WTC Research Grants Help 12 Washington Companies Advance Technology Development

More than $661,000 awarded for technology commercialization projects. From underwater surveillance to 3-D imaging of cells for cancer research to detecting brain damage without invasive surgery to virtual reality tools for military and emergency response training, Washington is a hot-bed of technology innovation. For 12 Washington companies, this innovation is paying off. The reward comes in the form of Research and Technology Development grants from the Washington Technology Center (WTC).

WTC’s Spring 2005 RTD award winners are Allez PhysiOnix, Seattle; EnerG2, LLC, Seattle; Erudite Systems, Everett; Forest Concepts, LLC; Federal Way; Information Systems Laboratories, Seattle; MCD Technologies Inc., Tacoma; McFarland Cascade, Tacoma; Meier Enterprises, Inc., Kennewick; MicroConnex, Inc., Snoqualmie; Northwind Marine, Seattle; VirtuSphere, Inc., Sammamish; and VisionGate, Inc., Gig Harbor.

These companies can receive funding ranging from $40,000 to up to $300,000 to complete research critical to the advancement of their technology development. WTC awards more than $1.3 million annually through is RTD grants program to university researchers teamed with entrepreneurial technology companies on projects that show commercial potential. Applicants compete for this funding, which WTC awards as public investment in technology research to sparkieconomic growth through company and job creation. The impact of funding these 12 projects is projected to generate 1,139 new technology jobs in Washington over the next five years.

For more than 20 years Washington Technology Center has supported technology commercialization projects through its RTD program. As the state agency appointed to manage this investment on behalf of Washington, WTC has a strong track record of success. For example, in 2004 the average return on investment reported by grant recipients was 17 to 1. That is, for ever dollar that WTC awards through its RTD grant program, Washington companies leveraged this seed financing into 17 additional dollars of investment. As a result, more than $47 million in add-on funding was generated by Washington companies as a result of WTC’s grant program in Fiscal Year 2004.

Below is a short summary of each of the 12 award recipients and their projects.

Allez PhysiOnix, Seattle, WA
Allez PhysiOnix, in collaboration with Dr. Pierre D. Mourad, Research Associate Professor of the Department of Neurological Surgery and Principal Physicist of the Applied Physics Lab, both at the University of Washington, have developed a methodology to non-invasively determine intracranial pressure (ICP), a critical determinant of brain function. Head trauma is the major cause of death in persons under the age of 45, typically due to increased ICP. Intracranial pressure can also result from tumors, stroke, and other neurological disorders. More than 1 million patents may need their ICP monitored each year. Currently there is no non-invasive method for determining the levels of ICP. It can only be measured through highly invasive procedures requiring the participation of neurosurgeons. ICP monitoring is only conducted for 100,000 patients per year. This limited monitoring hinders the early diagnosis of many brain maladies, and reduces the chance of successful treatment of these maladies. A simple non-invasive method of monitoring ICP would allow early measurement both in and outside of a hospital setting, and should improve the medical outcome for many patients. In an initial project, the team developed an empirical method to determine ICP non-invasively based on transcranial Doppler (TCD) measurements of the brain and supporting physiological data. Currently the device requires the services of a skilled neuro-sonographer to manipulate the transducer. This project will help to evolve the technology to the point that it can be more easily deployed, without special skills, in a user-independent manner.

EnerG2, LLC, Seattle, WA
Founded in 2003, EnerG2 is focused on developing and applying advanced technologies in the global energy sector. The company has teamed with Dr. Guozhong Cao, Associate Professor with the Department of Materials Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, to develop a nanotechnology-based industrial gas storage solution. While methane, nitrogen and other specialty gases have long been used in a wide variety of industrial applications, media for their storage have not been improved for decades. EnerG2’s carbon-based nanostructures offer safe, efficient storage at an affordable cost, with the goal of reducing the industry’s current dependence on high pressures, low temperatures and inflexible canister form factors to store industrial gasses. Initial research conducted by EnerG2 and UW’s Materials Science department demonstrated that these specially-designed carbon cryogels are effective as high-efficiency, high-density gas storage media. This follow on grant funding will be used to focus on the remaining challenges to be overcome in order to commercialize this technology. The most promising potential markets for this technology are compressed natural gas (CNG) and industrial gas storage. Eventually, the company hopes to use this technology to provide a solution for hydrogen storage for fuel cell powered vehicles.

Erudite Systems, Inc., Everett, WA
Everett-based Erudite Systems, Inc. is teamed with Professor Les Atlas from the University of Washington’s electrical engineering department to develop an acoustic monitoring system designed to increase security measures for the shipping industry. More than 6 million shipping containers enter U.S. ports each year. Yet only two percent of containers are inspected by customs officials. Large-scale inspection operations are an impractical and costly endeavor. Sensors offer a more cost-effective and non-invasive solution. ESI and UW are collaborating on the development of an acoustic monitoring system that would allow for real-time monitoring of sound and vibration signals in a container environment. The project combines ESI’s Ambient Envelope Sensor (AES) technology with the UW’s Modulation Spectrum technology which compresses waveforms for cost-effective storage and access. ESI hopes to incorporate this new acoustic technology into its latest products in development — GeoLock™ and StrongBox™ — which use vibration, temperature, GPS, and other sensors to monitor shipping container activity and increase security.

Forest Concepts, LLC, Federal Way, WA
Founded in 1998, Forest Concepts develops and commercializes innovative wood products. The company is teamed with Joan Q. Wu, Associate Professor in the Biological Engineering Systems Department at Washington State University, and the Soil and Water Engineering Research Work Unit, part of the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station in Moscow, Idaho, to develop engineering data that will enable design of a wood-strand material for wind erosion control and air quality protection. Forest Concepts’ WoodStraw™ erosion control material is a natural wood product made from the by-products of forest thinning and veneer manufacturing. Wind and water erosion are major ecological problems. Airborne dust from construction sites, wildfire aftermath, and farmland can be hazardous to human health and the environment. Wind erosion poses a particular challenge since the engineering science is not sufficient to enable disciplined design of control methods. Existing control techniques either are not cost effective or not environmentally sustainable. WoodStraw™ material offers a possible solution. The wood strands are environmentally friendly, decomposing into organic matter without introducing non-native weeds or chemical materials into the soil. They are more wind resistant than current products on the market, allowing for better and longer protection until natural vegetation develops. Forest Concepts and Dr. Wu plan to test the properties of WoodStraw™ strands to optimize performance in controlling wind erosion.

Information Systems Laboratories, Seattle, WA
Information Systems Laboratories, a science and engineering innovator in the fields of sensors, communications, and signal processing, is collaborating with Denise Wilson, Associate Professor in the Dept. of Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington, to develop a “tool kit” (hardware, simulation platform and design architecture) to enhance the simulation capability and performance quality of high-end sonar/acoustic processing systems. Despite extraordinary increases in digital signal processing speed and computing power over the last decade, the ability to interpret the complex characteristics of acoustic signals remains a challenge, especially in an underwater environment. The ISL/UW model seeks to exploit biological signal processing principles, in particular, the echolocation and functionality of one of the top underwater sonar communicators — the dolphin. The new toolkit is initially aimed at improving U.S. Navy sonar systems, which are currently designed to operate in the open ocean environment and are less accurate in underwater environments. However, the ISL solution will be designed to accommodate a broader market of acoustic signal processing systems.

MCD Technologies Inc., Tacoma, WA
MCD Technologies, a developer and manufacturer of food drying and evaporation systems, is partnered with Dr. Juming Tang and Dr. Caleb Nindo, Professors of Food Engineering & Food Processing Technology for the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at Washington State University, to conduct further research on the company’s Refractance Window® systems. MCD Technologies’ market edge comes from the ease of use and cost-effectiveness of its drying system when compared to freeze-drying and vacuum evaporators. Earlier studies conducted by the research team proved that Refractance Window® drying can produce fruits and vegetables with excellent color and nutrient retention. The system also produces foods and human nutritional supplements that meet strict manufacturing standards for kosher and organic certified products. This next phase of research will investigate the feasibility of using the evaporator in tandem with the dryer to produce products with high nutrient retention over time and long-life shelf stability. Proof of performance in these areas will be used to secure future equipment sales and continue to increase the company’s customer base.

McFarland Cascade, Tacoma, WA
McFarland Cascade, Washington’s largest producer of specialty products for outdoor construction of decks and fences, is collaborating with Dr. Karl Englund, Research Engineer with the Wood Materials & Engineering Laboratory at Washington State University, to study the potential of using chemically-treated wood flours in Wood-Plastic Composites (WPCs) as a means of improving the quality and marketability of these increasingly popular building materials. WPCs have become a substantial part of the decking industry and are finding their position in other traditional building materials markets including siding and molding. Outdoor building products are a $3 billion dollar industry. The composite building materials industry has grown from negligible sales in the early 1990s to a more than $1 billion dollar U.S. market today. Consumer acceptance of this material has been positive, however, improvements in the durability and density of the product have the potential to increase their commercial value. In earlier research, the team evaluated the wood flours for their physical and mechanical performance in WPCs. The results showed that the modified wood fibers imparted a substantial increase in water resistance, which adds to the material’s durability. In addition, the chemical treatment provides a method for foaming the product which reduced its weight. This project will address the impact that these additives have on the processing characteristics, formulation design and final product properties of commercial-scaled composites.

MEIER Enterprises, Inc., Kennewick, WA
Founded in 1982, MEIER Enterprises, Inc. (MEIER) is an engineering and architectural firm located in Kennewick, Washington. The company is partnered with Assistant Professor Shung Shin from the Department of Management and Operations at WSU Tri-Cities to develop and test a 3-D computer modeling technology for emergency response training. Currently, emergency response and preparedness training methods rely on the decades-old model of “hands-on” training in physical facilities. This provides an element of realism, but is also expensive, inflexible, and limited in application. MEIER plans to use 3-D technology to create virtual training components for various emergency scenarios and combine them with “hands-on” training. Virtual/simulation computer-based training used in conjunction with field scenarios offers a cost-effective and flexible training process. The inclusion of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology allows for electronic tracking of trainees during an exercise in real-time and records the exercise for review and critique in the computer. This means exercises can be reviewed multiple times with 100% accuracy. MEIER will use live training as a test-bed for its simulation tool.

MicroConnex, Inc., Snoqualmie, WA
MicroConnex has teamed with Professor Scott Dunham from the University of Washington’s Department of Electrical Engineering to develop a new process for manufacturing large arrays of high performance thin film transistors on flexible substrates. High frequency operation, light weight, and flexibility are critical factors for many existing and emerging semiconductor and electronics markets including radar, telecommunications, signal processing, and flexible displays. Consequently there is a growing demand for high performance devices that are thin and flexible. In a phase one project, MicroConnex and the UW collaborated on the development of a new flexible thin film transistor technology. In this phase two project, the team will work on optimizing the device structure and processing to combine high performance with high yield as well as improving cost-efficiency and scalability for rapid prototyping and manufacturing. The new process is expected to overcome the challenges facing wafer-based and PECVD processes, and the new products will have both military and commercial applications.

Northwind Marine, Seattle, WA
Northwind Marine, a Seattle-based watercraft manufacturer, is teamed with Dr. Juris Vagners from the University of Washington’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics to develop an automated, real-time navigation and communications system for Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs), small boats used to monitor and protect maritime industries. Maritime Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are a threat to naval and civilian assets such as ships, port facilities, oil terminals and platforms. Current interdiction to detect and deter IEDs requires manned teams, exposing them to potential harm. Autonomous robotic systems comprised of cooperating teams of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) offer an attractive solution and provide 24/7 real time coverage of sensitive areas. Advances in miniaturized electronics and sensors coupled with sophisticated navigation systems have enabled the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for a large range of Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) missions operating for extended periods of time over large geographical areas. The same technology has not yet been applied to USVs. This project will adapt algorithms created through UW research for UAVs to Northwind’s Sea Fox USVs and enable cooperative operation with the Scan Eagle UAV (built by The Insitu Group). The immediate market for remote controlled or autonomous boats is dominated by security and surveillance applications for the military and for port security. Developing markets include research, surveying, and commercial fishing.

VirtuSphere, Inc., Sammamish, WA
VirtuSphere, Inc. has teamed with Suzanne Weghorst, Senior Research Scientist with the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology (HIT) Laboratory, a leading Virtual Reality academic research facility, to explore new market opportunities for the company’s patented VirtuSphere™ product. This platform enables lifelike movements in virtual reality and delivers an innovative interface via the most natural form of navigation (i.e. walking). Virtual reality (VR) simulation was valued in 2003 at $42 billion worldwide. Revenues are projected to reach $78 billion by 2008. VR technology holds significant promise and potential for a host of applications including education and training, rehabilitation, recreation, and data visualization. One of the key barriers for VR has been the lack of devices which allow users to move freely and navigate naturally in virtual environments (VEs). The VirtuSphere™ omni-directional locomotion device provides a highly effective and robust solution to this problem, allowing lifelike movements with full-range of motion. VirtuSphere’s primary market is military training and simulation. Through this project, the team will explore application of this technology to new commercial markets including interactive education, rehabilitation, and movement-based gaming.

VisionGate, Inc., Gig Harbor, WA
VisionGate, a Gig Harbor headquartered company working in the field of cancer diagnostics, is collaborating with University of Washington’s Eric J. Seibel, Research Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Adjunct in Bioengineering and Assistant Director for Technology Development in the Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HIT Lab), to co-develop a 3D cell nucleus diffraction analysis instrument for pharmaceutical drug discovery and cell biology research. This instrument will provide accurate, detailed information about a cell’s macromolecular structure, as might result from changes in gene or protein expression due to mutation, disease processes or drug activity. The ability to analyze cell nuclei in 3D has the potential to advance cell biology research and make drug discovery more cost-effective. One area where this technology has high potential is rare event detection, where large numbers of cells are examined to discover the few that may contain genetic alterations, making them good candidates for use in drug discovery. Another promising field is drug therapy research where cellular and nuclear textures are often good indicators of basic cell response to active compounds. VisionGate’s commercial instrument is expected to break new ground with its patented 3D diffraction analysis, and as such, will provide a uniquely powerful capability in the search for new drug opportunities.

Related WTC links:

  • WTC Research and Technology Development Program

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  • This entry was posted in Allez_PhysiOnix, EnerG2, Erudite, Forest_Concepts, Information_Systems_Laboratories, MCD_Technologies, McFarland_Cascade, Meier_Enterprises, MicroConnex, Northwind_Marine, VirtuSphere, VisionGate. Bookmark the permalink.

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