A technology developed by researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has been recognized for its successful transfer to the commercial market. The Federal Laboratory Consortium announced PNNL has won a 2005 Excellence in Technology Transfer Award for the lab's holographic body scanner, an imaging technology that is being applied in two widely divergent industries - apparel and security.

Originally developed by the laboratory for security applications, Pennsylvania-based Intellifit is using the technology to create body measurements for custom-fit clothing. The holographic imager creates a 360-degree high-resolution 3-D scan of a body in less than 10 seconds, allowing Intellifit to provide tailored measurements to designers or provide recommendations on best-fit clothing.

Here's how it works: millimeter waves harmlessly penetrate clothing and reflect off of the body, sending signals back to a transceiver; the transceiver then sends the signals to a high-speed computer that creates a final 3-D holographic image. Lastly, Intellifit's body measurement software is used in conjunction with the 3-D holographic image to obtain 80 accurate body measurements.

Another company, Safeview, Inc., of Santa Clara, has commercialized the technology for use in aviation, prison, building and border crossing security. The scanner can quickly show the presence of non-metallic threats such as plastic and ceramic weapons, in addition to metal objects.

The holographic imaging system’s transceiver reflects amillimeter-wave signal off the body and any objectscarried on it. Unlike current metal detectors, the systemdeveloped at PNNL detects all threats or contraband,including metal, plastic, liquids, drugs and ceramicweapons hidden under clothing.

PNNL is a DOE Office of Science laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security, the environment and life sciences by advancing the understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and computation. PNNL employs 3,800, has a $600 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab's inception in 1965.

Appropriating Technology
Vernacular Science and Social Power
University of Minnesota Press, 2004

This collection of case studies examines the reinvention of products and the rethinking of knowledge systems by groups and individuals outside the mainstream of scientific establishment.

A disempowered ethnic group of Bedouins in Egypt, for example, used cassette tape players -- sold primarily for listening to pre-recorded music -- to record their own songs, which led to the rise of a Bedouin pop star and a host of new economic and cultural opportunities.

Native American artist Sharol Graves took CAD/CAM software originally created for computer circuit design and revised it to assist her with Indian design drawings. 

“I wanted the public to know that a Native American was working in the research and development of high technology, just to blow a few stereotypes about the ‘Indian Mind,’” she explained.

Reinvention involves taking an existing technology designed and marketed for a specific use and finding new functions for it by altering its structure is some way. The shock absorbers on cars, for instance, were originally designed to decrease disturbance in a vehicle's ride. But Latino "low-rider" mechanics discovered that by attaching the shocks to electrically controlled air pumps they could convert the shock absorbers into the kind of shock producers desired by the low-rider community.

"Appropriated technologies offer a rich resource for combining a critical analysis of social issues with an eye towards the positive application of science and its artifacts," writes the chief editor of this volume, Ron Eglash..

"The stories of technological appropriations are multifaceted; they are both painful and joyous, reassuring and shocking. They are complex enough to warrant study for their own sake. But their primary importance is in their potential contribution to socio-political resistance and social reconfiguration."