When it comes to ground-breaking technology, conceiving the design can be only half the battle. The other half is getting the design off the drawing board – or in the case of Momentum Interactive, LLC, off the cocktail napkin.
After years of successfully producing easy-to-use flight training software, managing partner Dave Simeur was ready to take on the development of hardware. The goal was to create an innovative cockpit lighting system that also would serve as an emergency lighting alternative. To achieve this, Simeur planned to adapt military “lip light” technology to civilian aviation applications. In order to make that plan a reality, Simeur requested the help of the NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP).
According to Simeur, some of today’s best aviation lighting designs use military technology, but they have yet to be effectively adapted to the civilian market. “We had never seen a good adaptation of the military lighting systems in the general aviation market,” said Simeur. “With 800,000 certified pilots in the United States, we knew that there was a definite market for it, albeit a small one. We had a clear idea of how we would design it, but we hadn’t taken the concept much past the drawing-on-a-napkin phase.”
The obstacle that kept the project from escaping the “napkin phase” was the cost of building a prototype. “When you run the numbers on a product like this, there is a huge engineering expense,” explained Simeur. “And given the small size of the market, it’s not worth it because the pay-off just isn’t there.”
But when he heard about SATOP, Simeur believed that the program could be the solution to getting the lighting project off the napkin and into the cockpit. Simeur’s online Request for Technical Assistance (RTA) was accepted, and Yu-Ping Tang – an engineer at the Manufacturing Technology Engineering Center of New Mexico State University – volunteered to take on the case.
“I was quite pleased to hear that Yu-Ping had volunteered for this RTA,” said Manuel Durán, SATOP New Mexico Program Engineer. “He has more than 30 years of engineering experience and 27 RTAs for SATOP under his belt, so I knew he’d be able to provide a solution for Momentum Interactive.”
The RTA asked for CAD and materials analysis for LED lighting devices. Tang more than rose to the challenge, providing a design that captured the essence of Momentum Interactive’s requirements. He also developed the Finite Element Analysis, which included the appropriate calculations verifying strength characteristics. Tang further helped to develop the manufacturing technology that makes the units efficient to build.
By using Tang’s design, Simeur and his team were able to produce a functioning prototype in less than four weeks. Simeur was blown away by SATOP’s service. “SATOP can accomplish more in 40 hours than most people can accomplish in quadruple that amount of time,” said Simeur. “This accomplishment will create 10 jobs in our company. And to think – it would’ve never gotten off the cocktail napkin had it not been for SATOP.” The prototype, now christened FLITELITE, was a hit at a recent trade show and Simeur plans to have the device patented and distributed shortly.