Discover more from FedInvent
A Chinese Surveillance Balloon Floated By
The 2022 DOD R&D Enterprise
Hello from FedInvent,
Balloons and Sensors
We had a tough time figuring out a framework for reporting on the 2022 output of the DOD R&D enterprise. How could we make all this data, pie charts, and tables interesting? Then a Chinese surveillance balloon floated by. A balloon story with a DOD innovation angle is just what we needed.
This balloon story has something for everyone who tracks DOD's R&D spending and the technology it creates — national security, spies, undetected illicit incursions into the Homeland, high-tech sensing, imaging, and communications technology. It even has solar panels for clean technology enthusiasts. It's a tale involving serious money — an $800 billion defense budget with over $84 billion in new R&D spending each year. There's money that pays for a network of ground-based radar and space-based surveillance satellites to identify aerial threats, which will apparently need an upgrade. The balloon monitoring and take down used a bunch of F-22 Raptors with a unit cost of between $100 million to $300 million, depending on whose numbers you use, and a $425,000 Sidewinder air-to-air missile used to pop the Chinese balloon. The Air Force used a few more sidewinders to take down other unidentified aerial phenomena. These objects may turn out to be hobbyists' weather balloons detected by some part of the ground-based radar and spaced-based surveillance satellites.
The spokes-generals from the Air Force and NORAD talked about domain awareness gaps; shorthand for NORAD is good at tracking Santa but not so good at picking up Chinese surveillance airships. Then the spokes-generals said they had been tracking the balloon since it lifted off in China. Finally, there is human interest. The Air Force F-22 balloon popper jet pilots used Callsign Frank, used by the Air Force F-22 as a tribute to World War I ace Lt. Frank Luke Jr., known as the 'Arizona Balloon Buster,' coupled with a good dose of rescue and recovery activities and a guest appearance by the FBI forensic experts at Quantico—something for everyone.
With that in mind, here is the FedInvent update on the 2022 DOD patent haul.
2,002 DOD Funded Patents in 2022. Or Maybe 2,077
In 2022, the U.S. Department of Defense funded R&D and federal contracts that yielded 2,002 new patents. Two thousand two patents granted in 2022 cited contracts or acknowledged funding from DOD or DOD-affiliated Intelligence Community entities like the National Security Agency (NSA) or the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
But as Ron Popeill, the famous American inventor and marketing pitchman, used to say, wait, there's more. There are another 75 patents for technology where the inventors acknowledge the military use of their inventions or where the owner of the patent is a defense contractor. These patents don't have contract numbers that can link the patent to DOD. These Bayh-Dole scofflaw patents bring the potential number of 2022 DOD-funded inventions up to 2,077—more on the scofflaws below.
A Spy Balloon Is An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
A spy balloon is a lumbering version of an unmanned (uncrewed?) aerial vehicle (UAV). This UAV exhibits many of the features that the DOD's drone research embodies — prolonged hovering capabilities, low (no) noise, the ability to take high-resolution photography incorporating geospatial data and object identification, a self-supporting power source, and the ability for remote personnel to pilot the vehicle from afar.
2022 was a big year for taxpayer-funded research that resulted in new drone patents. There were 23 patents for drone technology funded by DOD. Thirteen of these inventions resulted from intramural R&D efforts by DOD employees and service members. DOD retained the title to these 13 inventions,
There is defensive drone security technology. The Naval Surface Weapon Command patented a UAV countermeasure system capable of producing a sufficiently intense electromagnetic pulse (EMP) burst to completely disable all approaching UAVs. The national security prognosticators opining on the Chinese spy balloon suggested that the balloon might carry an EMP weapon to take out the U.S. grid.
There is a new drone catcher patent from the Air Force Academy (USAFA). This drone catcher adds more intellectual property to USAFA's portfolio, its earlier drone catcher patent 11054224. We wrote about it in the July 2021 newsletter. Perhaps USAFA should put the cadets to work designing a surveillance balloon catcher that doesn't require an expensive side-winder missile.
The Army Research Lab received a patent for adding a weapon to a drone that can use "full-powered centerfire rifle ammunition." This invention is a UAV with a remote-controlled rifle attached.
There were patents for novel drone uses— drones for runway inspection and foreign object detection. Stevens Institute of Technology received a patent for using an unmanned surface vehicle for oil spill cleanup. Stevens Institute received funding from the National Science Foundation and equipment from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research DURIP program.
This brings us to DOD's 2022 contribution to balloon UAV technology, the Miniature Autonomous Robotic Blimp. This invention comes from Georgia Tech with funding from the Office of Naval Research. Unlike the Chinese spy balloon, this is an indoor blimp. Indoor advertising blimps with control systems that enable them to safely maneuver in public spaces are prior art. The Georgia Tech robotic blimp includes sophisticated sensors for indoor motion detection, cameras, and flight control software that operates using WiFi. It operates on the device of your choice — a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone. The invention also includes facial recognition technology, and hand gesture recognition capabilities and the ability for the blimp to follow the individual recognized by the blimp. The invention allows the indoor blimp to move to a predetermined distance and orientation from at least one of the facial features of the specific user. Coming to an arena or shopping mall near you. (You can read more about Georgia Tech's flight control system for indoor miniature aerial robots here.)
Unmanned vs. Uncrewed
There is an unmanned vs. uncrewed vehicle semantic debate. Some patentistas use unmanned because it implies the lack of presence of a human being within the vehicle. While uncrewed suggests that the vehicle is completely autonomous; hence there is no ground crew. Even Raytheon, one of the largest defense contractors, is unclear about what term to use. Raytheon uses uncrewed on its annual reports to shareholders and unmanned on its 10Ks that go to the Securities Exchange Commission. FedInvent uses the terms that appear in the patent documents.
Sensors On the Balloon?
One of the pieces of information the FBI investigators at Quantico will be looking for is what types of sensors were onboard the Chinese surveillance balloon. Sensor technology is a critical tool in national defense. So while we wait to see what the FBI finds, here is a recap of DOD's 2022 sensor innovations.
In 2022, DOD-funded inventors received over 200 patents that deal with sensor technologies — movement sensors, biosensors, wearable sensors, chemical and explosive sensors, R.F. sensors, and more. DOD funded Eighty-six of the 2022 sensor patents. In addition, there are another 394 taxpayer-funded sensor patent applications in the queue awaiting examination. DOD funded at least 127 of those as well.
The 2022 sensor patents include biosafety, chemical weapon detection technologies, and explosive detection sensors.
Inventors from the City University of New York (CUNY) received 11255830 for olfactory sensors for detecting explosives, specifically trinitrotoluene (TNT). The patent notes, "there is an urgent need for sensitive sensors allowing the detection of TNT in a variety of settings (war zones, weapon test grounds, mines, public areas at risk for attacks by terrorists, etc.) and by various organizations (e.g. military, law enforcement, etc.). In addition to its explosive properties, TNT is toxic to a variety of organisms ranging from bacteria to humans. Skin contact with TNT can cause skin irritation, and long-term exposure to TNT may lead to anemia and abnormal liver functions. Since the rising use of TNT has resulted in contamination of soil and water in construction sites and weapon test grounds, the ability to easily and quickly detect TNT is also critical from a public health and environmental perspective."
The government interest statement on CUNY's patent cites a contract awarded to Cornell University. The inventors cite funding from DARPA, using an Army Research Laboratory contract number. The contract description says, Assessment and Screening of Mating Behavior, Behavioral Phenotype and Genotype in African Giant Pouched Rats. Rats, you ask? Giant African pouched rats (Cricetomys gambianus) are used operationally to detect land mines. (You can read about Cornell’s work using African giant pouched rats to find landmines here.)
The Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, Chemical Biological Center received U.S. patent 11231404 for a device and method for collecting, analyzing, and identifying chemical and biological samples in solid or liquid form. The device uses an array of colorimetric sensors that can be incorporated into a handheld or standalone device. Colorimetric sensors are a class of optical sensors that change their color when influenced by external stimuli. The sensor changes color when it encounters a chemical or biological material. This invention enables a sample to be analyzed without destroying the sample itself. The Army's invention enables assays that return very accurate classification of a wide variety of chemical and biological agents.
Not to be left out, the Air Force Research Lab received U.S. patent 11215596, Focusing Agents and Method of Using Same. The invention is for the identification and enhanced quantification of chemical species, such as chemical warfare agents. The technology supports detecting and quantifying chemical warfare agents and toxic industrial chemicals and materials.
On the weapons front, inventors at the U.S. Army Armament Research Development and Engineering Center, Weapons and Software Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal received U.S. patent 11215418 titled, Firing pin sensors for capturing weapon data.
Biosensors and wearables include inventions for sweat detection (11266381 — funded by Air Force Research Lab), enabling technology for health data collection (11264134 funded by Defense Health Agency), and hypoxia detection in pilots and aircrew (11235183). Hypoxia is oxygen deficiency. The invention is for bio-monitoring of physiologic metrics to determine the metabolic, pulmonary, and cardiac function and oxygen saturation measurements from breathing mask apparatuses. Orbital Research received a patent for a wearable sensor suite and a portable gas composition and flow analysis system. NavAir funded this work.
U.S. Army's Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center's (TATRC) funded the University of Connecticut Medical School's development of Analyte sensors (11246518). The patent notes that "many clinical situations necessitate the measurement of various body metabolites like lactate, creatinine, creatine, glutamate, phosphate, cysteine, homocysteine, and the like. For example, a device that can measure lactate levels has important implications in several diseases and conditions (e.g., to indicate muscle fatigue, shock, sepsis, kidney disorders, liver disorders, and congested heart failure).
TRX Systems, Inc. received U. S. Patent 11268818 titled, "Crowd Sourced Mapping with Robust Structural Features." This patent includes multi-dimensional sensor space (e.g., structural, R.F., magnetic, image, acoustic, or other data) collected automatically as a tracked mobile device moves through a building (e.g., a person with a mobile phone or a robot). The inventors received three SBIR grants — one from DARPA funded by the U.S. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, and two from National Science Foundation (NSF) Translational Impacts organization. TRX Systems has an impressive portfolio of IP focused on Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) and indoor navigation.
Finally, there is technology to enable the construction and use of sensors. These inventions include sensor-enabling technology for fabricating sensor arrays (11274950). The DOD Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute funded this invention via a contract administered by the Air Force Research Lab. The patent went to United Technologies, which is now part of Raytheon Technologies. Raytheon included the contract number on this one.
Back To The Scofflaws
There were 75 Bayh-Dole scofflaws in 2022. The majority are defense contractors.
Here are the highlights.
Raytheon Technologies was the scofflaw of the year, coming in at 36 patents without the required government interest data. Raytheon's scofflaw patents tell you they got money from the U.S. government but don't tell you the details.
BAE Systems Information and Electronic Systems Integration Inc. likes to provide contract number fragments that generally lead nowhere. In 2022 BAE received a patent for Soft Kill Laser Configuration for Ground Vehicle Threats. BAE participated in the Army's Soft Kill Rodeo. The firm has a group focused on ground vehicle countermeasure technology. It's safe to assume that BAE's contract was with the Army. You can compare the patent drawing above with BAE’s marketing literature here and decide for yourself.
IBM's Watson researchers are the inventors of a collection of patents that use natural language processing to handle massive amounts of unstructured text-rich documents and deploy question-and-answering technology, machine learning, natural language queries, and cloud infrastructure. No contract numbers here but this looks like a ChatGPT bot for the intelligence community. Two of IBM's three scofflaw patents deal with this technology.
Rather than bloat up the newsletter with the details of all 75 patents granted to defense contractors and universities that received taxpayer funding from DOD in 2022, you can browse the list here.
Old Habits Are Hard to Break
So far in 2023, 14 patents have been granted to Bayh-Dole scofflaws. Eight are assigned to Raytheon. Two each are assigned to HRL Laboratories and Northrop Grumman.
The fourteenth was granted to an individual inventor working with the Department of Homeland Security. The inventor, Avi Kagan, CEO of Eneregan LLC, received an SBIR from TSA. Which resulted in a new system to detect explosives. The new invention includes localized air heating, localized evaporation, and localized vapor collectors, removing the need for a sample to be taken manually via a swab. No more swabbing the luggage at security.
The 2023 Bayh-Dole Scofflaw List is here.
Before We Go
We'll be back soon with more information on how 2022 shaped up and the latest on the federal innovation ecosphere. We'll be taking a deep dive into the technology from DARPA and the DOD research labs — AFOSR, ARO, and ONR. Next, we'll report on the leadership position DOD is taking in developing quantum computing and new cybersecurity innovations. Please stay tuned.
The links to the PDF versions of the patents and patent applications are back in the FedInvent Report after a hiatus due to the transition to the new USPTO Public Patent Search tool.
Thank you for reading FedInvent.
The FedInvent Team
FedInvent tells the stories of inventors, investigators, and innovators. Wayfinder Digital's FedInvent Project follows the federal innovation ecosphere, taxpayer money, and the inventions it pays for. Please reach out if you have questions or suggestions. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FedInvent is a reader-supported publication focused on the federal innovation ecosphere. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.