Posted: May 17, 2007

Commercializing university research - Hopping robots, liquid shoes, electricity from heat

(Nanowerk News) A not-so-whacky university-based center for entrepreneurism has funded some, well, somewhat unusual research projects that actually may have commercial potential. The William J. von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Advancement at the University of California, San Diego has awarded $430,000 to nine projects led by faculty members of the Jacobs School of Engineering, the School of Medicine, and the Moores Cancer Center.
The latest round of seed funding grants, the ninth since the von Liebig Center was set up in 2001, raises the center’s grant total to more than $2.8 million in grants to fund 65 research projects with commercialization potential.
The Center funded nine of 23 applications made in the latest round of applications reviewed by an external committee of industry experts and von Liebig Center staff. Technology and business advisors from the von Liebig Center will continue to work with all the applicants to develop commercialization strategies and, if possible, help them secure other types of funding.
The nine funded projects are: Prabhakar Bandaru, professor of Materials and Aerospace Engineering, for a proposal titled, "Enabling highly efficient heat-energy conversion, through Si/SiGe Quantum Well Thermoelectrics - application to biomedical device technologies." This project aims to develop thermoelectric device modules for application to biomedical devices, such as hearing aids and pacemakers. In addition to tackling an important and pressing problem, the advantages of the proposed approach include high performance, scalability and integration with Silicon electronics. In preliminary experiments, the team has obtained one of the highest figures of merit ever for a thermoelectric material in Si/SiGe structures and now aims to extend it for practical application.
Thomas Bewley, professor of Materials and Aerospace Engineering, for a project titled, "Commercialization of a new class of reconfigurable dynamic robot." UCSD’s Coordinated Robotics Lab has designed a new class of convertible dynamic robot capable of rolling in horizontal mode and hopping over obstacles. Large wheels serve as both drive wheels (when roving in either horizontal mode or vertical mode) and inertial reaction wheels (to stabilize the vehicle when these wheels are not in contact with the ground). A control box contains accelerometers/gyros for situational awareness, several motors for both spinning the various wheels and pretensioning the spring-loading hopping mechanism, and control electronics for coordinating the vehicle. As with modern jet airplanes, this design exchanges positive inherent stability for improved maneuverability and efficiency, relying on feedback control to stabilize the vehicle.
This project is designed to help the Coordinated Robotics Lab bridge the gap from these research prototypes to a new line of miniaturized, inexpensive, commercial products. The team’s initial efforts will target the toy and educational-toy markets. Later efforts will extend the design to defense, homeland security, fire and rescue, nuclear waste monitoring, and scientific exploration.
Michael J. Heller and Geert Schmid-Schönbein, professors of Bioengineering, for a project titled, "Protease Detection System for the Inflammatory Response and Disease Diagnostics." The team is proposing a novel protease activity detection system for the monitoring of clinically relevant inflammatory responses and for disease diagnosis. The project will involve the development of nanoparticle labeled substrates which can be used in micro and nanoarray, microfluidic, microsensor and point-of-care formats. The goal is the design unique peptide and other nanoparticle substrates that will allow highly sensitive and selective detection of the key enzymes (proteases, matrix metallo-proteases, lipases, amylases) associated with inflammatory cascade.
David Kriegman, professor of Computer Science and Engineering, for a project titled, "Face FX: Easy, Effective, Online Photo Enhancement." The goal of this project is to create FaceFX, a Web 2.0 solution to putting your "best face forward" in the new digital world. FaceFX is pushing the frontiers in ease of use, and redefining digital image enhancement from a user’s perspective. FaceFX exploits a confluence of technologies in computer vision, computer graphics, and machine learning to provide non-professional digital photographers with the power of professional touch up, without the need to learn complex software. Addressing every person’s desire to look good, the team is pioneering new techniques specifically targeted at improving the appearance of people in photographs, with little or no user intervention. The first online release of FaceFX will be built on a platform that supports the development of a breadth of advanced computer vision methods, allowing a scaleable and extensible solution suite that will keep pace with the growth of digital photo and video assets.
In addition to bringing conventional digital photo editing capabilities to the web, the team will use UCSD patent pending gloss-removal technology for images and videos, and develop methods for automatic flash correction, automatic red eye reduction, automatic shadow softening, blemish removal, wrinkle removal, and other automated face effects. This technological edge differentiates FaceFX from other photo sharing, photo printing, and image processing services.
Gert Lanckriet, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, for a project titled, "Interactive Game–based Music Annotation for Musical Retrieval and Recommendation." Interactive Game-based Music Annotation is a technology that uses interactive Web-based games to create a database of high-quality, consistent song annotations (pairs of songs and descriptive words). The annotated database is used to drive both a "musical search engine" and a "musical recommendation system." This technology provides a valuable service and significant competitive edge to music recommendation companies, such as Apple iTunes, Pandora, Amazon, and Yahoo! Music, that require quality annotations for effective navigation through large commercial databases of music. Funding will be used for commercialization and additional technology development.
Hyam L. Leffert, a professor of Pharmacology, and Sungho Jin, a professor of Materials and Aerospace Engineering, for a project titled, "Highly functional hepatocytes on TiO2 nanotube chips: New efficient modules for pharmaceutical screening of drug toxicity and drug metabolism." The basic technology utilizes newly developed nanotech chips constructed of Titanium and Titanium dioxide. The biocompatible surfaces of the chips comprise bonded titanium dioxide nanotubes, the geometry of which facilitates robust and long-term culture of highly functional, normal (i.e. primary) mouse and human hepatocytes.
The technology can be used as a stand-alone chip, carrying human hepatocytes cultured in appropriately defined biological fluid and incubator systems, to be used for efficient pharmaceutical in vitro screening of drug toxicity and drug metabolism. Further monochip development into modular arrays, composed of hundreds to housands of monochips, are envisioned for pharmaceutical use to provide high throughput robotic screening, as well as for eventual bioartificial liver devices for the benefit of patients with liver diseases.
Yu-Tsueng Liu, a researcher at the Moores UCSD Cancer Center, and Sadik Esener, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, for a project titled, "A comprehensive human papilloma virus (HPV) typing assay for early screening of cervical cancer." Cervical cancer is almost always caused by infections of the human papilloma virus (HPV). An estimated 50 to 80 percent of the pre-cancerous lesions can be detected by Pap test, which is currently used more than 50 million times a year in the United States even though the test is imperfect. While the country has seen a 70 percent drop in cervical cancer over the past five decades, better tests are needed. HPV genotyping is a potential replacement for the Pap test.
The team has developed a novel platform that can be used for high throughput HPV typing. The technology incorporates HPV type-specific coded nanoparticles into cell-like micro-reactors where polymerase chain reaction (PCR) reaction is carried out. Therefore, up to millions of reactions could be carried out within a 0.2 ml tube. This platform is generally applicable for genotyping assays that require multiplexed PCR reactions.
Yu Qiao, a professor of Structural Engineering, for a project titled, "Liquid Power – A Flexible Solution."
The "liquid super-sponge" is a liquid-like material that can change volume and absorb energy when subjected to external pressure. These materials are of ultrahigh energy absorption efficiency, orders of magnitude higher than that of engineering rubbers and reinforced composites – having broad applications in healthcare products (e.g. liquid shoes or shoe insoles, liquid helmets), liquid armors, car bumpers, and other applications. Funding for this project will be used to develop a commercialization strategy for this technology, including the use of the liquid super-sponge for the liquid shoe/insole market.
Deli Wang, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, for a project titled, "Zinc Oxide nanowire light emitting diodes (LEDs) - cheaper and brighter light source."
Nanowires are one-dimensional nanostructures with the diameter from a few nanometers to a few tens of nanometers and a few micrometers in length. The unintentionally doped zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowires are intrinsically n-type and complementary doping (both n-type and p-type doping) is essential for functional device applications. The recent breakthrough in the p-type doping in Wang’s research group makes ZnO light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and injection laser possible. This project will focus on the development and commercialization of ZnO nanowire based LED, which promise high carrier injection efficiency and consequently LED efficiency, improved light extraction efficiency, and low-cost fabrication. Potential market this technology include light emitting diodes, solid state lighting, displays, traffic lights, back-lighting for LED displays, and other applications.
Source: University of California - San Diego