U.S. DOT calls for innovative research proposals from small businesses

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The U.S. Department of Transportation is seeking innovative proposals from small businesses to address research needs facing the Department's agencies. On April 2, U.S. DOT's Research and Innovative Technology Administration/John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center released the final Fiscal Year 2012 solicitation for its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The solicitation contains eight research topic descriptions and invites small businesses to submit research proposals no later than June 5, 2012. The solicitation will be available online at http://www.volpe.dot.gov/sbir.

According to RITA’s website, the SBIR Program encourages small businesses to engage in research or research and development that has the potential for commercialization and meets federal research or research and development objectives.

The two research topics specific to the rail industry are “Small Scale Diesel Generator for Railway Applications” and “System for Prevention of Lens Surface Contamination.”
RITA anticipates both topics will have two awards each estimated to be worth $150,000 in Phase 1 awards and an estimated $300,000 in Phase 2 awards.

Regarding the search for a small scale diesel generator, the SBIR Program description says, “The Federal Railroad Administration is actively supporting the development of technologies that will ensure the safety of the US railway system. One objective of this research is to develop autonomous inspection technologies to increase conditional awareness of track safety and maintenance issues. These inspection systems operate without human interaction and are deployed on freight and passenger railway vehicles. Many of these technologies require electrical power to collect and disseminate data while traveling in train sets. Some of the required power can be supplied by on-board solar, wind harvesting and battery systems; however, these systems are unlikely to satisfy system power requirements under all possible conditions. Supplemental electrical power is needed to ensure inspection system availability. A small scale diesel fueled electrical generator or fuel cell is needed.”

The SBIR Program’s description of the lens surface contamination system says, “At least one of the track inspection systems currently utilized by the Federal Railroad Administration, as well as the railroad industry, includes a critical lens component. It is common for this lens component to become covered with water and mud when in use. As a result, the quality of the data collected with the system degrades. FRA desires an innovative solution for keeping particles, specifically water and mud droplets, from making contact with the surface of this lens. Prior systems have focused on periodic cleaning of the lens (for example, using rolling film and wipers) while in service. Such systems have proved unsatisfactory. The focus of this research topic is to design a system for preventing water and mud particles from reaching the lens surface. The system may use an air flow or other alternative means to achieve this goal. A cylindrical tube may be used in order to contain the air flow. The diameter of the tube must be at least wide enough to accommodate the lens, and the maximum allowable length of the tube will be a function of distance away from the lens as the tube cannot interfere with a diverging laser beam that exits the lens. All other evaluation criteria being equal, systems with superior power efficiencies will be rated higher.”

Categories: ON Track Maintenance, Safety/Training