victims. In the ’80s, the agency helped develop a lightweight breathing system for firefighters. And more recently, biologists modified the star-tracking algorithms used by the Hubble Telescope to track fish and polar bears. “The list goes on and on, but not many people know about it,” says Daniel Lockney, Technology Transfer Program Executive with Nasa’s Office of the Chief Technologist.
Lockney is the guy you go to if you want access to Nasa’s space-aged technologies. This week, he and his colleagues released a catalog of about 1,000 Nasa software projects, trying to make it easier for the agency’s research to trickle down to the rest of us. And in the near future, he plans on launching an online software database and repository that will grease the wheels even more.
He’s proud of the work he and his colleagues do, and he loves to talk about Nasa’s long history. When people learn what Lockney does, they often tell him about their favorite Nasa inventions. That can be fun. But sometimes, it’s also a bit of an odd experience. People often name things that weren’t actually invented at Nasa. “It happens all the time,” Lockney says.
So, the list below provides a kind of quiz. There are eight technologies, four of them came out of Nasa’s tech transfer program. And four did not. Can you tell the myths from the Nasa miracles?
OK, maybe this isn’t exactly a Miracle, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless. Back in the 1990s, NASA teamed up with a company called International Flavors and Fragrances to grow a rose in space. The scent of that rose was synthesized and then bottled in a “out-of-this-world” perfume called Zen. Answer: Miracle
Yes, NASA has used Velcro in its missions. No, they didn’t invent it. A swiss engineer named George de Mestral came up with it in the late 1940s. Answer: Myth
NASA once gave a contract to Marietta Laboratories to experiment with microalgae as a kind of three-in-one food source, oxygen engine, and an organic waste disposal toolkit. The space food work didn’t pan out, but Marietta would give us the technology to make nutritional supplements for infant formula. Answer: NASA Miracle
Tang’s NASA link dates back to John Glenn’s 1962 Friendship 7 mission. The storied astronaut did drink Tang in space, but it was invented for consumers, not the space program. Answer: Myth
It all started when Edwin Saltzman was riding his bike. Whenever big trucks passed, he’d get hit with a mighty wallop of air. Since he worked at NASA, which has made a study of wind resistance on aircraft, it was pretty easy to design a more aerodynamic truck. And by the late ’70s his designs were everywhere. Answer: Miracle
Lockney says that he gets this one all the time. NASA uses Teflon in heat shields, in space suits, and even in cargo holds. But Teflon was invented in 1938. That’s long before NASA was around. Answer: Myth
In the 1960s, an inventor named Paul Fisher came up with a remarkable pen that would work in zero-gravity. NASA used them in the Apollo 7 mission. The pen was a success, but when Fisher came up with it, he wasn’t working for NASA. Answer: NASA Myth
In the 1990’s, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory team was looking for ways to shrink cameras down for interplanetary travel. They came up with the camera-on-a-chip, also known as the CMOS sensor. Today, CMOS sensors are found in most of the world’s camera phones. Answer: NASA Miracle
While working as a NASA scientist specializing in nano-materials (which are 10,000 times smaller than a human hair), Dr. Dennis Morrison developed nano-ceramics, which could be formed into tiny balloons called micro-capsules. These little balloons could be filled with cancer-fighting drugs and injected into solid tumors.
Where, you’re wondering, does space come into this process? In order to create the microscopic membrane around the liquid drugs, the micro-capsules had to be formed in low-Earth orbit. Dr. Morrison’s ceramic nano-particles contained metals that would react when the patient was subjected to a magnetic field, like what’s used in an MRI diagnostic machine. The capsules would melt, and the drugs would be released to fight the cancerous tumor.
It turns out that Dr. Morrison’s ceramic-magnetic particles were good for more than fighting tumors — they could also fight frizz. When incorporated into Farouk Systems’s hair styling iron and heated, the nano-particles released ions that made hair smooth and shiny.
Reflective Coatings Save Skylab, Manatees
When the Skylab space-based laboratory was set in position in 1973, a solar panel fell off during the launch, which kept another solar panel from deploying properly once in orbit. These panels had to be replaced — and fast. NASA turned to National Metalizing, a firm it had worked with previously, to create a new panel that would be ready to go into space in 10 days.
National Metalizing had originally developed reflective materials for NASA in the 1950s, so it was able to deliver the necessary thin plastic material coated in vaporized aluminum in time. The material can deflect or conserve radiant energy, depending on which is required — to keep something cool or to warm it up. This flexible reflective material proved so useful, it was inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame in 1996.
A former director of the company took this technology, which has been in the public domain for decades, and started a new company, Advanced Flexible Materials. The same materials used to protect Skylab now protects marathon runners from hypothermia after a race, as well as manatees, which can suffer from hypothermia at 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 degrees Celsius), while they’re being tagged by researchers.
Deformable Mirrors — Not for the Fun House
Any space nerd who remembers the Hubble Space Telescope launch in 1990 remembers seeing pictures and news videos of the giant mirrors being polished to perfection — or as close as humans can get, anyway. Minor flaws in the surface could obscure important discoveries.
Hubble and its amazing sheets of optical glass paved the way for the Terrestrial Planet Finder and its deformable mirrors, which will have 100 times the imaging power of its predecessor when NASA launches it in the near future. Deformable mirrors don’t need to be absolutely perfect the first time out — they can adjust their positions to correct for blurring or distortion, which in space can be caused by temperature, lack of gravity or getting bumped during launch.
Deformable mirrors are not so new. They were proposed by astronomers in the 1950s and developed by the United States Air Force in the 1970s. Each system consists of the deformable mirror itself, a sensor that measures any aberrations it finds hundreds of times a second, and a small computer that receives the sensor’s readings and tells the mirror how to move to correct for the problem.
Nanotubes Look for Life on Mars
No matter what the movies have been telling us for decades, Martians are not likely to be humanoid, sentient beings. They won’t have ray guns or space suits. If there is life on Mars, it will be very, very small, and probably not too far up the evolution ladder. Pity.
In order to find such small forms of life, small detectors were necessary. Enter nano-tubes, which is a fun word to say. Scientists at the Ames Research Center developed carbon nano-tubes, each 1/50,000th the diameter of a human hair, that can conduct heat and electricity. Each nano-tube is tipped with single strands of nucleic acid (the “NA” in “DNA”) from a microorganism. When it comes into contact with a matching strand, the pair form a double helix and send a faint electrical charge through the nano-tubes. This charge is how anyone looking at the bio-sensor, as the tiny apparatus is called, knows life has been detected.
Sadly, no life has yet been found on Mars, but these bio-sensors are being put to good use on Earth. Tipping the nano-tubes with waterborne pathogens like E. Coli and Cryptosporidium means an analyst can get results from the bio-sensor in the field within two hours — no lab work required.
Mars Missions Create Tough Armor
When the Mars Pathfinder (1997) and Mars Rover (2004) missions landed on the Red Planet, they landed hard. These were unmanned missions, of course, with some guidance from engineers on Earth — but not as much as they’d like. The equipment was designed to crash land, gently, with a cage of airbags to cushion the fall from space.
Obviously, not just any airbag would work. NASA required the material to be lightweight and able to withstand extreme temperatures for the interplanetary flight. The material also had to be tough enough to keep the airbags inflated as the whole apparatus bounced along the rocky, sharp surface of Mars.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory worked with Warwick Mills, the company that had woven the reentry parachutes for the Apollo missions in the 1960s, to create a layered, coated, liquid-crystal polyester fiber that would fit the bill.
Warwick took the technology and ran with it, creating TurtleSkin protective gear that can withstand punctures from needles, knives and even bullets. The flexibility of the tightly woven fabric, which helped keep the Mars landers safe, now also keeps military and police officers safe.
From Invisible Braces to Water Filtration, NASA has patented some of the most useful products available today. Each year since 1976, NASA has published every product linked to its research.
In 1958, President Eisenhower signed the Space Act, officially creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. From the beginning, the purpose for the new branch extended beyond space ships and moon boots. The law stipulated that its research and advancements should benefit all people, and in its 50-year history, NASA has certainly fulfilled that role.
Although most people today will never set foot on the moon, everyone likely comes in contact with a NASA by-product every day. Partnering with various research teams and companies, NASA continues to spawn a vast array of new technologies and products that have improved our daily lives. Basic steps in health, safety, communications and even casual entertainment find their roots in the government branch commonly associated with rocket ships and floating people. In fact, NASA has filed more than 6,300 patents with the U.S. government .
Each year since 1976, NASA has published a list of every commercialized technology and product linked to its research. The NASA journal “Spinoff” highlights these products, which have included things like improved pacemakers, state of the art exercise machines and satellite radio. Each product was made possible thanks to a NASA idea or innovation.
But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to use many of these so-called spinoffs. Read on to learn about ten of these familiar products.
10. Invisible Braces
Many teenagers cringe at the prospect of braces. Getting one’s teeth in order used to mean enduring a mouth full of metal, but not so anymore. Invisible braces hit the market in 1987, and now there are multiple brands.
Invisible braces are made of translucent polycrystalline alumina (TPA). A company called Ceradyne developed TPA in conjunction with NASA Advanced Ceramics Research to protect the infrared antennae of heat-seeking missile trackers.
In the meantime, another company, Unitek, was working on a new design for dental braces — a design that would be more aesthetically pleasing and would not have the shiny metallic factor. It discovered that TPA would be strong enough to withstand use and is translucent, making it a prime material for invisible braces. Because of their instant popularity, invisible braces are one of the most successful products in the orthodontic industry .
9. Scratch-resistant Lenses
If you drop a pair of eyeglasses on the ground, the lenses probably won’t break. That’s because in 1972, the Food and Drug Administration began requiring manufacturers to use plastic rather than glass to make lenses. Plastics are cheaper to use, better at absorbing ultraviolet radiation, lighter and not prone to shattering . Nevertheless, they also had an Achilles heel. Uncoated plastics tend to scratch easily, and scuffed lenses could impair someone’s sight.
Because of dirt and particles found in space environments, NASA needed a special coating to protect space equipment, particularly astronaut helmet visors. Recognizing an opportunity, the Foster-Grant sunglasses manufacturer licensed the NASA technology for its products. The special plastics coating made its sunglasses ten times more scratch-resistant than uncoated plastics .
8. Memory Foam
NASA helps some people sleep better at night. Temper foam found in Tempurpedic brand mattresses and similar brands was originally developed for space flight and later repackaged for the home.
The open cell polyurethane-silicon plastic was created for use in NASA aircraft seats to lessen impact during landings. The plastic has a unique property that allows it to evenly distribute the weight and pressure on top of it, which provides shock absorbency. Even after being compressed to 10 percent of its size, the memory foam will return to its original shape . Some private and commercial planes now feature the foam in seats as well.
But the uses of the plastic foam extend beyond the skies. Its weight distribution and temperature sensitivity play important roles for severely disabled or bedridden people. Doctors can customize the foam to support patients while reducing the pressure on certain parts of the body to ward off bedsores, for instance. Some companies also have integrated temper foam into prosthetic limbs because it has the same look and feel of skin and decreases the friction between the prosthetic and joints.
Other commercial uses include padding for motorcycle seats, custom body molds for dressmaking and protection for racecar drivers.
7. Ear Thermometer
Taking your temperature when sick can be tricky business. A standard mercury thermometercan prove difficult to read, and a rectal one is just plain uncomfortable. In 1991, infrared thermometers that you place into your ears took the work out of it, simplifying and speeding up the process.
Diatek, which developed the first of these kinds of thermometers, saw a need to reduce the amount of time nurses spend taking temperatures. With around one billion temperature readings taken in hospitals in the United States each year and a shortage of nurses, the company set out to shave off the precious minutes otherwise required to watch mercury rise . Instead, Diatek took advantage of NASA’sprevious advancements in measuring the temperature of stars with infrared technology.
Together with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, the company invented an infrared sensor that serves as the thermometer. Aural thermometers with these infrared sensors take your temperature by measuring the amount of energy your eardrum gives off into the ear canal . Since the eardrum is inside our bodies, it acts as an accurate sensor for the energy, or heat, inside of our bodies that increases when we get sick. Hospital models can perform a temperature reading in less than two seconds .
6. Shoe Insoles
When Neil Armstrong famously spoke of “one giant leap for mankind,” he probably didn’t foresee the literal connotation it would come to have. Today’s athletic shoes have borrowed the technology of the moon boots that first took that leap.
The space suit designed for the Apollo missions included specially-made boots that put a spring in astronaut’s steps while providing ventilation. Athletic shoe companies have taken this technology and adopted it to construct better shoes that lessen the impact on your feet and legs.
For instance, in the mid-1980s, shoe company KangaROOS USA applied the principles and materials in moon boots to a new line of athletic shoes. With help from NASA, KangaROOS patented a Dynacoil three-dimensional polyurethane foam fabric that distributes the force on your feet that happens when you walk or run . By coiling the fibers within the fabric, the KangaROOS absorb the energy from your foot hitting the ground, rebounding it back to your feet.
Another shoe manufacturer, AVIA, also converted moon boot technology to use in athletic shoes . The patented AVIA compression chamber provided shock absorption and spring in the shoes for longer periods of use.
5. Long-distance Telecommunications
The ability to carry on long-distance telephone conversations did not happen overnight. It doesn’t link back to one specific NASA invention — improved telecommunication took place over decades of work.
Before humans were sent into space, NASA built satellites that could communicate with people on the ground about what outer space was like. Using similar satellite technology, around 200 communication satellites orbit the globe each day. These satellites send and receive messages that allow us to call our friends in Beijing when we’re in Boston. NASA monitors the locations and health of many of these satellites to ensure that we can continue to talk to people around the corner or overseas.
4. Adjustable Smoke Detector
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. NASA engineers knew that simple fact when they were designing Skylab in the 1970s. Skylab was the first U.S. space station, and the astronautswould need to know if a fire had started or if noxious gases were loose in the vehicle. Teaming up with Honeywell Corporation, NASA invented the first adjustable smoke detector with different sensitivity levels to prevent false alarms.
You can read about smoke detectors in more detail in How Smoke Detectors Work, but the first one to hit the consumer market is called the ionization smoke detector. That essentially means that it uses a radioactive element called americium-241 to spot smoke or harmful gasses. When clean air particles of oxygen and nitrogen move through smoke detectors, the americium-241 ionizes them, which creates an electrical current. If foreign smoke particles enter the smoke detector, it disrupts that interaction, triggering the alarm.
3. Safety Grooving
Carving a groove into concrete may not sound like much of an innovation, but it certainly keeps us safe on the roads. Also called safety grooving, this simple, yet lifesaving, process inserts long, shallow channels into pavement on runways and roads. These indentions in the concrete divert excess water from the surface to reduce the amount of water between tires and the runway or road. This increases the friction between wheels and concrete, improving vehicle safety.
Safety grooving was first experimented with at NASA’s Langely Research Center in the 1960s as a way to improve safety for aircraft taking off on wet runways. Once people realized how well it worked, transportation engineers began applying the same techniques to highways. According to NASA, safety grooving has reduced highway accidents by 85 percent . Cars hydroplane when water between tires and the road actually separates the two from each other.
You can find other examples of safety grooving at pedestrian crosswalks, around swimming pools and in animal pens. This innovation has generated an entire industry, represented by the International Grooving & Grinding Association .
2. Cordless Tools
When you’re sucking up bits of dirt or crumbs around the house with a handheld cordlessvacuum, you are actually using the same technology that astronauts used on the moon. Although Black & Decker had already invented the first battery-powered tools in 1961 , the NASA-related research helped refine the technology that led to lightweight, cordless medical instruments, hand-held vacuum cleaners and other tools.
In the mid-1960s, to prepare for the Apollo missions to the moon, NASA needed a tool that astronauts could use to obtain samples of rocks and soil. The drill had to be lightweight, compact and powerful enough to dig deep into the surface of the moon. Since rigging up a cord to a drill in outer space would be a difficult feat, NASA and Black & Decker invented a battery-powered, magnet-motor drill . Working in the context of a limited space environment, Black & Decker developed a computer program for the tool that reduced the amount of power expended during use to maximize battery life.
After the NASA project, Black & Decker applied the same principles to make other lightweight, battery-powered tools for everyday consumers.
1. Water Filters
Water is the essential ingredient to human survival. Since people cannot live without water, the ability to convert contaminated water to pure water is an incredibly important scientific achievement.
Astronauts needed a way to cleanse water they take up into space, since bacteria and sickness would be highly problematic. Water filter technology had existed since the early 1950s, butNASA wanted to know how to clean water in more extreme situations and keep it clean for longer periods of time.
If you look at a water filter, you can usually detect small chunks of charcoal inside of them. Sometimes, when you first use a water filter, you’ll even notice tiny black flecks from those chunks. This charcoal is specially activated and contains silver ions that neutralize pathogens in the water. Along with killing bacteria in the water, the filters also prevent further bacterial growth. Companies have borrowed from this same technology to bring us the water filter systems millions of people use at home every day.