TROY, N.Y. (April 22, 2005) – It sounds like something straight out of a science fiction movie: a mechanical sphere that can watch your every move. Such a device soon could be a reality, however, thanks to assistance from the NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP).
SATOP provides free engineering assistance to small businesses with technical challenges through donations of time and expertise from 50 Space Alliance Partners throughout the country.
InterScience, a contract research and development company based in Troy, NY, is developing an imaging technology in the shape and size of a softball that provides a hemispherical field of view. Currently in the advanced prototype development stage, the “C-View” technology is capable of providing a 360-degree horizontal and more than 180-degrees vertical panoramic field of view. Potential applications of the technology, which can be integrated with visible and infrared thermal cameras, include commercial and military surveillance, perimeter detection, as well as industrial inspection and pipe inspection.
“Imagine a ball that contains a greater than hemispherical field of view imaging system, complete with a small camera, a wireless video transmitter and battery power,” said Michelle Simkulet, InterScience vice president of operations. “This ball could be thrown, or dropped, into a hostile area. The C-View would transmit back to a display monitor offering a full hemisphere view with no blind spots, including the floor and ceiling. So in a hostage rescue situation, for example, law enforcement could know exactly what was going on.”
InterScience engineers needed to know, however, if the innovative C-View concept could be suitably housed inside cost effective and easily obtainable materials.
“We have many commercial and federal government clients that we believed would be interested in C-View,” said Simkulet. “We needed to know if the design can be packaged in fairly common and obtainable materials at low cost, and be sufficiently rugged to survive being thrown and dropped over significant distances.”
After learning about SATOP from the Center for Economic Growth, Simkulet decided to ask SATOP to analyze the feasibility of C-View and make a design recommendation that complied with their impact resistant, shock absorbing and self-righting requirements.
SATOP tapped Design By Analysis (DBA), a SATOP Alliance Partner in New Britain, CT. DBA assigned Interscience’s technical challenge to Ron Green, a contract engineer whose background includes aerospace engineering and work on the Hubble Space Telescope.
“My assignment was to create a mechanical design that would allow the ball to withstand significant ’G’ loads when it impacted a surface,” said Green. “I analyzed the sphere’s wall stresses and provided a means to mount the optical system inside a sphere so that it could handle the impact of being thrown.”
Green’s help allowed InterScience to move forward with C-View. “The initial mechanical design that Ron provided included recommendations regarding materials and construction as well as stress and fluid analysis,” said Simkulet. “I was amazed at the amount of information they sent for the 40 hours worth of allotted time.”
This sci-fi story has a happy ending. “A bonus for us was that through SATOP we were introduced to DBA, a company with similar structure and goals to InterScience,” said Simkulet. “We developed a working relationship with DBA and as a result, InterScience is subcontracting some of the remaining mechanical design effort on the C-View product to DBA – it was a real win-win for us.”