NASA has awarded Hawaii high technology company Nalu Scientific a highly competitive national grant to apply its innovative technology to reduce the cost, size, and power requirements of future orbital and planetary missions.
Nalu Scientific received the $120,000, six-month Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) federal grant to design and build SWELL – the Single-photon-sensitive Waveform Enhanced and Lightweight LIDAR system. LIDAR uses reflected laser light to measure distance and scan surfaces and objects.
“Future NASA scientific missions will require remote sensing equipment with lower power, smaller form factors, increased robustness, and higher sensitivities,” explains Nalu Scientific founder and CEO Isar Mostafanezhad. “Adapting LIDAR’s receiver into a ‘system-on-chip’ would achieve these goals and represent a significant advance across numerous applications.”
SWELL will be based on Nalu Scientific’s low Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), which enable high precision time measurements down to a picosecond (one trillionth of a second) using special built-in digital signal processing and control interfaces. For NASA, SWELL could boost LIDAR applications by taking extremely precise time of flight (ToF) single-photon measurements of back-scattered laser light pulses.
The SWELL project is led by Dr. Ben Rotter, staff physicist at Nalu Scientific, who is in charge of the technical aspects of the project. Dr. Rotter received his Ph.D. in physics from the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“SWELL could be used in LIDAR imaging systems deployed in high orbit, or in high-precision and low power imaging sensors for planetary missions,” Rotter says. “Our technology can also be applied to other industries, such as orbital geospatial mapping.”
Nalu Scientific’s SWELL was among 363 proposals selected from across 41 states to receive a portion of $41 million awarded in NASA’S SBIR program this year. The company was additionally selected alongside 21 other teams for NASA’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) 12-week Bootcamp program, created by the National Science Foundation to develop and nurture a national innovation ecosystem.
"We are excited about the entrepreneurial, innovative ideas that these small businesses are bringing to the table,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), said in a statement. “The technologies show great promise in helping NASA achieve its objectives across all mission areas, including our efforts to send American astronauts to the Moon, and then on to Mars, while also providing a long-term boost to the American economy.”
Intended to stimulate technological innovation in the private sector, the SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs encourage small businesses and research institutions to develop innovative ideas that meet the specific research and development needs of the federal government. As these ideas become reality, the program supports the commercialization of research results and encourages participation of socially and economically disadvantaged persons and women-owned small businesses.
This latest award comes after Nalu Scientific received a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in June to develop an Ultrafast Pixel Array Camera (UPAC) to make physics research more accessible and affordable. Since its founding in October 2015, Nalu Scientific has received over $2.5 million across half a dozen grants for its expertise in cutting edge electronics.
Nalu Scientific has been awarded a $200,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop an Ultrafast Pixel Array Camera (UPAC) to make physics research more accessible and affordable.
The Honolulu-based company will apply its expertise in high performance electronics to design and commercialize a camera that delivers 20 times the performance of conventional “streak cameras” at a lower cost. By taking advantage of recent advances in high-speed digitizing chips and detector arrays, Nalu Scientific’s proposed UPAC will make High Energy Density (HED) and Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) research more accessible to both DOE and individual-investigator research projects.
“The development of clean and plentiful fusion energy depends on monitoring condition of plasma, a very dense state of matter,” explains Nalu Scientific founder and CEO Isar Mostafanezhad, who is also the principal investigator on the UPAC project. “Our work will help scientists achieve their goals by overcoming the limitations of existing measurement tools.”
The UPAC will feature sensor arrays with hundreds of channels on a removable electronics board that can be customized to measure X-rays, neutrons, visible light, electrons, or ions. It will help scientists study the physics of matter at laboratories across the country.
“This grant is further validation that state-of-the-art technology can be designed and developed right here in Hawaii,” Mostafanezhad added. “Our small startup is working on tools that are critical to cutting-edge research being conducted around the world.”
The UPAC, for example, would be able to support scientists at Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) at the University of Rochester in New York.
The $200,000 grant will fund Phase I of the UPAC project, which will demonstrate the feasibility of the camera and lay the groundwork for the development of a working prototype.
In February, Nalu Scientific was awarded two $150,000, nine-month grants from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs under the Department of Energy (DOE). Those follow two $1 million grants received by Nalu Scientific in September of 2017 and September of 2018 to build a microchip for similar applications.
Isar Mostafanezhad, CEO and founder of Nalu Scientific, will be speaking at the IEEE International Microwave Symposium in Boston. He will be featured as part of a session on the first day of the conference, designed to provide young professionals inspiration and valuable lessons from a diverse group of highly accomplished individuals in the field of microwaves.
The theme of the session is, "How to Be 'Wicked Smart' and Competitive with the Pace of Innovation."
In addition to Mostafanezhad, the panel includes:
"Our panelists encompass high achievers in hardware and software, leadership, academia, government, industry, and startups," according to the IMS2019 Steering Committee. "Attendees will be able speak directly with carefully selected individuals who have made significant impacts with their careers."
"The panel discussion will not be held in the typical ‘classroom’ setting, but rather in a more open forum space, encouraging real opportunities for connection," the committee adds.
Nalu Scientific CEO and founder Isar Mostafanezhad was this month's featured speaker in the "Entrepreneurship Live" series at the University of Hawaii Shidler College of Business. Mostafanezhad's presentation was titled, "How a Tech Entrepreneur Built his Startup in Hawaii," and it was hosted by the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship (PACE) and sponsored by First Insurance Company of Hawaii.
Nalu Scientific awarded $300,000 for high-performance electronics used at the frontiers of particle physics
A Hawaii startup is building cutting-edge tools to help scientists explore the fundamental components of our universe.
Nalu Scientific, founded in October 2015, was awarded two $150,000, nine-month grants from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs under the Department of Energy (DOE).
The first award will fund the design and testing of a beam diagnostic tool used in particle accelerators. The second will bolster the company’s efforts to develop a low-cost, low-power electronic processing microchip that can support both scientific research as well as commercial applications like medical imaging and self-driving cars.
“Modern sensors with applications in measuring fundamental properties of matter require modern day electronics for fast processing of data,” explains Isar Mostafanezhad, founder and CEO of Nalu Scientific. “Future basic science, engineering and medical discoveries depend upon novel tools like ours that can provide more precise measurements.”
Nalu Scientific was among the recipients of $31 million in the first release of SBIR/STTR funds for 2019. “U.S. small businesses are a crucial aspect in driving innovation and creating jobs in our economy,” U.S. DOE Secretary Rick Perry said in a statement. “The SBIR and STTR programs are an excellent way for small businesses and the federal government to team up to advance scientific research and development, creating a more secure energy future for America.”
Specifically, the Nalu Scientific SBIR awards will support:
Mostafanezhad estimates that both projects could each generate $6 million in sales and licensing revenue in the first decade of commercial availability.
These latest SBIR/STTR awards follow two $1 million grants received by Nalu Scientific in September of 2017 and September of 2018 to build a microchip with similar applications.
The SBIR/STTR programs are designed to increase private sector commercialization of technology developed for research and development (R&D), stimulate technological innovation in the private sector, encouraging participation by women-owned and minority- owned small businesses, and improving the return on investment from federally-funded research for economic and social benefits to the nation.
Nalu Scientific, based at the Mānoa Innovation Center, has developed in house technology and methods for simulation, analysis and design of advanced micro-electronics. The company has benefitted from a good working relationship with the Department of Physics of the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.