IP Report: November 2016

micropillar drawing

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A quick look at some of the recent patents granted to Boeing

How strong is Boeing’s ability to innovate? It’s the only aerospace and defense to have made the Thomson Reuters Top 100 Global Innovators list, an independent analysis of intellectual property-related statistics, for five straight years.

Here’s a look at some patents recently secured by Boeing.

Filtration system and methods for filtering particles of a predetermined substance
U.S. patent number: 9,352,256
Inventor: Donald F. Wilkins

Recent advances in micro and nano-sized electro-mechanical systems enable robots to be fabricated in increasingly smaller sizes. At least some known miniature robots may be small enough to operate in environments that are inaccessible or dangerous to humans, such as tight passages or in situations where the use of heavy equipment would be undesirable or impossible.

Two patents granted to Boeing recently involve technology using robotic micropillars in an innovative way. One invention is for the robot itself, a machine that propels itself using tiny pillars, or legs. A second invention uses those micropillars to create a more effective filtration system. Common filtration systems use a medium to separate particles from a larger flow based on the particles’ size. But these filtration systems can be both cumbersome (filters needs to be changed or cleared of trapped particles) and ineffective (particles that are the same size or smaller can’t be separated from each other). This new filtration system takes an array of micropillars and configures the array to either repel or attract particles of a predetermined substance. This allows particles of different substances, but of substantially similar size, to be separated. Micropillars can be additionally beneficial because they can be produced in the micrometer and sub-micrometer ranges.

Retroreflective heater
U.S. patent number: 9,423,538
Inventors: Brian J. Tillotson, Zach J. Harris

A problem that has plagued us since time began: how to keep warm things warm, and cold things cold.

People and objects gain or lose heat four ways: conduction, convection, evaporation and radiation. Approaches to maintain temperature stability often address one or more of these. But active heating or cooling systems are not practical in many instances. And there are instances where wrapping a person or object with insulation is impractical.

Adding to the multitude of inventions for maintaining temperature comes this Boeing patent using retroreflectivity. The invention comprises a covering or material having a plurality of retroreflective elements configured to reflect electromagnetic energy primarily at thermal infrared wavelengths back toward the target. Half the heat a person loses in cold environments may be infrared radiation. Through the retroreflective design, for example, heat that a person naturally emits could return directly to the person instead of scattering away.

Move based and sonic based super resolution
U.S. patent number: 9,430,814
Inventor: Keith D. Humfeld

Technology to enhance resolution in camera systems has been integrated in a variety of forms via computer software or physical optics. However, resolution enhancement technology may be limited in digital camera systems because standard charge coupled device (CCD) camera data is sorely limited by a size and count of individual pixels. Computer processing techniques, called Super Resolution processing, combine numerous images into a single higher-resolution image. However images can only be combined if certain criteria are met.

This patent recently granted to Boeing describes move-based and sonic-based camera modes that enable the camera to produce numerous images that are appropriate for super-resolution processing—a technique that may be easily implemented without significant expense. The move mode or sonic mode may be turned on and off depending on whether Super Resolution images are desired.

These systems and techniques may be used for satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other surveillance platforms used for the purpose of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and for other everyday civilian environments.