In 1977, Adam Kissiah, Jr., a hearing-impaired engineer working at the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC), patented technology that has been used in digital implantable hearing aids. He developed the technology using the skills and knowledge of electronic sensing systems, telemetry, and sounds and vibrations sensors he acquired during his work on the Space Shuttle program. Mr. Kissiah's invention was an important advancement over traditional analog hearing devices, which simply amplify the sound entering the ear.
These systems were insufficient for the profoundly deaf, so Mr. Kissiah described a system that would produce digital pulses to stimulate the auditory nerve endings, in turn transmitting the signals directly to the brain for interpretation as sound. In the 1980s, Mr. Kissiah signed an agreement with BIOSTIM, Inc. for commercial development of this invention. A viable product was developed and tested but was not successful in the marketplace at that time. Subsequently, many hearing aid producers incorporated some of the ideas described in Mr. Kissiah's patent into their cochlear implant products. This type of implant has been used to help restore first time hearing in many persons who were profoundly deaf from birth and for restoration of hearing in persons who were post-lingually rendered deaf by trauma or disease but who have a responsive auditory nerve.
Social benefits include improved speech development and a better quality of education for children; more career options for young adults; and more stable employment for adults. A patient's overall quality of life and range of opportunities are enhanced through the use of this technology. The Cochlear Implant Association estimates over 66,000 patients have received an implant in this multi-billion dollar industry.
NASA requires efficient and lightweight valves for controlling thrusters in spacecrafts. While at Bell Aerospace in the 1960s, Eddie Sturman developed a very efficient valve control actuator that consumed little energy.
His work resulted in five patents and systems extensively used in the space program and probably was one of the energy-saving factors that enabled Apollo 13 to find the additional power it needed to return to Earth. Mr. Sturman saw many non-aerospace uses for the technology and formed Sturman Industries in 1989 to develop commercial applications from Space to Earth. One of the first applications of his technology was in battery and solar-powered automated irrigation systems. Sturman Industries applies digital valves and advanced system designs to various applications requiring fluid control, making them more efficient in terms of energy used, speed, and precision. Projects include fuel injectors, irrigation systems, and hydraulics.
Today the focus of Sturman Industries is to make engines operate more efficiently to reduce fuel consumption and pollution. Sturman's digital latching valve is being used in more powerful and lower emission commercial diesel engines and will be used in Ford Super Duty pickup trucks in 2003. Emerging technology could lead to a new generation of cam-less engine that uses hydraulic valve actuation to replace the camshaft completely, creating an energy efficient, low emission, I-6 diesel engine.
Nations throughout the world have a need for low-cost, easy to use demining devices to disarm the millions of landmines deployed in widely scattered locations. Though it is possible to render landmines safe through remote detonation or behind armored plating, these methods are expensive and difficult. The Navy and DE Technologies Inc. theorized that landmines could be safely rendered inoperable if the energetic explosive inside was allowed to burn in the open atmosphere.
ATK Thiokol innovators believed they could direct the combustion products of burning solid rocket propellant, which burns at extremely high temperatures, at a landmine to cause the explosive to burn safely. Since the solid rocket propellant for the Space Shuttle is manufactured regularly on a large scale, it was the most readily available propellant to use in the demining device. The Space Shuttle uses solid rocket propellant to provide approximately 80% of the thrust necessary to launch the shuttle and accelerate it during its first two minutes of flight. NASA agreed to let ATK Thiokol use excess shuttle booster propellant to produce a low cost flare-like device to help solve this humanitarian need. In operation, the device burns through the landmine cover, exposing the energetic materials, allowing it to burn (not explode), rendering the landmine inoperable and safe.
The device has been tested and successfully used in the field. ATK Thiokol expects to receive a national stock number for the demining device, which will enable its sale, transport, and use worldwide by organizations involved in disarming landmines.
In the 1980s, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiated a major effort to develop solid-state microwave integrated circuits to replace the tubes, cavities and discrete devices used in microwave radar and telecommunication systems. New advances in semiconductor materials and processing enabled the development of Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit (MMIC) Technology.
Under a DARPA contract, Northrop Grumman Corporation (formerly TRW) successfully produced Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) MMICs using not only High Electron Mobility Transistors (HEMT) but also the first manufacturable Heterojunction Bipolar Transistors (HBT). This new GaAs MMIC technology was incorporated into various space applications and became NASA's and the Defense Department? chosen technology for advanced telecommunication systems. Following a "dual use" approach, Northrop Grumman transformed the technology for use in cellular-phone power amplifiers. A Northrop Grumman division is now the world's leading supplier of these power amplifiers. Northrop Grumman continues its MMIC technology development and has successfully produced Indium Phosphide (InP) based MMICs.
These advances in technology enable chip operations that are four to ten times faster than the previous MMIC technology and require less power. NASA and the Defense Department are beginning to use state of the art MMIC technology in new telecommunication and imaging systems. New commercial applications such as vehicle collision warning systems are in development.
Using photorefractive optics technology and experience developed in the Landsat and Skylab Space Telescope programs, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center innovators created an apparatus for detecting human eye defects. The innovators found that different eye abnormalities and diseases cause the eyes to reflect light in distinctly different ways.
Vision Research Corporation integrated the technology into VisiScreen, an ocular screening system, which takes a detailed, highly precise photo of the subject's eyes. This photo is then analyzed to detect simple near-sightedness and far-sightedness as well as more serious diseases and eye abnormalities. The technology is ideal for detecting eye problems in young children because it is as fast as taking a photograph and requires no response from the child.
Vision Research has placed these systems in pediatric offices and health clinics throughout the United States and has tested over 1.5 million children in 10 states through mass screenings, typically provided free to schools and the students. In a statewide test involving 170,000 Alabama elementary school students, 10 percent were found to have eye diseases or defects requiring medical attention. The early and accurate identification of these eye abnormalities allows for proper medical attention and correction so students maintain good vision while pursuing their education.