In the near future, as many as six severe weather satellites bearing special Utah State University-developed sensing technology may be in orbit 5,000 kilometers above the Earth. This fleet of satellites will transmit enhanced weather data that will be analyzed to predict severe weather before it happens, potentially saving both lives and property across the globe.The severe weather sensors are part of a new technology commercialization “spin in” program at USU. Many universities are known for their technology commercialization “spin offs.” In fact, the University of Utah and BYU were recently ranked #1 and #3 respectively, for their tech startups created in fiscal 2010, according to the Association of University Technology Managers. MIT was ranked #2.USU is also busy creating tech startups, “but we don’t see that as our bread and butter,” says Robert T. Behunin, USU’s vice president of commercialization and regional development. “Our focus at USU is ‘fewer, deeper,'” he adds. “Full-scale commercialization efforts at USU may result in fewer companies spun-off from university-developed technologies, but those companies to come out of USU have industry support, by way of partnerships, and capital raised.”Engaging with IndustryUSU partnerships with local, national and international businesses, where the school helps the businesses to research, develop and then commercialize their own technology ideas result in partnerships and research dollars “spun in” to the university portfolio.”What we are doing is engaging industry and our other stake holders and asking, ‘What is it that industry needs to move forward, either economically or technologically?'” he explains. “At the end of the day, the result has been the establishment of significant partnerships where USU is able to leverage its research dollars, while our commercial partners receive the research and development they need to take their intellectual property to market.”The severe weather satellite program, called STORM, is one such example of the “spin in” partnerships USU is creating through Commercial Enterprises, a one-stop-shop for industry partnerships, business development and intellectual property protection at USU. In this case, the USU Research Foundation’s Space Dynamics Laboratory, well known for its satellite and sensor programs, partnered with a commercial company called GeoMetWatch. Behunin says the sensors, which cost approximately $70 million each, will be built at USU while GeoMetWatch will help the school integrate the sensors with the satellites and also arrange the rockets to launch the satellites into orbit. GeoMetWatch recently raised $6 million in Series A funding and is currently working to raise another $50 million in Series B funding –enough money to get the first sensor-laden satellite into orbit.Will Hire 30-40 Engineers”Right now we have a small team of about 6 engineers working on the sensors. We have a sensor on the ground that has been built and tested. We know it works and what it can do,” Behunin adds. Once GeoMetWatch has its funding in place, USU’s Space Dynamics Laboratory will hire 30 to 40 engineers to build the remaining sensors. But the program is bigger than just launching sensors into orbit. Utah State University stands to receive approximately $125 million annually as researchers analyze data transmitted from the satellites, which will then be sold to businesses and governments.”This is a huge win for us,” says Behunin. “It is also a win for the USTAR program because STORM is a USTAR funded project at USU and resulting dollars will be paid to the state as a return on the USTAR investment.”Commercialization efforts are also capitalizing on USU-developed technologies that have been “spun out” to create Utah companies. One company, WAVE, Inc., a spin-out from USU, has partnered with the Utah Transit Authority and received a $2.7 million grant that will be used to electrify a bus route on the University of Utah campus. The wireless power transfer technology developed by USU Research Foundation’s Energy Dynamics Laboratory and funded by USTAR will transfer electricity wirelessly to stationary vehicles using infrastructure embedded in the roadway to vehicle-mounted receiver plates. This wireless charging ability reduces battery size requirements and allows for continuous use of the electric vehicle.Good Science”Battery limitations represent the largest roadblock to full-scale electric vehicle market adoption,” says Wesley Smith, WAVE CEO. Rather than building bigger batteries or trying to electrify an existing highway, WAVE’s technology will electrify sections of roadway at specific intervals — where a bus loads and unloads passengers, and where it waits to begin its next route — charging the vehicle’s battery while the vehicle is stationary. The installation on the University of Utah campus will demonstrate the viability of large-scale mass transit systems powered by wireless power transfer. Future installations may include off-road applications like forklifts and haulers in industrial yards.”This is another example of how university research and industry partnerships lead to innovation and economic impact for the state and local economies,” Behunin explains.Commercialization of USU research discoveries continues to grow. USU is pursuing nearly 60 active commercialization project as well as more than 40 early-stage pipeline projects, many of which are in $1 billion-plus markets.”We seek good science and good solutions that have a relevant place in the market. It’s a program in which everybody wins — especially the taxpayer,” says Behunin.
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