Understanding climate changes and the parameters influencing the climate is very important. Infrared imaging is an important technology for gathering useful information however, prior to 1990, no photodetector arrays had been fabricated that would operate at infrared wavelengths necessary for detecting these changes in ecosystems. In a unique collaboration between the Goddard Space Flight Center, and ATT/Bell Labs the first quantum well photodetector array capable of operating in the far infrared was developed and incorporated into a camera system that successfully performed airborne imaging. Dr. Sarath Gunapala of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), while working with Dr. Barry Levine at Bell Labs, helped developed the QWIP technology that could be used in imaging systems.
Bell Labs decided that this novel technology did not fit their commercial directions. However, technical visionaries at NASA JPL saw its potential for producing enhanced space-based imaging systems and acquired the technology as well as several technical people including Dr. Gunapala. At JPL he and his colleagues have perfected the QWIP technology and have produced cameras that are capable of operating at infrared wavelengths that were not previously possible with existing technology. Use of this technology is enabling NASA to enhance substantially its earth? observation capability. The QWIP technology is a complicated solid-state detector that involves sandwiching gallium arsenide chips between silicon wafers and connected them with indium connectors. The technology can be designed to operate at longer infrared wavelengths and can be produced at lower costs making it is superior to any existing technology. A new company, QWIP Technologies, was formed to obtain a license from JPL to produce focal plane cameras using the QWIP technology.
OmniCorder, a biomedical company, recognized the potential of using QWIP technology for medical purposes. They obtained an exclusive, worldwide license from NASA to use the technology for biological applications, including breast cancer detection. Recent medical research studies have shown that cancer cells exude nitric oxide. This causes changes in blood flow and concomitantly the temperature in tissue surrounding cancer. The OmniCorder BioScan System, which incorporates the QWIP technology, is able to reliably detect these minute temperature changes. The system, which has received FDA approval, uses no ionizing radiation and permits a hazard-free non-invasive assessment of abnormal tissue.
Dr. David Hathaway and Paul Meyer of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center have worked on several criminal cases with the police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Hathaway, a solar physicist is usually busy studying images of violent explosions on the Sun and Meyer, an atmospheric scientist, examines hazardous weather conditions on Earth. The scientist's foray into the world of forensics began when they helped the FBI analyze video of the bombing at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta. Hathaway and Meyer successfully clarified videotape images made with handheld camcorders, revealing important details about the bomb and the explosion.
The NASA researchers - using their expertise and equipment for analyzing satellite video - created a new technology that can dramatically improve images including crime scene videos. Dark jittery images captured by home video, security systems and video cameras in police cars are turned in to clearer, stable images that reveal clues about crimes. In addition to removing noise or "snow" from videos, the technology also corrects for horizontal and vertical camera motion, as well as rotation and zoom effects. It produces clearer images of moving objects, smoothes jagged edges and enhances still images. Since their first case with the FBI, Hathaway and Meyer have worked over the years to refine the VISAR technology, improving it so that it could be transfered to companies that produce video enhancement systems for law enforcement, military and even home computers.
Intergraph Government Systems licensed the VISAR software and has used it to produce a graphic analyzer product for the law enforcement sector. BarcoView has a license from NASA for hardware applications of VISAR. Incorporation of their commercial technology into various products will enable real-time applications of video stabilization. For example, it could be incorporated into video cameras to reduce or even eliminate jiggle and also to enhance viewing of single frames.
Product identification technology pioneered by NASA for tracking Space Shuttle parts is being used to mark everything from groceries to automobile parts.The application of compressed symbology, a two-dimensional symbol marking system to parts marking was developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center for the Space Shuttle Program, where millions and millions of parts, some as small as a dime, must be tracked.
Bar coding works well however it requires labels which don't survive in space and other industrial conditions on earth. In the late 1980's Fred Schramm was tasked with producing a system that could mark all, even the smallest of NASA's parts. A symbology research lab was started at Marshall and operated under contract by Rockwell. The Chief Scientist was Don Roxby. After researching all types of marking technologies the two decided on the data matrix symbol, a small, square-shaped mark resembling a checkerboard. The two dimensional symbol is capable of storing as much as 100 times more information than a one-dimensional linear barcode. Schramm and Roxby were able to successfully apply and reliably read the data matrix symbol, as the patented symbol was useless until they accomplished this.
After the prototype was operational and tested RVSI obtained a license and created the Symbology Research Center to commercialize the technology. Since 1995, NASA and SRC have worked on the technology and have moved it into acceptance as the parts marking standard. During the last year the data matrix symbol has been adopted as the standard for auto parts, medical parts and soon it will be the standard for marking aerospace parts. It is estimated that the data matrix symbol industry will be a multi-billion dollar industry similar to the bar code sector.