This year’s Emerging Technology Award from IEEE Spectrum goes to SpaceX for its pioneering work in developing the ability to reuse rockets. And the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras is the recipient of the magazine’s Technology in the Service of Society Award for the school’s development of solar DC microgrid technology. The annual awards will be presented at the IEEE Honors Ceremony on 25 May in San Francisco.
IEEE Spectrum’s editors vote on both awards. The Emerging Technology Award is given to a company whose advancement has the potential to achieve financial success in broad commercial application. The Technology in the Service of Society Award recognizes an organization for a development that has the greatest potential to benefit humankind.
“Our editors chose SpaceX for its pioneering work in developing the ability to reuse rockets, in particular the autonomous control systems needed to guide a used booster traveling at hypersonic speeds back to Earth with pinpoint accuracy,” says IEEE Fellow Glenn Zorpette, IEEE Spectrum’s executive editor.
The autonomous control system allows SpaceX to reuse the rocket-booster stages of its Falcon 9 rocket, which resupplies the International Space Station with cargo. According to Zorpette, the most important milestone occurred on 8 April, when Falcon 9 Flight 23 launched to bring cargo to the ISS. A few minutes after liftoff, the first rocket stage burned out. Nine minutes later, that booster landed vertically on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, 300 kilometers from the Florida coast.
“Many technologies had to come together and work perfectly to enable the Falcon 9 booster to land itself vertically on the drone ship at sea,” Zorpette says.
Tens of millions of homes in India aren’t connected to the power grid. A 125-watt solar-powered microgrid can provide enough electricity to operate a home’s lights, a ceiling fan, and a cellphone charger. For connected households that nevertheless have unreliable electricity, the microgrid can act as a backup power supply during brownouts. The microgrid technology was designed by engineers at IIT Madras to run on direct current rather than alternating current, so that the homes can be fitted with energy-efficient DC LED bulbs, DC televisions, and brushless DC motor-based fans.
IIT Madras began field-testing the DC microgrid systems in 2014. Leading the team is IEEE Fellow Ashok Jhunjhunwala, a professor of electrical engineering at IIT Madras. He wrote about his group’s work in IEEE Spectrum’s February issue. (The magazine also featured Jhunjhunwala in its Engineering Heroes special report in 2015.) In selecting IIT Madras for the award, Spectrum’s editors noted that the technology has the potential to help not just Indians but also the roughly 1 billion other people around the world who still live without access to electricity.