Honors Gallery

Safe wireless fluid-level measuring system

Award: Excellence in Technology Transfer

Year: 2011

Award Type:

Region: Mid-Atlantic

NASA Langley Research Center

The Safe Wireless Fluid-Level Measuring System developed by NASA Langley has been licensed to two companies. Working through licensees, the technology has been transferred to Savannah River National Laboratory (DOE) and the Hampton, Virginia fire and police departments.

The Langley team developed a method of designing, interrogating, and powering sensors that became a major contribution to measurement science and is applicable to a large variety of measurement applications. They used their innovative technology to develop two novel, inexpensive, and safe wireless fluid-level measurement systems that alleviate many of the shortcomings inherent in fluid-level measurement methods. These systems are laid out in nine U.S./international-issued and pending patents. Other methods currently in widespread use have significant drawbacks, including the limited applicability of any one fluid-level sensor design; the necessity for power and measurement extraction to have a direct electrical connection results in the potential for electrical arcing. A key safety feature these systems have that does not exist with other fuel measurement systems is that the fuel level can be measured with neither the fuel nor combustible fuel vapors coming in contact with any electrical components of the systems—thus eliminating the potential for the combustible fuel vapors being ignited by arcing from damaged electrical components. Numerous lives have been lost as a result of these types of fuel explosions.

NASA Langley uses many standard marketing techniques such as web pages and brochures for technology transfer, but it also uses many novel methods such as having potential licensees and potential users meet with the inventors to understand their needs, with each tailored to the visitor.

Licensing Langley’s technology has enabled Tidewater Sensors, a partner company, to offer a robust, easy-to-install, advanced fuel-management system for marine applications. The accurate fuel-level readings provided by Tidewater Sensors’ product will make boating safer and save boaters time by eliminating returning to the dock for unnecessary refueling or water damage to the engine. A license to another company, Kelvin International, enables damage-resilient fluid-level sensors for cryogenic containers. The Kelvin license also enables industry, academia and research labs to purchase the commercial version of the wireless interrogation system used for fluid-level measures for other measurements.