HIGH-TECH YARD SALE NASA holds conference to show off technology

NASA put out a "For Sale" sign at the Baltimore Convention Center yesterday and thousands of companies and entrepreneurs showed up to browse over more than 250 high-tech products.

Call it a yard sale. Except don't think of used toasters. This is technology that has been used in a space shuttle or a fighter plane, but has a second life as another product.


The Technology 2002 conference, sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, shows off the wares of federal agencies and private companies that have developed products they hope to sell or license for use in new products.

The conference was billed as away for entrepreneurs and companies to look over the latest innovations coming out of federal laboratories. And just as important, according to the sponsors, it's a way for the federal government to find practical uses for the technology that has been developed with billions of dollars of taxpayers' money.


The convention, which lasts through tomorrow, is expected to attract at least 5,000 people and fill up 1,000 hotel rooms. It also includes dozens of presentations by researchers at federal laboratories or universities that receive federal funds.

There wasn't anything as mundane as Tang, the drink of the astronauts that has become a household name. From the robot that greeted visitors in the lobby to a seminar on "innovative software tools for developing heterogeneous distributed computing systems," the convention was pure technology.

There was the Vector -- a car that goes 250 mph, doesn't dent, rust or corrode, and "is built to last the life of the man who buys it," said inventor Gerald A. Wiegert, chairman of California-based Vector Aeromotive Corp.

The display system in the car is related to that in the space shuttle, the cockpit comes straight out of the Stealth bomber and the materials stem from federal research.

The price tag? Only $750,000. But it comes with a guaranteed mechanic, who will fly to your car even if you live in Saudi Arabia or some other far-flung place.

This is a company that doesn't sell cars, it "places" them. "It is a practical piece of art," Mr. Wiegert said.

So far, there are 20 lucky owners, including a former executive of Toys 'R' Us, a Kansas City executive of a major brokerage firm and an aspiring actor.

If the car is a bit too much, the company also sells a jet ski and is expected to have a $250,000 plane on the market in the next six months that is run on only 50 horse power when in flight. That, too, is based on aerospace technology.


The convention also offered another kind of vehicle -- a trailer of sorts designed to run in the most rugged terrain and provide sophisticated laboratory space and sleeping quarters for researchers on the road.

Called a Hypertat, it has given shelter in the extreme cold of Antarctica, where marine biologists study ice core samples, and has been used as a remote field hospital and a laboratory at hazardous waste sites.

The composite construction is made of a lightweight and super-insulating material developed for fighter jets.

NASA and the Air Force also displayed new uses for the technology developed for a plane that hasn't flown yet. The National Aerospace Plane will be able to take off from a typical airport and fly directly into orbit.

Its skin is made of titanium, a strong, corrosion-resistant material that Ford Motor Co. has turned into valves for its cars that could save 0.7 gallons of gas per mile. Dow Corning Co. also thinks it has a new use: a replacement hip joint that won't deteriorate and will expand and contract in different temperatures much in the same manner as bones do.

Then, of course, there is the pill that, once swallowed, sends out radio messages that allow NASA to monitor an astronaut's body temperature. Sony used it to monitor the temperature of its scoreboard during a Super Bowl game. It is being further developed to measure a person's temperature, pulse and blood pressure.