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Wireless car charging among Scale-Up Award technologies

The College of Engineering has announced the winners of the annual Scale-Up and Prototyping Awards, which give teams of engineering faculty and students up to $40,000 to commercialize startup technologies that might otherwise have trouble obtaining funding.

“There is a funding gap between research support and commercial startup funding,” says Robert Scharf, the College of Engineering’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence and director of the Praxis Center for Venture Development.

“Many institutional investors are not comfortable with research ideas that have no commercial validation,” said Scharf. “The goal of these awards is to provide commercial validation for ideas that have so far established only academic interest.”

The awards, now in their third year, allow the winning teams to work closely with members of the college’s Scientific Advisory Committee to identify potential markets and build a business case for their technology. The process also helps researchers prepare for subsequent investments to further their work.

The prototypes and teams are:

Aluminum Nitride-based Power Amplifiers for Enhanced Radar Object Detection Range: Austin Hickman and Reet Chaudhuri, M.S. ’16, doctoral students; Huili Grace Xing, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and of materials science and engineering; and Debdeep Jena, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and of materials science and engineering.

Gallium nitride (GaN)-based power amplifiers are a core technology of modern radar systems, expanding the target’s reflected signals and allowing for the detection and location of distant objects. But these amplifiers’ radar performance is confined by limits in operating temperatures and power.

Amplifiers using aluminum nitride (AlN) could surpass these limitations and offer a critical leap forward for high-power amplifier performance. The research team pioneered the concept and technologies of the AlN-based transistor, the key building block for AlN-based power amplifiers.

The researchers will use their award to design and fabricate a first generation of AlN-based amplifiers, combining multiple individual transistors and components into a complete integrated device. The fabrication will take place at the Cornell Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility in Duffield Hall.

Heart-Recovery Device for Infants and Young Children: James Antaki, Susan K. McAdam Professor of Heart Assist Technology in the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering.

Heart-assist pumps, also known as ventricular assist devices (VADs), are now the standard of care for treating adults with severe heart failure. They have saved tens of thousands of adults, but no suitable VADs exist to treat infants and young children with congenital or acquired cardiac defects.

Existing heart-assist systems approved for children in the U.S. were designed nearly three decades ago, and control units for such systems weigh more than 400 pounds, meaning pediatric patients are almost exclusively confined to high-dependency hospital wards.

Antaki and his colleagues have been working for more than 10 years on PediaFlow, a miniature heart-assist pump for infants and young children. Since children have a greater chance of cardiac recovery compared to adults, implantation of a VAD can potentially rehabilitate a child’s heart back to health.

The team’s goal is to develop a prototype of a PediaFlow control unit that incorporates this recovery feature. The project will focus on the design and usability of the prototype, which the researchers hope will lead to future clinical studies with children.

“Many institutional investors are not comfortable with research ideas that have no commercial validation. The goal of these awards is to provide commercial validation for ideas that have so far established only academic interest.”

Robert Scharf

Dynamic Capacitive Wireless Charging System for Electrified Vehicles: Khurram Afridi, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Autonomous material-handling vehicles used in modern warehouses and factories are powered by onboard batteries. Currently, these vehicles are taken offline and plugged in for recharging, or their drained batteries are swapped with pre-charged ones. Both approaches impose substantial costs, require additional space for spare vehicles or batteries, and does not scale well for dynamic applications.

Afridi’s alternative is to charge these vehicles wirelessly from the floor while they are performing their tasks, including when they are in motion. This approach substantially reduces the need for onboard batteries, which decreases vehicle costs while increasing productivity.

The researchers will scale up their proof-of-concept system to a full-scale dynamic capacitive wireless charging prototype. This prototype will demonstrate the feasibility of high power transfer levels at high efficiencies for vehicles traveling at speeds appropriate to warehouses and factories.

The controlled environments of warehouses and factories are excellent testing grounds for this technology, which eventually could have a significant impact on the cost and range of roadway electric vehicles.

Microfluidic technology for single cell sample processing: Harvey Tian, M.S. ’12, M.Eng. ’16, Ph.D. ’17, and Adam Bisogni ’08, Ph.D. 17, postdoctoral associates; and Harold Craighead, M.S. ’77, Ph.D. ’80, the Charles W. Lake Professor of Engineering Emeritus in the School of Applied and Engineering Physics.

In today’s single cell sample processing market, limited amounts of information can be extracted from rare cells, such as highly aggressive cancer cells, due to limitations in sample processing platforms. Craighead’s team aims to offer a user-friendly automatable platform for sample processing of single cells, which would allow the user to extract more information from those cells than with current sample processing platforms.

This technology would benefit industry scientists in pharmaceutical companies who wish to understand how multiple facets of a cell change in response to a new drug. It would also assist academics who are interested in identifying the deeper nature of aggressive cancer cells.

The Craighead Lab has developed a specialized microfluidic device capable of performing on-chip cell processing as well as various on-chip chemistries such as DNA extraction, labeling and imaging.

The award will help the researchers test scaling up their current microchip designs to increase sample throughput, and also test moving the technology from its current polymer construction to plastic, which is more amenable to manufacturing and fabrication processes.

This year’s awardees will discuss their projects during presentations to the award advisory board in March.

Eric Laine is a communications specialist for the College of Engineering.

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