A device that will allow an amputee to control a prosthetic device with his brain, a mask that can detect an infectious disease before it spreads, a system that can predict the occurrence of dust storms, and a next-generation micro-sensor that can help satellites perform multiple measurements were announced tonight as the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory’s Inventions of the Year.
The annual awards event, held on the APL campus in Laurel, Md., showcased technologies submitted in 2005 that were developed by APL staff members.
Top inventions were selected by an independent panel of 25 representatives from industry and patent law, based on their benefit to society, improvement over existing technology, and commercial potential. APL Director of Technology Transfer Wayne Swann and Steve Fritz of the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) presented plaques and cash awards to teams in the categories of Physical Sciences, Information Science and Innovative Contributions to Space.
WINNERS: PHYSICAL SCIENCES
Electrode Array for Determination of Specific Axonal Firing within a Peripheral Nerve
Protagoras Cutchis developed a device that may enable amputees to communicate reflexive movements simply by thinking about them. Under normal circumstances, the human brain indicates actions that should occur. An electrochemical signal travels along complex communication channels or neurons in the body and eventually, in the case of movement, stimulates specific muscles to enact precise movements.
While scientists have been successful in using the electrical signals from an amputee’s healthy muscles to allow them to use to move his or her prosthetic arm by simply thinking using depth electrodes, this method allows for relatively limited degrees of motion and can generally allow control of only one motion at a time.
Cutchis’ invention involves an array of electrodes implanted radially around the sheath of a peripheral nerve, each recording pulses that travel up and down nerve endings and thus recreating precise stimulations that could be used to control the prosthesis.
Use of Protein Detector Accessory with Exhaled Breath Condensate
The inability to distinguish among people infected by agents of biological warfare, those infected by more benign agents, and those who simply perceive relevant signs and symptoms, has been a major impediment to the rapid resolution of biological warfare attacks. The initial signs and symptoms reported for infection with biological warfare agents mimic those of more common illnesses such as the flu; therefore, this type of attack could go unrecognized initially, wasting valuable resources and causing major health and economic impacts.
A way to reduce or alleviate the threat posed by biological warfare agents would be to quickly determine the extent of actual infection. To that end, Joany Jackman and Nathan Boggs have developed the Protein Detector Accessory with Exhaled Breath Condensate, a mask that provides a rapid, sensitive and reliable method to diagnose diseases by collecting and analyzing proteins in the breath.
WINNER: INFORMATION SCIENCE
Dust Storm Forecaster
Dust and sand storms regularly disrupt military and commercial operations in the Middle East, Africa and Southwest Asia – in fact, swirling, speeding dust and sand poses one of the largest environmental threats to U.S. military equipment in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But accurately forecasting a dust storm can be about as difficult as avoiding one.
With support from the U.S. Air Force Weather Agency, APL inventors Benjamin Barnum, Nathaniel Winstead and Raymond Sterner developed the Dust Storm Forecaster, an automated system that makes 72-hour forecasts of dust conditions and predicts the time, location and magnitude of dust storms. The prototype, software model covers areas several hundreds to a thousand kilometers wide, peering in on Northern Africa, the Middle East and Southwest Asia. The software processes current data (from various government and academic sources) on weather conditions, soil moisture, ground cover and dust sources and generates a forecast displayed in colorful, detailed and easy-to-read maps.
WINNER: INNOVATIVE CONTRIBUTIONS TO SPACE
Selection Circuit for Image Sensor and/or Position Sensing Detector
Many proposed space missions would rely on constellations of micro-satellites to make simultaneous measurements at different locations. The apparent position of the sun is an important attitude measurement that virtually all spacecraft use, and this measurement is commonly made with a sensor known as a digital solar attitude detector (DSAD).
However, new technologies are required to make the micro-satellite concept viable from a mass and power standpoint. APL’s Kim Strohbehn and Mark Martin have developed the first generation of such a micro-DSAD that promises to extend the accuracy of DSAD measurements. The new design is based on their patented approach that combines centroiding position-sensitive active-pixel architecture with standard imaging capability to provide optional "engineering channel" images.
This approach avoids the need for a digital signal processor to calculate position, dramatically lowering the required mass and power resources. The micro-DSAD also can serve as a medium-resolution imager for monitoring solar panel, boom and antenna deployments or for sighting stars or other items of interest. Incorporating the entire sensor and its interface on a single chip enables a device small enough to be useful in micro-satellites flying in formation, as well as in more traditional NASA spacecraft missions.