9. Activities Related to Critical TechnologiesA large number of programs and development plans for technologies designated here as National Critical Technologies already exists in government and the private sector. Given the breadth of technologies covered by the list, it is impossible to describe or even list most of these here. This section discusses the areas in which different agencies perform R&D relevant to critical technologies, and provides some examples of specific programs in each technology category. It also provides some examples of government-private sector partnerships and non-government initiatives.
The first encompasses the approximately $14 billion spent annually by the federal government on the conduct of "basic research." This portion of the federal R&D budget is not considered directly relevant to critical technologies because these monies involve the pursuit of greater knowledge or understanding without a specific technological application in mind. As a result, all activities falling within DOD's Budget Category 6.1 (Basic Research) are excluded, as is the "basic research" of all other federal agencies. The only notable exceptions involve the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Science Foundation, both of which are agencies with the preponderance of their R&D activities officially constituting "basic research," but which also are centrally involved in key areas on the Critical Technologies list (i.e., Biotechnology and most areas of Information and Communication, respectively).
Also excluded from R&D directly relevant to critical technologies are the activities of DOD that involve the demonstration and validation of integrated military technologies (6.4), engineering and manufacturing development for military use (6.5), miltary R&D management support (6.6), and military operational systems development (6.7). While activities within these categories (i.e., 6.4 and 6.5) clearly involve the advanced development and application of critical technologies, it is impossible to separate these from the overall missions of programs, and as a result, the approximately $26 billion spent annually within these four DOD Budget Activity categories is not generally included among the resource totals relevant to critical technologies.
Consequently, the "core" of federal R&D budget--the "applied research" and "development" as these terms are generally defined for all federal agencies-- also forms the foundation for the nation's critical technology R&D. In the case of the Department of Defense, this includes those activities which fall within DOD's Budget Activities 6.2 (Exploratory Development) and 6.3 (Advanced Development). Similarly, for other agencies, it includes those activities that do not generally constitute "basic research" (note exception described above). Below are brief descriptions of the critical technology areas in which R&D activities of the major agencies are concentrated.
Activities by agency
Department of DefenseThe Department of Defense is a major contributor to work in virtually every area of critical technologies. The critical technology most dominated by work housed within DOD involves Sensors within Information and Communication. Among these programs are ones involving signal processing, night vision, signal verification, guidance assistance, and the detection of various substances and movements. DOD also dominates efforts to develop technology for education and training focusing on simulation.
National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationThe National Aeronautical and Space Administration's R&D work focuses mostly in three major critical technologies areas: transportation, aeronautics and communications. The remainder of NASA's critical technology work reflects the importance of flight-worthy spacecraft, lower cost space launch, and reliable communications in all space missions. In addition, Mission to Planet Earth Program focuses on monitoring and assessment of the quality of the environment. The Space Station Program is concerned with systems integration. NASA is also an important contributor to the work on human factors engineering and human-machine interface.
Department of EnergyWhile DOE has a presence in every critical technology area, its major programs in Fossil Fuels, Nuclear Energy, Fusion Energy, and Solar Energy constitute virtually the entirety of the Federal Government's R&D efforts to improve the generation of energy. Similarly, DOE's activities dominate the government-wide R&D efforts in environmental remediation and restoration and energy efficiency. The DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory is leading the Human Genome project, the most significant effort in human genetic mapping in the world.
Department of Health and Human ServicesWhile the majority of R&D activities of the Department of Health and Human Services involve "basic research," over half of all on-going work in technologies critical to living systems is performed by its National Institutes of Health. Augmenting the work of these institutes in this critical technology area is work by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in vaccines and infectious diseases and the Food and Drug Administration in the promotion of food safety and medical devices. In addition, work at NIH in the critical technology area of Information and Communication has broken new ground for scope and imagination (i.e., the National Library of Medicine's enormous project on the visible man).
Department of AgricultureVirtually all work in advancing sustainable agricultural production is housed in the Department of Agriculture, shared relatively equally by its bureaus--the Agricultural Research Service and the Cooperative State Research Service. The remainder of USDA's critical technology activity focuses primarily on the monitoring and assessment of environmental quality and is housed in the Forest Service.
Environmental Protection AgencyThe EPA's R&D focuses intensely on monitoring and assessment activities to preserve and improve the quality of our environment. The EPA has research programs in air quality, water quality, drinking water, pesticides, hazardous waste, toxic substances radiation, and multimedia research, as well as the lesser volume work in pollution control.
While the EPA is the recipient of record for the R&D funding associated with Superfund activities, a large portion of the money actually ends up at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the National Institutes of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services. The primary focus of this program is remediation and restoration.
National Science FoundationThe vast majority of the R&D conducted by the National Science Foundation is "basic research" and so outside the scope of the Critical Technologies Report. The two notable exceptions to this are the work of NSF's Directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) and Directorate of Engineering. The work of NSF in Information and Communications is dominated by CISE; the work of the Engineering Directorate is in the areas of Manufacturing and Materials. In addition, the work of the Directorate of Geosciences is of major importance to the monitoring and assessment of environmental quality.
Department of InteriorThe R&D activities of the Department of Labor's Geological Survey and National Biological Survey (still resident in the Fish and Wildlife Service in FY 1993), comprise a notable portion of the nation's effort to monitor and assess the quality of our environment.
Department of CommerceThe critical technology activities of the Department of Commerce are split between its two bureaus--the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The entirety of NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service are devoted to monitoring and assessing the quality of our environment. In addition, the National Marine Fisheries Service within NOAA is a principal promoter of technology to advance the commercial fishing industry.
That portion of R&D conducted by NIST that does not concentrate on metrics and calibration is central to the advancement of critical technologies in Manufacturing, Materials, and Information and Communication, albeit the effort is modest when compared in scale to the resources devoted to these activities by larger agencies. A notable portion of NIST's critical technology work is accounted for by the activities of its Advanced Technology Program.
Department of TransportationAs an amalgam of "administrations" regulating the various modes of transportation, the Department of Transportation's R&D efforts emphasize matters of prevention and safety. As a result, DOT, especially the Federal Aviation Administration, contributes to work in the critical technology area of Information and Communication to ensure the safe operation of both commercial and non-commercial aircraft.
Examples of programsThe government programs which comprise the R&D expenditures described above are many and varied. They include the Technology Reinvestment Project (TRP) used to stimulate the transition from separate defense and civilian industrial bases to a "growing, integrated, national industrial capability," the Advanced Technology Program which works with industry to share the cost of developing high-risk but powerful enabling technologies for commercial applications, and others. In order to provide a "flavor" for the breadth of the federal R&D enterprise, selected programs and the primary technical challenges which they address are discussed below.
Wind turbinesThe primary technical challenge in improving wind-energy efficiency is to develop a turbine which can operate efficiently and reliably under conditions of wide fluctuations in wind velocity, with low maintenance and low capital costs. Improvements in blade design and development of variable-speed turbine systems combined with power- handling electronics are the focus of research programs in the U.S. and Europe.
The stall-controlled turbine is one of two competing conceptual designs being developed in the U.S. under funding from the Department of Energy. Variable-speed wind turbines utilize power-handling electronics to enable the rotor to rotate at variable speeds. This increases annual energy output, improves power supply quality to the grid, and reduces structural loads. Power -handling electronics serve to suppress harmonic currents and reduce transmission losses by controlling the power factor when current and voltage are not in phase. Controls can also be introduced to reduce structural dynamic load (reducing the stress on structural interaction, as that between the rotor and the tower, when rotor angular velocity is variable).
Environmental qualityIt was estimated that the federal government has spent approximately $550 million for research, development, and demonstration of remediation technologies in 1994. These expenditures represent approximately 15 percent of the total federal investment in research, development, and demonstration for all environmental technologies.
DOE programs, which fund more than 40 percent of the work in this area, include remediation of high-level waste tanks; contaminant plume containment and remediation; contaminated solids and buried waste; mixed waste characterization, treatment, and disposal; and facility transition, decommissioning, and final disposal. DOE, along with DOD, have a particular interest in remediation and restoration technologies because of their sizable tasks involved in cleaning up toxic contamination at their facilities. The USDA also has a substantial program that includes technologies to improve degraded lands and develop biological means to generate wood pulp and degrade wood preservatives. At EPA, resources are used for research in areas such as bioremediation technologies for clean up toxic wastes. The EPA also administers the SITE (Superfund Innovative Technology Evaluation) program, which provides an opportunity for technology developers to demonstrate capabilities to successfully remediate Superfund waste. SITE programs have looked at techniques as varied as photocatalytic oxidation, in-situ vapor extraction, and biological degradation in immobilized cell bioreactors.
In 1991, the Western Governors Association, the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency signed a memorandum of understanding to create a state-federal partnership to test ways to expedite testing of innovative clean-up technologies. In 1992, the Western Governors and the four federal agencies established the Federal Advisory Committee to Develop On-Site Innovative Technologies (DOIT) to oversee the development of new approaches to remediation technology development, deployment and commercialization. The DOIT committee activities are ongoing.
State governments are also starting to become players in the environmental technology arena, often out of fear that technologies to remediate wastes in their states will not be available when needed. For example, the new Center for Evaluation of New Environmental Technologies is a joint effort of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the University of California Davis. This joint state government-academic center has picked five commercially developed technologies for evaluation and demonstration, starting in 1994.
The U.S. government has begun coordinating research and development work in environmental technologies through the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) joint- subcommittee on environmental technologies (JSET), which is derived from the committees on Civilian Industrial Technology and Environmental and Natural Resources. In addition, the National Science and Technology Council and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy are developing a strategy for promoting environmental technologies to achieve sustainable development.
In the FY94 Technology Reinvestment Program (TRP) awards, there were several in the sensors area that are relevant to environmental monitoring, site characterization, or other detection of hazardous agents. These include:
Flat panel displaysThe DOD's flat-panel display initiative is a five year, $587 million program to provide Defense with early, assured, and affordable access to advanced flat panel display technology by supporting domestic investments in dual use display capability. The prerequisite industry matching funds should bring the total investment to $1.2 billion.
A major element of the initiative is a focused R&D competition for next generation display technologies limited to firms that demonstrate commitment to produce current generation displays to meet defense needs. The R&D program will be conducted on a cost-shared basis to ensure that the participating firms have commitment to bring the technology developments into application. The DOD is planning to have four such competitions over the next five years. International companies are eligible to participate based on criteria of the Technology Reinvestment Project. Each of these competitions is designed to be neutral regarding any specific display technology and judged on the quality of the proposed research and development, the soundness of the technical plan, the adequacy and appropriateness of the proposed cost sharing, and demonstration of commitment to production of current generation displays.
The DOD' flat panel display initiative is the largest government initiative for advanced displays systems. Other smaller efforts include support for the development of generic technologies through ARPA and NIST. The Clinton administration has also established a link between the National Information Infrastructure and advanced displays. The administration favors letting private industry build the NII but is willing to fund high-risk R&D for overcoming technological obstacles. Advanced displays have been designated as one of the primary obstacles to the success of NII.
SoftwareThe time, expense, and great uncertainty involved in all large-scale software development projects is the greatest software-related problem. Projects routinely run 50% to 200% over budget and beyond schedule, and are sometimes abandoned in midstream. One continuing hope is that a science of "rapid prototyping" will evolve to allow early risk reduction through iterative test and evaluation of critical components, user interfaces, and designs at a stage where changes can be made easily before major design commitments are made. Other research thrusts in software engineering involve the attempt to "manufacture" software from standard modules and with standard procedures, to emulate other engineering and production disciplines that are able to predict costs and schedule for development. To better assess the state of U.S. software engineering and promote effective practices, the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) was established as a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) in 1984 by DOD through the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). It is located in Pittsburgh PA, in association with Carnegie-Mellon University.
One focus of rapid software development is the use of object technology to create libraries of reusable code modules based on object oriented software. The U.S. FY94 Technology Reinvestment Program (TRP) awarded three contracts in this area:
The NIST Advanced Technology Program is also investing in software development. One of its major thrusts, a 5-year $150 million Component Based Software Program, is an effort to help industry create fine-grained software components and specialized high-performance tools. The aim is to enable semantic-based software creation in which systematically reusable software components can be automatically assembled into a broad array of application specific systems.
Recombinant DNA technologiesThe Human Genome project is an international effort to locate and catalog every gene, changing our understanding of human biology at its most basic level and revolutionizing the practice of medicine. Genetic susceptibilities have been implicated in many major disabling and fatal diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several kinds of cancers. As the genetic mechanisms of inherited disease are determined, it will provide the ability to identify people who have or carry genetic disease. The identification of these genes and their proteins will pave the way for more effective preventative measures and therapies. Indentification will inevitably occur before treatments are developed, so that each success in the gene-mapping project will create new ethical and social policy dilemmas. The potential presymptomatic diagnosis of disease will present substantial challenges related to individual privacy and insurability.
A major component of the Human Genome Project is the development of automated sequencing technology that is faster, more sensitive, accurate and economical. The present gel-based equipment can sequence only 50,000 to 100,000 bases per year at a cost of $1 to $2 per base. The current goal is to develop technology capable of 100,000 or more bases per day at a cost of $.50 per base, with subsequent technologies offering a further factor of 10 reduction in processing costs. High voltage capillary and ultrathin electrophoresis to increase separation rate and the use of resonance ionization spectroscopy to detect stable isotope labels look promising. Third generation gel-less sequencing technologies include (1) enhanced fluoresce detection of individual labeled bases in flow cytometry, (2) direct reading of the base sequence on a DNA strand with the use of scanning tunneling or atomic force microscopies, (3) enhanced mass spectroscopic analysis of DNA sequences, and (4) sequencing by hybridization to short panels of nucleotides of known sequence.
Electronic data management and publishing systems are increasingly essential components of genome reearch as the on-going projects are generating volumes of information that cannot be readily incorporated by traditional publishing. Correlating mapping data from different laboratories has been a problem because of different methods of generating, isolating and mapping DNA fragments. In addition to laboratory methods, the emerging field of Genetic Informatics is making a significant contribution to the ability to constucting and searching the maps and sequences in order to find specific genes. Major databases are globally distributed (U.S., Germany, France, Italy, Australia, Japan, Israel, Switzerland) and accessible via the InterNet.
National Institute of Standards (NIST) has announced the Tools for DNA Diagnostics Program which focuses of the development of low-cost, integrated, miniaturized, high throughput, parallelizable, automated systems that can be used to obtain DNA sequence information efficiently and accurately. The largest award under the program, $31.5 million, went to a joint venture between Affymetrix Inc. and Molecular Dynamics Inc which are developing a device that will diagnose diseases by analyzing a patient's DNA on the surface of a silicon microchip that is read by a laser scanner. Another award, $14.7 million, went to the C. Everett Koop institute for a project to help the health care industry take advantage of the information superhighway.
VaccinesIt is currently estimated that over 20 federal agencies play a role in the development, testing, distribution, and use of vaccines in the U.S. From 14 U.S. companies in 1980, only four remain largely because of problems related to liability and profitability. The entire global vaccine market is estimated by a recent UNICEF study to be about $3 billion. NIH spent an estimated $300 million on vaccine research and the CDC spent another $528 million on vaccine purchase, research, and testing. DOD is responsible for military vaccine needs and global emergencies.
The development of a vaccine for AIDS continues to be elusive. It is estimated that expenditures are about $160M worldwide, with industry spending about $25 million globally and the U.S. government spending about $111 million. The perception is that most of this work is done in the smaller biotechnology companies.
ManufacturingGovernment support has long been associated with developments in manufacturing. Much of NIST's industrial research has supported the development of standards. In the Department of Defense, support has come through programs like MANTECH. What is new today is the promise of the "lean manufacturing" paradigm, which has also been supported in the Department of Defense. In some industries, transformation to lean manufacturing is being promoted by the federal government, as in the Department of Defense "lean" aircraft initiative, a collaborative effort involving industrial firms, the Air Force, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technologies.
In addition to developing specific manufacturing technologies, the federal government is also involved in helping diffuse best manufacturing practices through the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership. MEP centers, located throughout the country, help small and medium-size businesses adopt modern equipment and manufacturing and management techniques in order to become more competitive in domestic and international markets.
Here is one specific example. The evolution of more sophisticated manufacturing techniques is critical to the realization of advanced coatings with enhanced hardness, corrosion-resistance, thermal, and wear characteristics. One of the most exciting candidates is the large-scale production of high quality diamond thin films.
Given the increasing dependence of the military on high technology products, it is apparent that continued investment in artificial structuring methods is essential for sustained security. For example, the Department of Defense is presently the largest customer of high definition displays, and the manufacture of these displays is dependent, among other things, on advanced thin film techniques. Also, the successful development of diamond coatings has applications ranging from aircraft windshield coatings to high speed electronic components.
Research funding for thin film manufacturing techniques is shared by federal and private sector sources. The DOD has significant investments through ARPA and other bureaus. In particular, it is estimated that $100 million annually is invested by private companies and the government on research into producing diamond films with the largest spender being DOD. Much of this funding has stemmed from the former Strategic Defense Initiative Office, now renamed Ballistic Missile Defense Office (BMDO). Additional funding of thin film deposition research originates in the Departments of Commerce, Energy and the National Science Foundation. DOE also sustains research efforts itself and has worked to establish joint ventures with industry in this field.
While the United States is not the industry leader in many of the applications reliant on artificial structuring manufacturing methods, it is competitively positioned in thin film deposition technologies. However, there are major challenges for the advancement of existing techniques as well as for the development of emerging manufacturing capabilities. The key technological challenge for new techniques is the transfer of laboratory successes into large scale production. The primary impediment is that growth rates are severely limited for many of these new technologies and materials. For example, molecular beam epitaxy has demonstrated the ability to fabricate unique structures but is primarily a research tool for this reason.
The development of these technologies is also capital intensive. Diamond thin films are a dramatic example of a major investment without any, as yet, marked returns. As a result, commercial activities often view ease of manufacture as the primary requirement for a technology. Consequently, research investment efforts often focus on manufacturability.
MaterialsThe federal government has long promoted the development of new materials. This effort started under the old Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology as the Advanced Materials and Processing Program. As we note in a discussion of composite materials below, the interrelation of materials to material processing is still an important factor that should shape any program. The federal attention to materials is now continuing under the Civilian Industrial Technology Committee of the National Science and Technology Council.
A coordinating mechanism for materials research has proved useful in the past, because of the spread of research on materials across agencies. The Departments of Commerce, Energy, Defense, the Interior, Transportation, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture all support important programs, as does the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation. Avoiding duplication while assuring important leads are followed requires coordination.
The diversity of supporting agencies is driven by the ubiquitous effects of materials. Each agency has important applications or classes of materials that are uniquely theirs. Each agency also understands the demands of its applications very well, whether that is a low observable material for the Department of Defense or a new paving repair product for the Department of Transportation. Keeping the material development connected to this understanding is important in quickly tapping new opportunities. As materials develop, though, new applications become interesting, such as the use of wood fiber to reinforce cement. Making the other interested agencies aware of such developments is the other major function and benefit of high-level coordination.
The current coordination of materials development led by the NSTC has focused material developments on the priorities of the government. Among others, emphases have been created on the automotive sector, supporting the PNGV; the building and construction sector as well as the built infrastructure of roads and bridges; the electronics industry; and the aerospace industry. These areas have been supported, in part, through programs like the ATP.
Another important aspect of this coordination is the maintenance of the user facilities. The federal government is the provider of most important user facilities. These facilities are important to the development and characterization of many new materials. They are spread across a range of agencies, reflecting the range of interests in materials. There are many such facilities. A selection illustrating their variety follows:
Most user facilities have been developed to meet specific needs of researchers in materials across all sectors of our society. They differ in important details, such as the energy of the electrons in the synchrotrons, and thus in the wavelength of the emitted light. This allows each facility to probe a different aspect of a material, or a different property. The facilities also support non-materials work, including fundamental science, but the core of their work remains materials characterization. The need for many of these facilities has been validated by several studies from the National Research Council, and some of the facilities themselves are being duplicated in both Europe and Japan, where their importance is apparent.
CompositesThe metal-matrix composites use metal rather than plastic as the matrix. Usually the metal is in the form of a powder which is combined with the reinforcing fibers in a mold, where the combination is subjected to heat and pressure to fuse the part together. Metal matrix composites (MMC's) have advantageous properties of higher strength, stiffness, wear resistance and elevated temperature properties, and are especially applicable for high-temperature uses such as in jet engines. Many metal matrix-composites can be machined on the same apparatus used for traditional metals and some can be welded. NASA is currently validating their use up to a temperature of 2300 deg F. Matrix materials include nickel, superalloys, titanium alloys, aluminum alloys, magnesium, copper, intermetallics, and steels. Fibers include, silicon carbide (SiC), refractory metal wires, and carbon fibers, among others.
Metal matrix composites have the potential to significantly affect future propulsion systems, as well as airframes. One metal matrix composite being investigated is fiber-reinforced titanium which is about three times stronger for a given weight than nickel superalloy at temperatures up to 1500 deg F. Compressor discs of SiC reinforced titanium have been manufactured by Textron. For the IHPTET (Integrated High Performance Turbine Engine Technology) program Allison Gas Turbines tested a compressor fabricated with metal matrix composites. It achieved an 80% reduction in weight over a conventional compressor stage.
The basic limitation for metal matrix composites is cost. SiC fiber costs $2500/lb, however this is due to the relatively low volume at which SiC is produced. It is estimated that cost could drop to $100-200/lb with production of 40,000 lbs a year. Textron Specialty Materials will demonstrate the production of SiC in a titanium metal matrix this year under a contract from the Air Force (NASP funding). The experiment will attempt to automate the production process and demonstrate the ability to produce the material at lower cost. New intermetallic compounds (titanium aluminide, nickel aluminide, iron aluminide), when used as a matrix material, will further improve the high-temperature properties of metal matrix composites. Incomplete information on property data and fabrication techniques are two limitations that exist at this time. These limitations are being addressed and are not nearly as much of a concern as cost.
Another type of composite is ceramic matrix composite. Ceramics offer increased turbine inlet temperatures while lowering overall weight. The problem with ceramics is their brittleness, cost, and difficulty of manufacture. The high brittleness makes the ceramic parts extremely prone to impact damage, usually resulting in catastrophic failure. Brittleness might be overcome by using ceramic matrix composites or by new superplastic ceramic technology. Monolithic ceramics will, most likely, see only limited application on advanced turbine engines. One of these applications is the use of ceramics in advanced engine bearings. Significant weight savings over metal bearings will allow engines to achieve higher shaft speeds. There are several companies involved in the research and development of advanced ceramic materials including, Eaton, GTE, Norton, and TRW. The Department of Energy is also sponsoring a research program called the Advanced Turbine Technology Applications Project (ATTAP) at Garrett Turbine Engine and Allison Gas Turbine Division.
StructuresToday's most advanced fighter aircraft such as the F-22 and EF-2000 make extensive use of composite materials in primary structure such as wing and fuselage. Transport aircraft are using them already in less-critical structural areas, but will undoubtedly incorporate them soon in primary structure for greater weight and cost savings. In the future, the use of composites will be expanded and optimized for weight and producibility through better manufacturing approaches and large scale integration, and even newer technologies such as smart structures and adaptive structures will become reality. These are described below.
Large-scale integration, or co-cured composite structures offer the potential of very large reductions in structural manufacturing costs. This technology, in development for many years, involves the lay-up and simultaneous cure ("cocure") of entire structural elements such as the wing box, rather than separately curing small parts then fastening them together. The elimination of conventional fasteners from the skin of an aircraft reduces drag and complexity, as well as weight and fuel leakage problems. Problems remain, however, with repairability (because the structure cannot be disassembled), quality control, inspection, and scrap costs.
Research in these areas is under way at numerous industry and government facilities. NASA's Advanced Composites Technology (ACT) program is developing technologies that will further the introduction of composites into the primary structures of future commercial transportation aircraft. Research is also being conducted at NASA Langley, as well as Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed, and 12 other companies.
A more-exotic structural concept is the "smart structure". A smart structure is one that is "aware" of its state, through embedded sensors and intelligent computer systems. On composite structures the sensors might be optical fibers embedded in the matrix, whereas conventional airframes would have strain gauges or optical fibers bonded to the airframe. If the structure also has the ability to make corrections and adjustments based on measurements from sensors embedded in the structure then it is considered to be an "adaptive smart structure". For example, the sensors in the structure would inform the pilot about the extent of damage incurred in a battle, or it might tailor the control surfaces for greater aerodynamic efficiency based on flight conditions, or it might suppress vibration during flight.
Smart structures have the potential to revolutionize operational cost. Typically, the required intervals for repairs or inspections are statistical evaluations of aircraft life, with much conservatism to ensure that the "worst" airframe is inspected and serviced often enough for safety. Using the smart structure concept, airframe fatigue and other life-related problems would be measured and calculated on-board the aircraft. With appropriate changes in civil regulations, this could permit a safe reduction in inspection and regular maintenance costs with substantial impact on the economics of commercial transports.
Research in this area is being conducted by the Air Force (primarily at Wright Laboratories), Navy, DARPA, and NASA, as well as on the contractor level. Boeing, United Technologies, and McDonnell Douglas have been conducting tests on flight articles. NASA is flight testing an F-15, as part of the HIDEC program, which eventually will sense control surface damage and then reconfigure the flight control system to land the aircraft safely.
PropulsionSeveral U.S. programs are in place to promote research into advanced aircraft engine technologies including IHPTET (Integrated High Performance Turbine Engine Technology), HITEMP (High Temperature Engine Materials Program), ATTAP (Advanced Turbine Technology Applications Project), and EPM (Enabling Propulsion Materials Project). IHPTET, the most prominent of the programs, is a comprehensive propulsion technology program managed by the Aero Propulsion Laboratory, which is part of the USAF's Wright Laboratories. The program has as its goal the doubling of gas turbine performance by the end of the century. Also, the Air Force is funding the Advanced Turbine Engine Gas Generator (ATEGG) program and the Joint Technology Demonstrator Engines (JTDE - also funded by the Navy). Allison and Pratt & Whitney have tested ATEGG engines while GE and Pratt & Whitney have tested JTDE engines. Finally, the considerable ongoing investment in the development of the engines for the F-22 can be expected to have a vast "spin-off" for advanced commercial and military aircraft.
Partnerships allow the government to leverage its resources in the days of tight R&D budgets by funding technologies and applications which may be risky for industry but essential for the nation's future. At the same time, substantial financial contributions made by the private sector partners assure that these companies have a stake in the successful outcome and commercialization of the R&D. Several examples of industry-government partnerships are discussed below.
Advanced batteriesIn 1991, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, the Electric Power Research Institute, and the U.S. Department of Energy created the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), to fund advanced battery research and development. USABC set performance goals for medium-term batteries which would "result in mass production of electric vehicle batteries potentially in this decade" and far-term batteries which will provide electric vehicle performance competitive with today's internal combustion engines. While there are no clear winners yet, a number of battery technologies appear capable of meeting USABC goals.
Extensive re-engineering of lead-acid battery technology has produced several systems which exceed the USABC medium-term goals for cycle life and cost, far exceed the power goal, and come within about 75% of the energy storage goal. Nickel-metal-hydride battery technologies have received approximately $20 million of USABC funding. Extensive re-engineering of lead-acid battery technology for commercial transportation applications has produced several systems which exceed the USABC medium-term goals for cycle life and cost, far exceed the power goal, and come within about 75% of the energy storage goal. For instance, a lead-acid battery produced by the Optima Corp is currently used in a commercially available, four-passenger electric car which a range of over 100 miles and high performance acceleration of 0 to 60 mph in 6 seconds. However, current lead-acid batteries are inadequate for military applications such as battlefield vehicles due to their low specific energy. The need for compactness and mobility makes advanced batteries with long-life and high specific energy density more important for military vehicles than commercial vehicles. A battery developed by the Ovonics Battery Company is projected to achieve all USABC requirements except for cost, though the power density of current designs still falls short. A sodium-nickel-chloride battery developed by AEG Corporation is projected to meet all USABC mid-term goals except cost. The technology is currently being tested in European vehicle demonstrations and is available for automobile manufacturers for testing. AEG is currently developing a pilot plant and is working to remedy problems of low power densities at low charge states for the battery.
The far-term USABC goals are most likely to be met by lithium polymer battery technology. The lithium-iron-disulfide battery offers high power and energy densities, and possibly low-cost manufacturing via thin films. Currently Westinghouse has developed a monopolar form of this battery for use in electric lawnmowers.
Partnership for the New Generation of VehiclesOn September 29, 1993, President Clinton, Vice President Gore and the chief executives of the Big Three automakers announced the formation of a government-industry Partnership for the New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV). The goals of the partnership are to significantly improve national manufacturing technology, including adoption of agile and flexible manufacturing; to implement commercially viable innovation from ongoing research on conventional vehicles; and to develop a vehicle to achieve up to three times fuel efficiency of today's comparable vehicles without loss of quality performance and utility. The goals are interrelated, focused both on the near-term and the longer term.
Because an automobile involves many different technologies, the success of the PNGV will involve improvements in many different technical areas, many of them on the National Critical Technologies List. Included are lightweight materials, advanced catalysts, aerodynamics, and energy storage technologies. A number of different administrative and program mechanisms will be used as well, ranging from TRP to take advantage of technologies being developed by the DOD, to NSF grants, to contracts under the ATP, to DOE CRADAs. In addition to the Big Three automakers, program participants will include suppliers, universities, and other consortia which can contribute relevant knowledge.
U.S. Display Consortium
The ARPA HDS program began in 1988 and focused on underlying technologies required for the production of advanced displays. It was established with a dual-use strategy. The Clinton Administration increased the funding allocated to the program. By February of 1993, 85 projects had been funded with a total cost of $70 million. Both universities and private firms have been supported. Research on AMLCD was combined with field emission displays, color electroluminescent, and color plasma, which are the four major competing technologies underlying advanced displays. Support is continuing through the DOD initiative and through NIST.
The ARPA program has now transformed into a program that involves a large consortium of companies. In July of 1993 the U.S. Display Consortium (USDC) was established by ARPA, AT&T, Xerox, Tektronix, and a number of smaller display manufacturers. The mission of USDC is to "develop the U.S. manufacturing infrastructure required to support a world- class U.S. based production capability for high definition flat-panel displays." The consortium is open to display manufacturers, the manufacturer equipment makers, and to companies that use displays in their products. By pooling the cost for R&D expenditures the overall economic barriers for high volume production of advanced displays should be significantly lowered. Since this is an ARPA led project the majority of the funds that have been spent on smaller research programs will now be invested in the USDC.
National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (NEMI)The National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (NEMI) is a project designed by both industry and government electronics research managers to better coordinate important research in critical electronics technologies. NEMI grew out of the Electronics Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), a subcommittee that provides Federal interagency coordination for technical planning, budgeting, reporting, and evaluation of Federal programs in electronics science and technology, and supports two-way communications on these programs within the government and with the private sector.
The goal of the NEMI is to promote joint industry/government development of the underlying technology and infrastructure required to enable and encourage manufacture in the United States of new, high technology electronics products, such as the hardware for accessing the Information Superhighway. NEMI aims at coordinating R&D in enabling technologies, improving the manufacturing infrastructure for specific electronics technologies, demonstrating projects in support of National priorities and to meet specific government agency missions, and to develop recommendations on improving the U.S. business environment for electronics manufacturing. The technologies that NEMI has targeted for specific attention are:
Photonics and optoelectronicsCurrently many government R&D funding programs for photonics research require a consortium of companies to work together or companies to work with the government labs. Companies and government labs working together to share information on manufacturing problems are intended to help the photonics industry to reach a consensus on standards that are critical to the development of platform processes. The alliance model among companies in the private sector is becoming more and more common, since the cost to develop flexible standardized platforms for manufacturing photonic devices is extraordinarily high. Nevertheless, the lack of consensus and the current competitive atmosphere in the photonics arena prevent the quick development of these essential standard platforms. The government programs are helping to lower the high initial investment for individual companies and are beginning to consolidate research studies which could ultimately lead to a consensus on certain platform technologies.
There is considerable federal investment in the optical computing area. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) is sponsoring a consortium in Optoelectronic Module Technology (OETC). The principle investigators in this project are Martin Marietta Electronics Laboratory, AT&T Bell Laboratories, Honeywell Technology Center, and IBM T. J. Watson Research Center. The purpose of OETC is to expedite the development of high bandwidth and high density optical interconnect components and to facilitate the implementation and proliferation of the developed products. This project's ultimate goal is to position the U.S. as the world leader in optical interconnect technology. Four out of seven technology areas chosen for the ARPA Technology Reinvestment Project (TRP) for fiscal year 1994 will involve photonics or optoelectronics. These include: high density data storage systems, high definition systems manufacturing, uncooled infrared sensors, and environmental sensors. There are also several other government initiatives for continued research in photonics and optoelectronics manufacturing research through the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
$11 million of TRP money has been also been invested in a university-industrial consortium to develop a rewritable optical storage system, exploiting blue/green lasers, that will store up to 10 Gigabytes in a single 5.25" optical disc. This effort is expected to result in a factor of 5-10 increase in storage capacity of the state-of-the-art commercial systems today.
Environmental qualityLess than 10 percent of all U.S. investment in environmental technology innovation is directly attributable to federal and state agencies, although this figure may be expected to be somewhat higher specifically in the remediation area. Joint efforts between government, industry, and academe account for a significant additional share of investment, but private investment by U.S. firms also abounds. These investments in environmental technology tend not to be as part of large- scale technology initiatives in the private sector, however, but tend rather to be small-to-medium size efforts by individual or small groups of firms. For example, private sector remediation technology development reported in just one recent issue of Environmental Business Journal include a vitrification system for radioactive waste being developed by Numatec, Inc., a funnel and gate system designed to contain contaminated groundwater plumes and channel them to in-situ bioreactors for treatment being developed by the Waterloo Center for Groundwater Research, a biofiltration system to process the vapors produced by soil vacuum extraction systems being developed by EG&G, Inc., a photocatalytic oxidation system for treatment of organic pollutants in water being developed by Solarchem Environmental Systems, and a fluidized bed bioreactor to break down pentachlorophenol used in wood preservatives being developed by Warzyn, Inc.
High-density data storageThere is considerable activity in the data storage area at the present time, since the requirements for ever-increasing storage in any level of the computing industry continue to grow. At the high end, the development of processors that can address larger and larger amounts of memory, and the construction of multiprocessor machines, often with separate memories for each processor, has led to increasing expectations on primary memory size from the user community. Increasing amounts of data from various sensors has led to requirements for larger secondary and tertiary memories. Requirements for terabytes of storage are becoming increasingly common. At the consumer end of the market, similar growths in storage requirements are evident. Recent software offerings from companies such as Microsoft require as much as 16 megabytes of RAM for optimal performance, and require increasing amounts of mass storage for programs -- for example, modern word processors can take tens of megabytes of storage if all options are installed. The memory industry has responded by producing increasingly higher capacity products at lower unit prices, lower power consumption and smaller form factors. For example, the price for a megabyte of magnetic disk storage is now below 50 cents, whereas only a few years ago, it was tens of dollars. Small factor disks for laptops (for example in the popular PCMCIA II format) have recently been announced in capacities of more than 100 megabytes. Other technologies in the developmental stage offer storage capacities many times these numbers in similar sized packages.
At the present time, U.S. companies dominate the magnetic disk market, and are usually the first to produce larger capacity products. In particular, U.S.-developed improvements in recording head technology will shortly lead to another round of capacity enhancements. Competition is very severe, however, with disk prices falling by half every year at the present time. The major U.S. players, including Conner Peripherals, Maxtor, Seagate Technology and Western Digital, spend of the order of 10% of their revenues on research and development, essentially all in-house, to keep up with the competition. The goals are obvious: to increase capacity per unit volume, decrease cost per megabyte, and increase reliability. $20 million of TRP funds have also been awarded to a consortium of seven other companies to develop high density magnetic disk storage for portable information systems.
Until recently, the Japanese led in the RAM market. However, at the present time, the playing field is more equally balanced between Japanese, Korean, European and U.S. producers, although the Japanese still have the leading market share. More importantly, the costs of building a leading-edge RAM manufacturing facility have risen to the billion dollar level, forcing individual companies to form global partnerships in this area in order to share the cost. Such partnerships include IBM, Siemens and Toshiba, Hitachi and Goldstar (South Korea), and Hitachi and Texas Instruments. As a result, there is a global sharing of information on the production of such components. This trend will continue unless cheaper fabrication methods are developed.
The value of the RAM market to U.S. companies is of the order of $30 to $40 billion annually. Essentially all research is done by the companies themselves, with limited cooperation from university research centers.
 Technology for Economic Growth, p. 12.
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