Fund Helps Innovation Reach the Marketplace

September 19, 2012

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From robotic limbs and computer security to shape-shifting antennas and lighter body armor – the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund (CIF) has awarded seven NC State research teams with funding to bring their inventions to the marketplace.

Better Tests for Norovirus

When a bout of severe vomiting and diarrhea strikes a whole family, a highly contagious norovirus is probably to blame. Noroviruses are now recognized as the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the world, sickening millions of people every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of all cases of food-borne illness are caused by noroviruses – equating to about 5.5 million cases per year. Microbiologists around the country, in an effort led by Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus at NC State, are working to reduce suffering by developing better methods to test for noroviruses in water, food and individual patients.

Safer Cloud Computing

At the heart of cloud computing is the hypervisor, software that allows multiple users to run programs concurrently on a host computer. If a malicious program gains access to the hypervisor, the data of every user in the cloud could be stolen or modified. Now, NC State researchers Peng Ning and Ahmed Azab have a solution. They’ve developed a new security mechanism called HyperSentry that is isolated and protected from the hypervisor, yet has enough privileges to access the hypervisor code and data looking for viruses and other malware.

With CIF support, the computer scientists will finish testing a prototype this year and move the product to market.

Lighter, Stronger Armor for Soldiers

NC State engineering professor Afsaneh Rabiei has developed a composite metal foam that is simultaneously lighter and stronger than the materials currently in use in body and vehicle armors. This foam has the additional advantage of absorbing impact energy from projectiles or blasts, decreasing the risk of bodily injury or vehicle damage from high-velocity bullets or explosions.

“The Chancellor’s Innovation Fund money will allow us to test our armors not only against bullets for body armors, but also against blast damage for vehicle armor,” Rabiei says.

Robotics Put a Spring in Your Step

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NC State biomedical engineer Greg Sawicki and members of his Human PoWeR (Physiology of Wearable Robotics) Lab have come up with technology to help victims of stroke, spinal-cord injury or traumatic brain injury that have difficulty walking. Their invention? A “smart” walking aid that doesn’t require motors or external power. Based upon a keen understanding of the interplay between the human calf muscles and the Achilles’ tendon, Sawicki’s team devised a lightweight, wearable boot with a spring that propels wearers forward after proper engagement of the device’s “clutch.”

Besides its use as an assistive or rehabilitation aid for those who have trouble walking, Sawicki believes the device can be used as a performance enhancer for weekend warriors or soldiers who need extra springs in their steps.

Faster Download Speed for Smartphones

Mobile computing devices, such as smartphones and tablets, utilize so-called “transmission control protocol (TCP) stacks,” which are software programs that send and receive packets of data between the device and the network. NC State researchers Injong Rhee and Kyunghan Lee developed a new algorithm, which reduces the delay in retrieving data – improving the user experience.

Rhee and Lee have demonstrated that their invention makes the stacks more efficient, and plan to use the CIF money to quantify that improved efficiency on various network providers using various smartphone and tablet brands.

More Reliable Access to Cellular Networks

NC State engineer Michael Dickey’s research team is developing shape-shifting antennas for use in electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets and laptop computers. These adaptable antennas would give electronics more reliable access to cellular networks and, because they are made of soft materials, could also be incorporated into emerging technologies such as stretchable or wearable electronics.

“The support of the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund gives us the resources we need to complete our proof-of-concept research and optimize the technology before taking it to market,” Dickey says.

New Psych Test For Job Applicants

NC State psychologist Adam Meade dislikes the conventional personality tests liberally used in the private sector, which he believes can be easily manipulated by job applicants. To counter this, Meade has developed a personality test based on response time to computer-prompted stimuli. Building in response time can help ensure that test-takers are telling the truth, Meade says. “It takes time to think ‘OK, what does the employer want to hear?’ When you force people to respond quickly, they have less time to be dishonest.”

Meade will use the CIF money to create a Web version of his software, conduct more research to prove those who do well on his test also do well in their jobs and to eventually license his product to a testing provider.

“This could be a new era in employment testing,” he says.