Air Force research hits commercial market

Sweat sensor that records bio data developed at Wright-Patt.Job growth predicted from other ventures.

A sweat sensor that looks like a Band-Aid and tracks elite athletes’ hydration and stress from heat exposure could become the latest technology to emerge from the Air Force Research Laboratory and into the commercial market, officials say.

CoreSyte is the start of what the Riverside-based Wright Brothers Institute hopes will be other joint ventures that find commercial uses for Air Force research. Officials say they’re aiming to start joint ventures with a potential within five to seven years for $100 million to $1 billion in sales.

“It was something AFRL hadn’t tapped into,” said Kim Frazier, a Wright Brothers Institute senior collaboration strategist. “AFRL technology frequently gets turned into Air Force technology. There’s a lot of technology there that could reach commercial markets.”

The result would build a bigger defense industrial base outside Wright-Patterson, lower product costs for the Defense Department and create jobs in the Dayton region and elsewhere, officials said.

“There’s increasing interest on the part of AFRL to generate economic good, economic prosperity from the technology that AFRL develops,” said Lester McFawn, the institute director and a former AFRL executive director.

McFawn said AFRL established the institute as a non-profit spin-off and “neutral” party in 2002, in part to bring industry partners together with the lab headquartered at Wright-Patterson.

Tapping into tech

The institute partnered with SRI International, a non-profit, independent research lab headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif., to create a center — the Global Aerospace Innovation Center — to start joint commercial ventures through partnerships with companies and others. One of those is CoreSyte, based in Arlington, Va.

Officials say the innovation center targets promising technologies from multiple research think tanks, including AFRL.

“Dayton has a high concentration of technology-generating industries but the job growth and the population growth has remained stagnant since 1990,” Frazier said. “We’re having a hard time converting (research and development) and technology generators into new jobs and growth.”

Craig Steffen, the institute’s lead on the technology transfer program, regularly talks to AFRL scientists and engineers about what they’re developing and whether there are any commercial applications.

“In the tech-transfer area, it runs the gamut from early identification of promising (technology) to actually helping start-up commercial ventures” through GAIC, Steffen said.

One of the joint ventures being developed through the innovation center is GlobalFlyte, which would offer emergency management technology — including voice, text and visual information — to benefit first responders. The joint venture, which WBI expects to locate in the Dayton area, is seeking funds to test a prototype and start sales.

One feature of the technology, said Steffen is three-dimensional audio, allowing information sharing from multiple locations.

“It’s going to create Ohio jobs,” he said.

Less invasive technology

The software for CoreSyte’s sweat sensor was developed by the Dayton area firm EMITTI. A prototype of the product is manufactured in Indiana.

Elite collegiate and pro athletes and others have tested the sensor, which lets a person see their key bio data displayed on a smart phone.

“We started it probably five years ago from concept to actual prototype testing,” said Joshua Hagen, team leader of the Signatures and Tracking for Optimized Training and Nutrition (STRONG) program at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson.

The technology is less invasive than blood or urine testing typically done to obtain the same information, researchers say. “Basically, you put it on and your forget you have it on,” Hagen said.

The 711th Human Performance Wing assembled the microelectronic technology to track special forces troops performance, who have to be wary of dehydration and fatigue in the field.

“Obviously, they have one of the most physically demanding jobs in the Air Force,” Hagen said. AFRL partnered with the University of Cincinnati Novel Devices Laboratory to create the sensor.

Future generations of the bio-patches could track more health metrics, he said. For example, it could be used to monitor bio-health markers for children with medical conditions typically tested through more invasive medical procedures like blood testing.

“It’s going to be very adaptable because it had a lot of flexibility to go off in a lot of different directions,” said Robert Lee, WBI open innovation project manager.

More spin offs

WBI officials see the potential for more spin-offs and tout AFRL as an idea factory. AFRL gained 55 patents last year alone, the most in years. Of those, 40 were patented at AFRL facilities at Wright-Patterson. The research lab has a total of 429 active patents today.

The U.S. government has pushed federal labs to commercialize research and create jobs and a more vibrant industrial base, Frazier said.

The technology WBI brings to the market may not come just from AFRL, but a combination of technologies developed elsewhere, officials said.

The lab doesn’t fund a company, but AFRL could recoup royalties from the sale of a commercial product, McFawn said.

AFRL scientists and engineers who have an entrepreneurial bent also have opportunities to start up businesses to transfer technology to the commercial world.

“It will result in commercialization of technology, but the newer (workforce) generation wants these opportunities,” McFawn said.

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