Gasoline-vapor recovery system among 'best new products'
A system designed to recover gasoline vapors at the pump has been named the best new product made by a large company in 1995. The National Society of Professional Engineers, headquartered in Alexandria, VA, gave the award to Gilbarco, Inc., of Greensboro, NC, for its VaporVac®. The society picks winning products for their innovative use of engineering principles and materials and overall benefit to society. VaporVac dispenses fuel at 10 to 12 gal/min while using a variable speed electric pump added to the hydraulics of the dispenser. The pump pulls vapors away from the vehicle fill pipe. In the medium company category, the winner was the AutoWafer SPM System developed by Digital Instruments, Inc., of Santa Barbara, CA. It is an automated cleanroom system featuring a scanning probe microscope that images semiconductor samples with three-dimension nanometer resolution. Top product in the small company category is the Bypass Electric Mobile Oil Refiner, produced by TF Purifiner, Inc., of Boynton Beach, FL. It recycles engine oil through a bypass filtration system that extends oil drain intervals.
How should government support small high-tech firms?
Government actions can create and also destroy opportunities for small high-tech companies, states a report by a committee of the National Academy of Engineering. Such firms are vital, because they assume risks that other companies will not in technically new and small markets. The panel claims that the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program has created "SBIR houses," ventures with revenues only from SBIR--never from products. Further, some firms receive duplicate funding from different programs for the same proposals twice, three times and even five times. Also cited are long review cycles and time delays in highly bureaucratic programs. The panel recommends that some types of federal R&D funding, technical aid programs, business incubators, and university-industry ventures should be designed and managed regionally or locally. Regulatory agencies, it adds, should carefully consider the impact of proposed rulings on innovation.
Space station study recommends 'technology evolution plan'
Many technologies critical to the international space station (ISS) are changing at a rapid pace, notes a report by the National Research Council. It urges the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to adopt a "technology evolution plan." It would ensure that current decisions do not unintentionally block opportunities to incorporate innovations as they arise. New methods for testing may emerge over the six-year period of construction slated to begin next year. The panel advises the space agency to take advantage of them. While finding designs for ISS electrical power sound, the report states that NASA could insert some technologies to cut maintenance and raise efficiency. For example, NASA's Lewis Research Center this year will submit results of tests on Russian nickel-cadmium batteries. They appear to live longer and operate better than U.S. versions.
Research panel assesses designs for reusable launch vehicle
Phase I of the development program for a reusable launch vehicle (RLV) for space flights is generally on target. So concludes a panel of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of the National Research Council. Phase I consists of concept definition and technology development leading to a subscale flight demonstration vehicle, the X-33, in Phase II. Three prime contractors have proposed distinct RLV designs and are pursuing different paths in critical technology areas. The panel looked at proposals for propulsion, a reusable cryogenic tank system, the structure of the primary vehicle, and a thermal protection system. Though the committee found RLV designs prudent overall, it expressed several concerns. Among them: scalability problems with test versions of huge components; the weldability of reusable cryogenic tanks; the adequacy of RLV waterproofing, and the resistance of thermal tiles to particle impact.
Flexible database software adds Internet features
Swamped with diverse information downloaded from the Internet? Relief comes from askSam Systems of Perry, FL. The firm has introduced askSam Professional software, which enables you to turn home pages, product brochures, and any other information, including graphics, into personal databases. The program can then search hundreds of megabytes and thousands of documents in seconds. Demonstrated in Arlington, VA, the software imported and archived documents in hypertext markup language (HTML), retaining formatting, graphics, and hypertext links. You also can create documents in askSam and export them in HTML format without having to learn complicated HTML commands. Designers can edit graphics in a variety of formats, including GIF, JPEG, BMP, PCX, TIF, and WMF.