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Small businesses in America are engines of creativity and employment opportunities, but it can sometimes be difficult for small businesses to turn their innovations into reality.

That’s why the U.S. Department of Transportation’s highly competitive Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program awards contracts to small businesses to pursue research and development to find solutions to our nation’s biggest transportation challenges.

The SBIR program—administered by Volpe, DOT’s go-to center for innovative, multimodal research—has opened its latest solicitation period and will accept proposals through December 21, 2016.

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It’s natural for people to trust their senses. We feel them when an elevator is moving down floors or when there are changes in pressure at higher elevations. In some cases, however, what our bodies are feeling can be misleading. For pilots, this can occur during what is called spatial disorientation, and have severe consequences.

Spatial disorientation is a factor in roughly 10 percent of loss-of-control events, which are the leading cause of fatal accidents in commercial aircraft. Ninety percent of crashes resulting from spatial disorientation scenarios are fatal.

Historically, exposing pilots to the feeling of spatial disorientation in standard flight simulator training has had limited effectiveness, especially for fatal scenarios. To address this, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provided funding through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to Systems Technology Inc. (STI) to develop technology to train pilots to recognize and react to spatial disorientation in flight. In 2012, STI started developing a prototype that focused on vestibular illusions, which affect the human body’s internal motion sensors, including the inner ear.

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Without traffic cones or construction crews snarling traffic, it can be easy to forget the vast network of pipelines, spanning hundreds of thousands of miles across the country, transporting the oil that heats our homes and gasoline that fuels our cars. pipeline maintenanceHistorically, managing the health of pipelines was mostly reactive; only physical appearances, like major deformations and stresses, provided hints to potential fractures or warping.

In 2011, Houston-based Generation 2 Materials Technology, LLC (G2MT) produced an industry first with the release of its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)-funded non-destructive pipeline stress analysis sensor. These sensors are able to determine the through-thickness residual stresses of materials that are built to withstand pressure, which can reveal pipeline stressors before they are visible -and before they cause damage.

Administered by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, the SBIR program helps entrepreneurs develop new and innovative solutions to complex transportation challenges, calling on the power of small businesses to help solve DOT’s most pressing needs...

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One of the ways DOT serves the American public is by working with small businesses to find new ways to improve our nation’s roadways. Our Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program encourages small businesses to explore potential solutions to transportation challenges.

In 2009, we solicited research on a topic sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA): to develop a new pavement that could generate power and transfer it to the power grid. The SBIR Phase I submission had to meet the following requirements:

  • Use recycled material;
  • Withstand traffic loads; and
  • Be durable enough to avoid costly replacement cycles.

In response to this solicitation, Solar Roadways, Inc., began proof-of-concept work. Their proposal: self-sustaining pavement, made from hexagon-shaped solar panels. If successful, this pavement could potentially eliminate the current practice of replacing asphalt, and ultimately transform the nation’s roadways into an intelligent pavement system...

Solar roadway panels
Solar roadway panels feature LED lights which can "paint" the road lines from beneath, lighting up the road for safer night time driving.
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As drivers and pedestrians alike have become increasingly distracted by their handheld devices, crossing the street safely is not as straightforward as it used to be. So at DOT, we've been thinking, "What if?" What if, while we may not be able to keep pedestrians from using their phones, we could find ways to keep them safer...even while distracted?

What if your smartphone could alert you when it's unsafe to cross the street? And what if it could alert approaching drivers that you were in the crosswalk? That technology would transform your smartphone from a safety detriment into a pedestrian safety asset.

Distracted male pedestrian in intersection

With the growing numbers of pedestrian fatalities in mind, the Federal Highway Administration, through DOT's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, awarded a contract to Savari Inc. to develop a traffic signal interface app for smartphones called SmartCross...

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