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TRANSPORTATION

Chain, chain, change

Wisconsin-based Trek Bicycle Corporation has introduced two models of chainless bicycles that rely on a belt-driven system inspired by the drive systems found on many snowmobiles and motorcycles. Trek is the first company to mass-produce belt-driven bikes, which may end the dreaded grease-on-khaki occurrences experienced by bike commuters everywhere.

For more information on Trek’s chainless bicycle lineup, visit them online at www.trekbikes.com.

The new belts are expected to require less maintenance than chains and provide a lighter, quieter ride. Both models, the District and the Soho, retail between $900 and $1,000.

Belts for the bikes will last about three years and are less prone to breaking than traditional chains.

Texas Innovator TRANSPORTATION

Flying green

Renewable automotive fuels have received a good deal more attention than alternatives to the kerosene that jets guzzle. But work on such alternatives is progressing. This fact was underlined for Texans in January when a Continental Airlines Boeing 737 took off from Houston on the first-ever flight of a commercial jet powered by a mixture of conventional fuels and renewables.

In September 2008, meanwhile, the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) announced it had created the nation’s first 100 percent domestically produced renewable aviation fuel.

The fuel was produced with a $4.7 million research grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. It was created from vegetable oils and meets the federal government’s specifications for military use, which are more stringent than those for the fuel used by commercial jets.

Tom Erickson, EERC’s associate director for research, says the center’s process can be used on any oil produced from crops. Waste grease can be used as a feedstock as well. The process can yield combinations of jet fuel, diesel, gasoline and propane.

EERC is seeking private-sector partners to move ahead with full-scale fuel production.

The world’s airlines use nearly 250 million gallons of jet fuel each day, according to Popular Mechanics.

For more information, contact Tom Erickson, terickson@undeerc.org.

COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY

Thoughtful gaming

California-based NeuroSky Inc. is jointly developing what it hopes will be the next craze in video games with Tokyo-based Square Enix Co. The new game ditches the joystick and mouse, letting players move characters by using a headset that monitors their brainwaves.

Both companies demonstrated the game at the Tokyo Game Show in October 2008.

The game features NeuroSky’s “MindSet,” a commercial headset that can interface with a variety of gaming platforms. It resembles a pair of headphones with a single electrode that contacts the user’s forehead and reads brainwave information. The headset registers the current state of relaxation or concentration of players, allowing them to perform a variety of actions within the game.

“The market has been anticipating the introduction of this technology for many years, and the reality of controlling features of a video game through mental control is finally taking root,” says Stanley Yang, NeuroSky’s CEO.

Two children’s toys using NeuroSky’s technology are due in U.S. stores in fall 2009. Lucas Licensing’s “The Force Trainer” will come with a headset that uses brain waves to let players manipulate a sphere within a 10-inch-tall training tower. Mattel will introduce its “Mind Flex” game that uses brain wave activity to move a ball through a tabletop obstacle course.

Other potential applications for MindSet include using it for distance learning courses, says Kikuo Ito, NeuroSky’s managing director. Train conductors and motorists could use it to judge their alertness as well. The technology also could help people with speech or motor disabilities.

For more information, contact Greg Hyver, marketing@neurosky.com, or visit www.neurosky.com.

Texas Innovator MATERIALS SCIENCE

Your paper future

Want to ride in a paper airplane? You may get to do just that before too long…sort of. The material in question is called “buckypaper,” and it’s the latest wonder product of nanotechnology.

The name derives from the first carbon nanostructures scientists discovered in the mid-1980s, spherical structures dubbed buckyballs due to their resemblance to the geodesic domes designed by architect Buckminster Fuller. A related structure is the nanotube, a carbon molecule shaped like a hollow cylinder. Line those nanotubes up in a sheet and stack the sheets, and you have buckypaper – a material that is 10 times lighter than steel, is up to 500 times stronger and conducts electricity as effectively as copper.

Buckypaper has a number of potentially revolutionary applications. It promises to be a perfect material for ultra-light and tough airplane and automobile bodies, as well as superior armor plating for military vehicles. Buckypaper film also could be used to protect electronics from electrical interference, shield aircraft from lightning strikes and help stealthy planes evade radar detection.

Bringing buckypaper to market is a major goal of Florida State University’s High-Performance Materials Institute, which is working to perfect buckypaper manufacturing techniques. Researchers there have found that exposing nanotubes to strong magnetism causes them to line up, defeating a tendency to tangle and clump that had plagued earlier attempts at buckypaper fabrication.

According to Design News, in 2009, Florida State hopes to spin off a private company to commercialize its buckypaper manufacturing techniques.

For more information, contact Ben Wang, benwang@eng.fsu.edu.

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