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Six Lincoln Laboratory Inventions Win 2022 R&D 100 Awards | MIT News

Six technologies developed at MIT Lincoln Laboratory are among the winners of this year’s R&D 100 awards. The awards recognize the 100 most significant innovations that have been used or made available for sale or license in the past year.

R&D world The magazine manages the awards program, which has been held annually since 1963. The global competition, dubbed the “Oscars of Innovation,” is judged by a panel of science and technology experts and industry professionals.

Lincoln Laboratory’s awardees represent a range of research and development areas. One technology is a revolutionary hurricane tracking satellite. Another is a silent propeller design for small commercial drones, and the other is a system that can prevent drone collisions in domestic airspace. Two winners are tackling the problems of technology crowding: one by allowing different devices to use the same radio frequency band simultaneously, and the other by keeping densely packed electronic devices cool. And finally, a cybersecurity tool is recognized for its ability to prevent a type of widespread cyberattack.

“Our R&D 100 Awards represent a major achievement for technology transition outside the laboratory. We are very proud of everyone involved in this groundbreaking work,” said Eric Evans, director of Lincoln Laboratory.

sXu on-board collision avoidance system

Today, small drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), are generally not allowed to fly in the US domestic airspace system. US law requires all aerial vehicles to be able to see and stay clear of conflicting air traffic – and sUAS have no onboard pilot or technical solution to meet this requirement. Lincoln Laboratory developed the sXu Airborne Collision Avoidance System (sXu ACAS) to enable unrestricted operation of sUAS in domestic airspace. The system allows the sUAS to detect and track other nearby aircraft, then automatically steers the sUAS away from those aircraft to avoid a possible mid-air collision (or alerts its ground operator to perform such a maneuver). The ACAS sXu can be installed on the sUAS or used as a remote service, and accommodates the wide range of sUAS vehicle types. The ACAS sXu design standard was finalized in 2022 and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is developing policy and procedures to approve the use of this system.

Lincoln Laboratory shares this award with its collaborators on technology: the US Federal Aviation Administration, MITER and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Constrained communications and dual-use radar

Radar and wireless communication systems typically operate in separate radio frequency (RF) bands to avoid cross interference. However, the current abundance of wireless devices is congesting the RF spectrum – an issue that is leading researchers to explore ways for technologies to share the same RF bands to free up space.

CONCORD (Constrained Communications and Radar Dual-Use) technology enables such band sharing. CONCORD is a method of designing waveforms capable of performing radar and communications tasks simultaneously, with the same transmitter and receiver. This method allows a system designer to unify the hardware used for these tasks, simplifying system design and reducing costs. CONCORD has applications for all military or commercial systems that need to detect objects with radar and send data, such as airborne radar imaging systems or self-driving cars.

Integrated microjet cooling for high power electronics

Electronics are getting smaller and more powerful. These increased power densities are approaching the limit of what conventional thermal architectures can handle. Electronic designers are therefore looking for new cooling solutions to meet performance requirements and reduce energy costs.

Lincoln Laboratory’s integrated microjet cooling technology uses arrays of micron-scale fluid jets to cool high-powered devices. These dies are small enough to be integrated directly into the device at the chip level. This integration allows fluid to flow directly to the semiconductor substrate of the electronics, providing an order of magnitude improvement in heat transfer over heat sinks or cold plates that pass coolant parallel to the substrate. Microjets can be made from inexpensive materials, such as silicon or plastics, and can be mass-produced with existing foundry tools. An MIT spin-off company, JETCOOL Technologies Inc., is commercializing this technology.

Toroidal helix

Anyone who has encountered a small hobby drone flying nearby has probably noticed the high-pitched hum of its propellers. NASA experiments have shown that humans find this sound more annoying than any other vehicle noise. If drones are to be accepted for wider use, such as package delivery, they will likely need to be quieter.

Lincoln Laboratory’s toroidal propeller is significantly quieter than common multirotor propellers, while producing comparable thrust. The toroidal propeller consists of looped blades, in which the tip of a main propeller blade is curved back into its trailing propeller blade. This closed structure minimizes the force of the rear end vortices and increases the overall rigidity of the propeller, which reduces its noise; it is also less likely than conventional propellers to catch or cut objects in its path. The propeller can be 3D printed and customized for a range of vehicles, making it suitable as a direct replacement on current drones.

Timely address space randomization

Timely Address Space Randomization (TASR) solves the problem of memory corruption, one of today’s most prevalent cyber vulnerabilities. Hackers who launch memory corruption attacks can take over or steal data from millions of computers at once, because the memory structures of these systems all look alike. TASR prevents such attacks by automatically shuffling or re-randomizing the location of code in memory.

TASR improves on an existing solution deployed in most modern operating systems, called Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), which uses a similar principle of memory layout randomization. The problem with ASLR is that it only randomizes memory once, and attackers have circumvented this solution by using “information leak attacks” to force an application to reveal how its memory was randomized. TASR is the first technology to mitigate such attacks by randomizing the layout each time it observes an output from an application. TASR is compatible with existing cyber-infrastructure and incurs very low overhead. InfoSiftr, a cloud development company, has obtained a TASR license.

Satellite TROPICS Pathfinder

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the frequency and intensity of hurricanes are expected to increase throughout this century. To provide scientists with more data on the Earth’s tropical belt where these storms form, Lincoln Laboratory designed the TROPICS mission. TROPICS is a constellation of small satellites, called CubeSats, that will work together to provide fast, global views of tropical storms. The TROPICS Pathfinder satellite was launched in 2021 as the first in this constellation.

On board the satellite is a microwave sounder, a sensor that produces high-resolution 3D images of the temperature and water vapor content of the Earth’s atmosphere as well as estimates of precipitation intensity. Microwave sounder measurements are fed into numerical weather models to produce a forecast (and provide the greatest contribution to forecast error reduction of any type of ingested data). The biggest technical challenge in the development of the TROPICS Pathfinder was the miniaturization of the sensor. Over the past 10 years, Lincoln Laboratory has gradually reduced the sensor from the size of a washing machine to that of a coffee cup, allowing its use on CubeSats. This R&D 100 award is shared with NASA and Blue Canyon Technologies.

Technology transfer

Since 2010, Lincoln Laboratory has received 81 R&D 100 Awards. The awards recognize the lab’s transfer of unclassified technologies to industry and government. Every year, many technological transitions also occur for classified projects. This technology transfer is central to the lab’s role as a federally funded research and development center.

The 2022 winners will be honored at a banquet in Coronado, California on November 17.