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NASA Adds New Technology for Businesses to License, Including Heartbeat Sensor 

The International Space Station as seen from the U.S. space shuttle Discovery in 2011. (Photo: NASA)
The International Space Station as seen from the U.S. space shuttle Discovery in 2011. (Photo: NASA)

NASA has added three new technologies to its Technology Transfer Program to enable businesses to capitalize on the agency’s research.

When people think of NASA, they commonly conjure up images of the space shuttle, the moon, and galaxies lightyears away. In the pursuit of space exploration, however, the agency has developed technologies that have shaped life on earth. Now, NASA has added three new technologies to its Technology Transfer Program to enable businesses to capitalize on the agency’s research.

On Monday, NASA added HeartbeatID, Subcutaneous Structure Imager, and Portable Unit for Metabolic Analysis (PUMA), to the program. Businesses can apply for a license to the technologies that carry a potential to reshape the technology and medical industries, Brandi Vincent reported for Nextgov.


Passwords are part of our daily lives, from accessing email and social media accounts to viewing health records. Tech companies have alleviated some of the burden of remembering a litany of passwords thanks to password manager services and the use of biometric data. Fingerprint scanners and facial recognition systems are now common across all major smartphone brands. 

NASA proposes using a different form of biometric identification, however: your heartbeat. The heart produces a unique electrical signal for each individual, which new technology can analyze based on a minimum of 192 different parameters, the agency said. 

The applications of the technology could reshape how users login to services. Unlike a password, fingerprint, and facial or retinal scans, HeartbeatID can constantly monitor a user. If they decide to walk away from their desk at work, for example, it can automatically lock their devices. It can also enable the automatic unlocking of doors when a user is within proximity. 

While NASA holds a patent for HeartbeatID, the premise behind the idea is not new; a business called Nymi created an electrocardiogram (ECG) wristband in 2013 with the same exact goal as NASA. The US military also has developed heartbeat systems to identify people at a distance of 200 meters via laser. 

Subcutaneous Structure Imager

At NASA’s Glenn Research Center, scientists created technology that can map a patient’s blood veins. The technology has a potential to assist medical personnel when trying to locate veins for needle insertion or excision, NASA said. Research for the imager was sparked by a need to help sickle-cell anemia patients in Africa. Locating veins in patients with darker skin can pose difficulties for doctors. Amateur medical personnel can also benefit from the imager since they are not as experienced with finding veins.

The inexpensive technology relies on already-available components, is battery-powered, and portable. These qualities make it ideal for military applications such as battlefields where medical clinics are too far away.

The imager can quickly create 2D or 3D maps of a patients veins. These maps can also be used in lieu of ultrasounds to diagnose conditions such as stenosis of leg veins and screens for cancer.

Portable Unit for Metabolic Analysis

Finally, PUMA offers a new way to measure a variety of metabolic data including carbon dioxide and oxygen levels, heart rate, temperature, and breathing rates. NASA envisions more niche use cases for the unit, such as for pilots, divers, miners, and astronauts. However, it can also be used in a broader sense to monitor pulmonary disease patients and gauge fitness levels for soldiers and athletes. 

The agency has already tested the device in F-22 flight tests and found it boasts a significantly faster response time than current options: 10 ms compared to 80,120 ms. Low-power sensors are placed around the mouth and transmit data to an onboard computer. 

The technology can help prevent hypoxia—a lack of oxygen—in a wide-range of scenarios. Firefighters can also make use of it to ensure their health in the line of duty.

“More than 1,600 such technology transfer successes have been documented in NASA’s Spinoff Magazine over the years, which include commercial applications in health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, agriculture, environmental resources, computer technology, manufacturing, and energy conversion and use,” NASA stated. 

Every year, 40 to 50 products are featured in Spinoff Magazine, which has documented the Technology Transfer Program since 1976. Businesses and entrepreneurs interested applying to use the three new technologies can file for a license by Feb. 21, 2021.

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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