Fourteen U.S. small businesses will receive a total of $1.9 million to research and develop innovative solutions to address some of our nation’s most pressing transportation challenges.
Small businesses from across the country submitted 106 proposals in response to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program 17.1 solicitation. Awardees include small businesses from Massachusetts, California, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Texas.
The SBIR program, administered by Volpe, announced its recommendations for awards on March 20 for U.S. DOT’s latest solicitation, which is for proof-of-concept research and research and development in response to topics listed in the solicitation.
“The SBIR program spurs innovation at the most basic and most important level—in the heart of our communities where innovative solutions are needed most,” said Volpe Director Anne Aylward. “The program provides U.S. small business owners with the funding needed to take ideas from the drawing board into the very communities where they work and live.”
The selected businesses, listed below along with the topics they will be addressing, will each receive up to $150,000 for their first six months of Phase I concept development on behalf of five participating U.S. DOT operating administrations: The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R).
Accurate and Rapid Measurement of Adsorption Capacity of Fly Ash in Concrete Mixtures
Awardee: PhosphorTech Corporation
Air-entraining admixtures (AEAs) are used to stabilize small bubbles of air that are produced in concrete during mixing. Interference of unburned and activated carbon in fly ash with AEAs is a major concern in the concrete industry. A rapid and accurate measurement of adsorption capacity of fly ash would address this concern. The proposed method would qualitatively and quantitatively measure different surfactants and AEAs adsorbed on fly ash in concrete.
Rapid Assessment of Air Void System in Fresh Concrete
Damage to concrete from freeze-thaw action leads to hairline cracks that grow into larger cracks and can disintegrate concrete into pieces, exposing reinforcement to corrosion. Concrete can resist deterioration when additives are mixed with fresh concrete to stabilize the naturally occurring air bubbles that are created during mixing. One of the most prevalent methods of assessing air void content in fresh concrete is a pressure meter designed in 1949 that measures total air content but does not provide air parameters needed to accurately evaluate concrete durability. These proposals would develop devices that are reasonably priced and accurate in measuring air voids in fresh concrete.
Methods for Remanufacturing Creosote-Railroad Ties
Awardee: Intelligent Automation, Inc.
The service life of wood ties has been diminishing with the depletion of high-quality wood and increased axle loads with higher rail car speeds and frequencies. Creosote-treated wood ties are considered to be environmentally hazardous, as harsh chemicals can leach into the ground. A proposed composite wood tie design would include used and new wood tie material encased with Basalt Fiber Reinforced Polymer. Applying this technique would strengthen wood ties and lengthen their service life against adverse environmental conditions.
Broken Rail Detection from Flashing Rear End Device
Rails often break under trains but do not lead to immediate derailment until further damage occurs at the fracture. Because cracks form progressively, there is an opportunity to detect cracks early before they become significant enough to cause a derailment. These proposals would develop prototype broken rail detection systems that would reliably detect discontinuities in the rail and differentiate those from normally occurring joints.
Resilient Wayside Structures to Reduce Severity of Passenger Equipment Collisions and Derailments
Awardee: Protection Engineering Consultants
Passenger fatalities and injuries can occur during derailments due to collisions with wayside structures, such as overhead electrical poles, bridge abutments, and third-rail terminations. This proposal is to develop resilient wayside structure concept designs based on reducing the stiffness and strength of wayside structures, incorporating energy absorbing mechanisms, and allowing failure to occur in a controlled and predictable manner.
Smart Phone Application for Onboard Railroad Passenger Information System
Railroads often use public address systems to share information with riders. In some cases, this method of communication is not effective. For instance, some passengers with auditory disabilities are unable to receive information through public address systems. Now, a substantial portion of rail passengers use smart phones, and public address communications are often augmented with on-board variable message signs. This research would help rail companies deliver messages directly to passengers’ phones. It would establish a standard interface between informational sign-based and public address-based passenger information systems to avoid having to replace existing systems.
Train Crowding and Information Dissemination for Transit Users
Station platforms at rail transit stations can become congested, particularly at transfer locations and at major escalator and stairway landings. Informal observations suggest that passenger distributions among the cars in a subway are often uneven. These proposals would develop systems that would predict passenger loading on each train car and disseminate that crowding information to passengers.
Detection of THC Use in Drivers
Decreasing crashes, injuries, and fatalities from impaired driving is a NHTSA priority. With more states moving toward legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana, drivers may increasingly use this drug. But it is challenging for law enforcement to determine in a timely way whether a drug is present in the body of a suspected drug-impaired driver. These proposals would develop a simple, rapid, and reliable breath test prototype that can confirm the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol in drivers.
System and Supply Chain for Recycling Lithium-Ion Batteries in the Transportation System
As electric vehicle sales increase, research is needed to develop a supply chain for reusing lithium-ion batteries for peripheral transportation uses, such as electric-bicycle bike sharing, or traffic signals. These proposals evaluate second-use application concepts for retired vehicular lithium-ion batteries in economically valuable, second-use transportation sectors.