10 Everyday Innovations That Came From NASA Research

NASA’s Technology Transfer Program is “the agency’s oldest continually operated program,” according to Spinoff, its annual guide of consumer products developed from NASA technology. The agency has issued the guide since 1976 to emphasize just how much NASA research has gone into products and innovations that you see in everyday life. It's catalogued 2000 innovations and counting. Here are 10 technologies that owe their existence to space exploration.

1. CELL PHONE CAMERA, 1995

The world's most popular selfie tech is also NASA’s most ubiquitous spinoff technology. Cell phone cameras use a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor—not a new technology, but one revolutionized at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which made the sensor smaller, lighter, and able to produce a cleaner image. Coincidentally, the very notion of digital cameras was born at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1960s.

2. DUSTBUSTER, 1981

Its origins trace back to the Apollo program, when NASA contracted Black & Decker to design a special drill for taking core samples of the lunar surface. The computer program used to develop the low-powered, battery-operated moon motor was then used in the consumer space. A plethora of home cordless tools, and a tiny vacuum cleaner, were born.

3. MEMORY FOAM, 1966

The key ingredient in your comfy pillow was developed to absorb shock and improve the comfort of airplane seats. Today, the ubiquitous “slow spring back foam” improves just about everything, from football helmets and mattresses to race cars and saddles. Ironically, airplane seats remain uncomfortable.

4. EAR THERMOMETER, 1991

The thermometer sensors were first developed for satellites to check the temperatures of stars and other celestial objects by reading infrared radiation. The underlying technology was modified to measure the energy emitted from the human eardrum, making it much easier on everybody to see if the baby has a fever.

5. BABY FORMULA NUTRIENTS, 1985

When NASA needed to find a way for astronauts to eat on long-duration, deep space missions, it cultivated nutrient-enriched algae containing docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA), which are polyunsaturated fatty acids. The idea was for astronauts to grow their own food. Because these nutrients are also found in breast milk and delivered in utero to developing babies—DHA and ARA are key to visual and cognitive development—another, more terrestrial use was soon found. And while astronauts have yet to need it, babies have been eating it up.

6. ROADWAY SAFETY GROOVES, 1985

The goal was to help reduce hydroplaning on NASA runways. By carving slim grooves in the pavement, water would run off, allowing the Space Shuttle and other winged craft to land in the rain. The grooves came to the first commercial runway in 1967 (Dulles, in Washington D.C.) and eventually made their way to highway curves, saving countless terrestrial lives over the years. A test study of 14 before-and-after grooving sites in California found an 85 percent decrease in highway accidents during rainy weather [PDF].

7. INVISIBLE BRACES, 1989

These tooth straighteners owe their superpower to translucent polycrystalline alumina, which is a super-strong, super-invisible ceramic. It was first developed for heat seeking missile technology. NASA helped apply it to smile technology.

8. SCRATCH-RESISTANT LENSES, 1983

They're hard to scuff up thanks to NASA research into water purification. A thin, plastic film was developed and applied to a certain filter in the purification process, and would turn up again in NASA research into ways to protect space suit visors. In 1983, Foster Grant licensed the technology, and glasses have never been the same since.

9. WINGLETS, 1976

These are the vertical folds at the ends of aircraft wings. They save fuel for the same reason that you folded the wingtips of paper airplanes as a kid: They help the aircraft fly farther and faster. Winglets derive from NASA research into reducing fuel costs during the 1973 oil crisis—and have reduced those costs by billions in the decades since.

10. CARDIAC PUMPS, 1996

This technology helps keep heart patients alive while they wait for donor hearts. The idea grew out of a conversation between a NASA engineer and two heart surgeons. NASA used its experience simulating fluid flow through rocket engines to develop the technology for flowing blood through the human body.

All images: iStock

Need a Robot Vacuum? Neato's Botvac D6 Is $330 Off This Week

Neato
Neato

We've previously recommended robot vacuums as an amazingly easy way to keep your home free of dust, pet hair, and other allergy-triggering nasties, but with higher-tech models going for hundreds and hundreds of dollars, it can be hard to convince yourself you need a vacuum that badly. Except when there's a great sale, like this week's Best Buy deal on Neato's Botvac D6 Connected vacuum.

The app-controlled automated vacuum normally retails for $729, but it's going for $400 right now—a $330 discount. That's 45 percent off.

The Botvac D6, which came out in 2018 and is one of the company's fanciest models, features a battery life of 120 minutes, LaserScan technology that allows it to memorize your home's floorplan (including multi-level homes), a high-performance filter to collect allergens, a turbo mode with increased suction, a pre-scheduling feature, and that signature D-shape that's made to capture debris in tight corners. Neato advertises the Botvac D6's combination of brushes as being 70 percent larger than most other robot vacuums' brushes, allowing it to pick up even more pet hair and dirt.

It also has a bunch of smart features that lower-tier robot vacuums don't offer, like the Quick Boost charging feature, which allows the vacuum to return to its base to quickly top off its charge—just enough to finish the job—if it's running low on juice, and the ability to set no-go lines around pet bowls, piles of cords, and other areas that you don't want your vacuum zooming through. You can control the vacuum via your phone, Amazon Home, Alexa, your Apple Watch, the Neato Chatbot on Facebook, and more.

This is only the latest Neato vacuum to go on super-sale. In March, the company's Botvac D4 was also featured in Best Buy's weekly deals, selling for $300. That model (which features 75 minutes of battery life to the D6's 120) is currently selling for $400 at Best Buy as well.

Here's a tip: We bet your dad would love getting one of these babies for Father's Day. It would also make an excellent gift for a new grad moving into their first grown-up apartment.

Buy it from Best Buy for $400. The deal lasts until 10 p.m. Pacific Time on Monday, May 27.

If controlling your cleaning plan with your phone doesn't seem exciting enough to you, there are plenty of even fancier robot cleaning assistants out there. May we suggest one that will vacuum, mop, and clean itself?

A New Hypersonic Jet Could Get You From New York to London in 90 Minutes

iStock/baona
iStock/baona

For impatient travelers, the next wave of air transportation could be a game-changer. Aerospace company Hermeus Corporation recently announced that it has obtained funding to pursue development of a plane that could travel five times faster than the speed of sound, getting passengers from New York to London in just 90 minutes. But it won't be a cheap flight, and the idea isn't without some baggage.

The venture, which was founded by former employees of private space travel companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, is seeking to craft a plane that can travel at Mach 5 and reach a cruising speed of 3300 mph.

That ambition will likely take years to materialize. Hermeus co-founder and CEO AJ Piplica told CNN that development is projected to last a decade. He anticipated one-way tickets will cost in the range of $3000.

It currently takes about seven hours to travel from New York to London. Previously, travelers were able to cut that time down to roughly four hours, traveling at twice the speed of sound in the supersonic Concorde jet. High fuel consumption and expensive tickets led to the retirement of the aircraft in 2003. Whether Hermeus can overcome the environmental concerns of such high-octane travel and gather enough passengers willing to pay a premium for less time spent in the air remains to be seen.

[h/t CNN]

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