NYIT team dusts off dormant NASA patents for new products

A team of NYIT students and faculty are working to launch dormant NASA patents into the commercial market.

Six undergraduates and one graduate student are building prototypes for four patents under an initial contract with the space agency that runs through August, said Michael Nizich, director of the Entrepreneurship & Technology Innovation Center, the NYIT business incubator running the project.

“They have 1,800 to 2,000 patents that they don’t have prototypes for,” said Nizich, who hand-picked the students for the project. “It was a match made in heaven.”

Part of the student team was drawn from the College of Engineering & Computer Sciences at the New York Institute of Technology. Others are digital arts students from the School of Architecture & Design, skilled at producing demonstration videos of the products.

Nizich said that NASA patents sometimes get swept aside as researchers drive to complete major projects, leaving a rich vein of ideas with commercial potential.

After consulting with NASA, the ETIC team at the Old Westbury campus winnowed down a list of patents for the initial contract to four:

  • A wearable robotic exoskeleton jacket that could help victims of stroke or traumatic brain injury move their shoulders and elbows. The technology also could find its way into future spacesuits to augment human performance.
  • A sensor-laden film that could detect the trajectory and location of the impact of a projectile or other object. The technology could be used on satellites or in earthbound applications to detect munitions, burglaries or vehicle collisions.
  • A C-shaped metal device that can monitor tension on everything from the lines of a parachute to the cable of a suspension bridge and transmit that data.
  • A system that uses distinctive electric patterns of the human heart muscle monitored at multiple points on the limbs to verify identity. The algorithm could be used in law enforcement, financial transactions and other applications.

Babak Beheshti, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Sciences, said that NYIT could reap benefits beyond the basic contract with NASA.

“If, during the process of developing prototypes, we come up with an algorithm of our own, we own it,” he said. “We can develop a whole lot of IP [intellectual property] items.”

The halo of NASA’s brand also lends credibility to the College of Engineering and Computer Sciences and NYIT overall, he said.

ETIC was funded in 2016 by the NYSTAR science and technology program of New York’s Empire State Development.

In 2019, Empire State Development asked Nizich to help a Long Island startup that needed prototyping services. ETIC created a prototype device and software for the startup, Wyandanch-based Grub Guard Inc.

The prototype, which is designed to detect tampering of a restaurant delivery order, caught the attention of NASA’s commercialization team, which connected with NYIT, leading to the ETIC contract, Nizich said.

ETIC’s NASA contract ultimately could lead to job creation as companies on Long Island or elsewhere see potential in commercializing the patents, he said.

“We chose products that are achievable.”

NASA inventions now in common use:

  • Dustbusters: Created when NASA called on Black & Decker to build a small device to collect samples on the Moon.
  • Radiant barrier insulation: Used in homes.
  • Memory foam: Bedding material first developed to make pilots’ seats more comfortable.
  • Freeze-dried food: Nutrient rich, but a fraction of the weight.
  • MRI and CT scans: Digital signal processing, used in the Apollo lunar landings, was adapted for medical imaging;
  • Scratch-resistant lenses: Research into astronauts’ visors led to the eyeglass coatings.

Source: NASA