The drones are coming! Showcase highlights use of unmanned vehicles to map critical watersheds

OSU students showcased their use of unmanned aerial vehicles and boats to map Oklahoma lakes

By Jim Stafford

Early morning anglers casting into Grand Lake’s Horseshoe Cove this past summer might have done a double-take if they spotted a lime-green kayak plowing across the water with no human pilot aboard.

What they were witnessing was MANUEL, a creation of Oklahoma State University engineering graduate student Muwanika Jdiobe.

MANUEL – an acronym for Mobile Autonomously Navigable USV for Evaluation of Lakes – was created by Jdiobe as a project for OSU’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI).

Jdiobe recently made a virtual presentation about MANUEL and what his research at Horseshoe Cove uncovered at the Oklahoma City Innovation District’s Student Showcase on Unmanned Systems.

The showcase was the third in a series of student showcases presented by the Innovation District in conjunction with OSU’s USRI.

“Our vision is to get the best minds in the same room to meet, share research, information and ultimately, drive innovation in Oklahoma and around the country,” said Austin Bowles, the Innovation District’s digital marketing director.

Jdiobe was one of two OSU students affiliated with USRI who described projects that measured water depth and quality or mapped invasive vegetation on a lake that provides critical drinking water.

Before it was deployed on its Grand Lake mission, MANUEL was outfitted with an electric motor that provided propulsion, along with GPS equipment that allowed precise autonomous navigation, along with sensors that collected information on water quality and depth.

“The whole time I was sitting on the shore just observing her execute her mission,” Jdiobe said. “After every mission, MANUEL has to return to the point at which she was launched so we can extract all the data that was collected.”

The project was conducted in coordination with OSU environmental scientists who sought data about the lake and how pollution was impacting its depth and water quality. The goal is to better understand and prevent harmful algal blooms caused by agricultural runoff. One such bloom shut down Grand Lake on July 4, 2011, its busiest day of the year.

“MANUEL can reach very difficult places that other technologies cannot reach,” Jdiobe said. “We came to learn that MANUEL can actually work in very harsh conditions, even when we have strong winds and heavy rainfalls.”

The second presentation at the Student Showcase involved the mapping of Stillwater’s Lake Carl Blackwell on behalf of OSU and the City of Stillwater.

OSU mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate student Andrew Cole described how two unmanned aerial vehicles – drones – were used to map the lake and assess the growth of unwanted vegetation.

“The problem we applied this to was Floating Yellow Heart, which is an invasive species that was found in Lake Carl Blackwell, the main water source for the OSU campus and parts of Stillwater,” Cole said. “It is a lily pad that grows in such dense mass that it blocks out the sunlight and chokes out natural plants.”

The project involved outfitting two drones with cameras – some of them multispectral which filters certain light waves – to make high-resolution photos of the lake.

Using what is known as photogrammetry software that stiches the photos together to make a composite photo, scientists were able to assess the exact locations of the Floating Yellow Heart and apply herbicide to kill it.

The path the drones followed was plotted beforehand, so the unmanned aerial vehicles flew a precise route.

“With this automation method, we can actually fly the lake by one person in about two hours, or two people in one hour because you have two vehicles in the air,” Cole said. “Using unmanned aerial systems is a cheap and efficient way to get data that a lot of times you can’t get any other way.”

Added Victoria Natalie, program manager at OSU’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute: “With drones coming into their own as a research tool, we’ve really been able to expand different ways of getting information across, collecting data and furthering research.”

Natalie is leading USRI’s expansion in the Oklahoma City Discovery facility, recently donated to OSU, which will enable closer connections between OSU and the Oklahoma City Innovation District.

The Student Showcase presentation, along with previous showcases, can be viewed at the Oklahoma City Innovation District website, https://okcinnovation.com/play/events-2/

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

A salute to 1971, the coolest year, from a cool kid wannabe

From the cool year of 1971, a cool kid wannabe peers out from his high school yearbook

I stumbled upon a Wall Street Journal article the other day that outlined what a watershed year 1971 was in many, many ways. (You can read it here with a WSJ subscription.) 

It was the year that Nixon/Kissinger reached out to China and opened the U.S. to an important trading partner that had only been seen previously as an arch enemy.

It was the beginning of the end of AT&T’s monopoly of the nation’s telecommunications industry, with an FCC ruling that opened the door to a second long-distance calling provider.

It was the end of the link that tied the U.S. dollar to the value of gold, opening the way to what are known as “floating exchange rates.”

Walt Disney World opened in 1971, as did a little coffee business known as Starbucks, as well as the Nasdaq trading market. The 26th amendment passed that gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. Intel introduced the 4004 chip, considered the first “computer on a chip” and launching a wave of technology innovation that continues today.

The Journal article pointed out that all of these events happened in a single year exactly 50 years ago.

Then it hit me. I graduated high school in 1971, which means I’ve been out of high school for half a century.

The thought almost brought me to tears as I was hit by a wave of nostalgia.

I’m not nostalgic for my high school class, because I never, ever sat at the cool kids table. I was a cool kid wannabe, but never made the cut.

I was mostly invisible to my classmates at Southside High School in Fort Smith, Ark.

So, why did this article hit me so hard? I think it’s because I had never really given any thought to how many years had passed since Graduation Day in 1971.

And how I’ve lived sort of my own version of Forrest Gump’s life in the intervening 50 years, still trying to be one of the cool kids and never quite making it.

But I’m proud of the newspaper career I pursued for more than 30 of those years, a career that brought me to OKC where I would meet the woman who became my wife, the kids we raised, yada, yada, yada.

Enough of that.

Just know that 1971 was a really, really cool year. I’m proud that it’s the year of my high school graduation.

Even if I wasn’t one of the cool kids.

A COVID protocol ‘Wall’ that prevents families from advocating for patients

My wife has always told me that every patient getting medical treatment needs an advocate to speak up on their behalf with health care professionals.

Paula has been a great advocate for me in the past when I had some major surgeries. 

However, we discovered on Christmas night that the COVID pandemic has thrown up walls that prevent people from advocating for a loved one.

Let me start at the beginning.

About 7 p.m. Christmas night, Paula received a phone call from some close friends of her mother in western Oklahoma.  Mother-in-law, as I will call her, was sitting down to eat Christmas dinner with her friends when she began having an apparent severe medical issue.

It might have been a heart issue or perhaps gall bladder or an infection of some sort.  A nurse who was at the dinner checked her vital signs and was concerned.

Ultimately, an ambulance was called and mother-in-law as transported to a hospital in Weatherford. 

After receiving the call, Paula immediately threw some clothes in a bag and drove to Weatherford.  She knows that her mother often is anxious and confused during a medical crisis, and unlikely to share critical information about meds she is taking or where she has traveled recently.

So, Paula arrived at the hospital and immediately went to the emergency room waiting area ready to share what she considered important information.  Her mother routinely takes several ongoing medications that might be an underlying cause to her distress.

The ER gatekeeper told her she could not go back to visit with health care staff because of  COVID protocols.  That was expected.

However, the anti-advocacy wall grew even higher and more unrelenting when Paula asked if a physician or nurse could come out to the lobby so she could share critical information. 

The answer was ‘no,’ because they were all too busy.

“I said  ‘I have information that you need that my mother is not going to tell you or give you,’ Paula told me as she recalled the confrontation.  ‘The (gatekeeper) said ‘oh, the doctor’s real good at knowing patients are holding things back.’ “

Paula’s pleas to advocate for her mom fell on deaf ears.  Eventually, she got in her car and drove back to Edmond.

Fast forward about five hours.  Paula was back at the Weatherford ER to pick up her mother after the hospital called and informed her that her mom was being dismissed.

As Paula walked in to the ER, the gatekeeper saw that she brought clothes for her mom to change into.

“She said, ‘come on back’ and opened the door,” Paula said. “I just stopped and said ‘you’ve got to be kidding me. You wouldn’t let me come back here when she was admitted to give you information, yet you want me to go back there now?   Am I all of a sudden not contagious?’ “

“We’re just following the COVID protocols.”

Paula translated the real meaning.

“The COVID protocol is ‘we don’t want you in the way when we have our patients back here, so we are using that to keep you out.’

“I didn’t have a problem in the world standing in the lobby and having a nurse come out and ask me ‘what do you want us to know that you think is important,’ and I would have been on my way and happy.”

Instead, a long night of frustration finally ended when Paula and her mom arrived at her family’s farm near Hammon about 4:15 am. 

As Paula reviewed the information the hospital printed out when her mom was dismissed, she read the section that lists medications patient is taking.

It said ‘none.’

The wall had done its job filtering out critical information.

OKC’s Sharina Perry invents a sustainable future with Utopia Plastix

Sharina Perry (left) showcases bags made out of Utopia Plastix’s plant-based alternative plastic material that she invented.

Editor’s note: Along with my colleagues from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST), I recently had the opportunity to meet Oklahoma City innovator Sharina Perry and hear the story of her remarkable journey as an inventor and entrepreneur. This is the story I wrote from that visit:

By Jim Stafford

Her audience sat spellbound for more than an hour recently as Sharina Perry shared her journey into entrepreneurship and her vision for her Oklahoma based companies all centered around developing and distributing her invention of Utopia Plastix.

Representatives from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance and the New Product Development Center at Oklahoma State University heard Perry’s tale about overcoming numerous obstacles to advance her invention.

Collectively, those organizations are part of what has become known as the Oklahoma Innovation Model (OIM), which supports innovation and technology advancements that help diversify Oklahoma’s economy.

Perry founded Utopia Genetics to distribute products made with Utopia Plastix, a trademarked product, as well as Utopia Solutions that makes Utopia Plastix.

Utopia Plastix was developed as patent-pending, plant-based alternatives for petroleum-based plastics such as plastic bags and single-use straws.

But Perry’s journey began with a different mission.

Sharina Perry addresses Oklahoma Innovation Model group.

Masked for COVID protection, the OIM group listened to the presentation at Oklahoma City’s Poly Films, Inc., as Perry described how she began searching for plant materials that could help reduce incurable tumors that ravaged her nephew.

The prohibitive cost of clinical trials to gain Food and Drug Administration approval for any potential new drug delayed that quest.

However, it opened a door for Perry to take what she had learned into a different direction.

“In the process, I realized that God had a plan,” she told her audience. “I’m a person of faith, and Utopia is about my journey and using my gifts and the gifts of others.”

She pivoted into compounding plant-based products as an alternative for petroleum-based plastics after learning that Starbucks was offering $10 million for the first successful alternative to single-use plastic straws.

In some areas of the country, single-use plastic straws are now banned, as well as plastic bags that are popular with retailers.

Materials used in Utopia Plastix production from resins developed by Sharina Perry.

Perry is not a chemist. Instead, she had a long career in satellite and cable industries before taking her first steps down this new path.

So, she dove into the research, working to create a strong paper straw made of Hemp. She provided the paper for the first Hemp straw created by Hoffmaster, Inc. Once produced, she learned that hemp would not be feasible for use as a straw that would be a food contact item and current cost of production would not be feasible.

Research led her to some important discoveries.

“I learned of other plants that had stronger fiber, a stronger core, had a greater yield per acre and actually performed better than hemp at a lower cost per seed,” she said. “And what we found out was that most companies had not heard anything about using plant material in their plastic applications.”

Perry is African American and female with no manufacturing background. Perhaps it’s no surprise that when she reached out to Oklahoma’s manufacturing community for assistance, there was lukewarm response.

“When I started on this journey, I thought having access to what I needed was going to be easy in Oklahoma,” she said. “It was not.”

So, she found a company in Texas that would compound her plant resin into pellets that could be used in the process.

Eventually, Perry perfected a process that resulted in usable plastic alternative straws, and contracted with a straw manufacturer, GCA Products, Inc., in Dallas.

“We’ve had a ton of people come in and say they have the next-best resin,” said Hunter Dunlap, vice president of Operations for GCA Products. “But Sharina is one of the only ones that stayed alive. Through Sharina’s dedication and partnership, we are actually producing straws as we speak for (food product distributor) Ben E. Keith.”

Utopia Plastix material in production at OKC’s Poly Films Inc.

Perry also established a relationship with Poly Films., Inc., which has successfully used her plant-based material to produce what are known in the industry as blown plastic bags.

Kevin McGehee, vice president of Poly Films, guided the OIM group on a tour to watch the bags as they were produced, handing out finished product as souvenirs. Poly Films is a family-owned manufacturer that produces plastic bags and other products for a wide range of clients.

The bottom line, Perry said, is that she has created a business model that benefits farmers, processors, manufacturers and distributors. The crops she uses are high yield “rotational” crops often used to replenish the soil after wheat or corn has been grown on it.

“It’s just kind of a win-win-win all the way down,” GCA’s Hunter said. “We saw that early on, and decided to start the partnership with Sharina. It’s gone very well.”

Watch: Sharina Perry and Utopia Plastix featured on News9 broadcast

Perry shared some potential uses that her plastic alternative could be used in addition to single-use straws and plastic bags. That includes plastic cutlery, building materials, roofing products, even diapers. And more.

“There are so many lanes our products can be used in,” she said. ““It’s bigger than me. I could have sold this a long time ago. I get offers all the time.”

Before the meeting ended, representatives from the Oklahoma Innovation Model eagerly discussed ways to connect Perry with more Oklahoma manufacturers and industries such as aerospace.

“This has been fantastic,” said Dan Luton, OCAST programs director. “Not only the technology and the product, but also your story and how it got here. There are people who could use your product now; they just don’t know you are here.”

Utopia Plastix did not win the $10 million Starbucks prize. It started too late, but Perry has journeyed far beyond that original incentive.

“We can now use agriculture to replace everyday items, and that creates a sustainable model for our community and our country,” Perry said. “There was already a demand and we want people to know that we are here to help satisfy it. We want Oklahoma to be positioned to do it, and to benefit disadvantaged and minority farmers, as well.”

That’s the win-win-win that Perry is seeking.

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

A freshly produced Utopia Plastix bag after it came off the production line at OKC’s Poly Films Inc.

Catching static: Memories of listening to baseball on AM radio

I was driving in eastern Oklahoma way back in the early 1990s when my wife had enough. “Turn off that static!” she demanded.

At the time, I was listening intently to a Texas Rangers baseball game on the AM radio broadcast of Fort Worth, Texas, station WBAP.

To be honest, I had not even noticed the static.

That was life in the olden days, when baseball fans like me would tune into distant AM radio stations like WBAP and KMOX in St. Louis to follow our favorite teams.

As a teenager, I lived on KMOX and the soothing voice of Jack Buck calling the Cardinals games. Later on, it was Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel with the Rangers.

Bonus: Read this terrific New York Times article on the power of KMOX as a reporter tries to outdrive the station’s coverage during a Cardinals’ game broadcast.

After dark, the distant signal from my favorite AM stations boomed across the AM receiver located either in my bedroom or my car.

But static was a price you paid to listen to distant AM radio broadcasts. In the spring and summer, static was almost always present because of thunderstorms somewhere between you and the radio tower.

So, you learned to pick out the play-by-play from the static. I sort of trained myself to tune out the static, which is why I faced the wrath of my wife. 

It wasn’t only the distant sports stations that I tuned into as a teenager. WLS in Chicago was my go-to station to listen to the latest Top 40 hits.

Recently, someone posted a map on LinkedIn that showed the vast coverage of Oklahoma City’s KOMA. Unfortunately, I lived in the wrong part of the country as a kid to become a KOMA fan.

Anyway, the days of straining to hear baseball play-by-play or Top 40 music through a static-riddled broadcast are mostly in the past. I subscribe to MLB.com’s audio broadcasts now, which bring in the Rangers, Cardinals or any Major League team static free and crystal clear.

With bluetooth, I stream the broadcast to the car’s sound system and never miss a pitch.

And I no longer endure the wrath of someone who doesn’t understand the pleasure of ignoring the static to enjoy the game.

MaxQ-Oklahoma Blood Institute collaboration launched during pandemic

I like to say that Oklahoma’s life science cluster stretches from Ardmore in the south through Oklahoma City to Stillwater, to Tulsa and on to Ponca City in the north.

Many of the various entities in Oklahoma’s biotech corridor — research, academic and health care — are usually brought together one time a year at the annual BIO International Convention in whatever city  it is held.

Except for 2020, of course.

Like almost every other conference in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the BIO show this year to become a virtual gathering instead of at the San Diego Convention Center.

However, the pandemic couldn’t stop a unique collaboration launched earlier this year between a Stillwater-based company called MaxQ and the Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI) — the state’s largest blood collection agency.

MaxQ invented a patented cold-storage packaging system that serves hospitals, research institutions and blood banks nationwide. OBI evaluated and began using MaxQ’s MaxPlus tube transport shippers earlier this year to ensure safe transport of critical blood products.

If you’re not familiar with MaxQ, here’s a story I wrote about the company on behalf of OCAST about five years ago.

MaxQ was founded by a team of then-Oklahoma State University students in 2012, and has since gained equity investment led by i2E, along with grant funding from the National Science Foundation. Saravan Kumar is MaxQ’s CEO.

MaxQ also won a $200,000 Oklahoma Applied Research Support grant from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) that supported development of foam insulation technology.

Today, the MaxPlus solutions are used in more than 520 hospitals, Level I trauma centers, emergency medical transport and blood centers globally.

Congratulations to MaxQ for developing an Oklahoma-made product that meets so many needs in the life sciences industry.

Below is a short story I recently received from MaxQ about its collaboration with OBI:

MaxQ, a Stillwater, Oklahoma, cold chain packaging solutions company, partnered with the state’s premier blood collection organization, Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI), to deliver the most advanced blood packaging solutions. Oklahoma Blood Institute is the sixth largest, nonprofit blood collector in America. With 185,000 donors annually, OBI services approximately 230 medical facilities across Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas.

MaxQ, through its dedicated testing lab and validation services, assisted OBI in updating protocols to validate their packaging and shippers used to transport blood products. The collaboration has helped OBI save time and resources.

Through this collaborative relationship and in working with OBI’s operational team, MaxQ carefully studied blood center operations, the journey of a blood unit from a donor to recipient, and the impact of existing packaging solutions. The current industry standard bulky foam and cardboard boxes are heavy, cumbersome to pack and non-sustainable.

Using its proprietary Maxify™ technology, MaxQ developed the MaxPlus family of blood-specific packaging solutions that places donor blood product safety at its core. The smaller, lighter and highly reusable MaxPlus shippers are easy to pack, fully qualified against industry’s stringent standards, and generate significant savings.

The OBI team evaluated and successfully implemented the MaxPlus shippers for transport of donor specimen tubes early this year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The entire experience from concept to product delivery was fantastic,” said Carla Bartholomew, OBI Technical Operations Systems analyst. “We were replacing containers that were not very durable and were being replaced at an alarming rate. Enter the MaxQ team and their solution. Now the ubiquitous red tube boxes make me smile every time I see one in the hallway. The guys from MaxQ were very knowledgeable and passionate about transport containers. They listened to our concerns about size and weight and designed a solution tailor made for our needs. I look forward to working with them on future projects.”

The MaxPlus tube transport shippers employed by the major blood centers in the U.S. are quickly evolving as the new industry standard. This collaboration of two Oklahoma based entities is currently solving decades old blood transport challenges globally. The MaxPlus solutions are used today in over 520 hospitals, Level I trauma centers, Emergency medical transport and blood centers globally. Protecting and safely delivering every single unit of donated blood product to patients in need.

About MaxQ
MaxQ is Temperature Controlled Packaging Re-Imagined! Trusted by over 500 hospitals and clinics globally, MaxQ is revolutionizing the shipping of temperature-sensitive investigational drugs and other biologics with advanced breakthroughs in thermal insulation sciences and transparency. Its patented MAXIFYTM technology enables a new category of payload-specific, advanced packaging solutions with unprecedented features, thermal performance, and cost efficiency.  www.packmaxq.com/

OBI Media Inquiries
Contact Heather Browne, Marketing & Media Manager, at 405-419-1330 or heather.browne@obi.org with questions or to schedule an interview.

MaxQ contact:
Shoaib Shaikh
Office: 405 334 5720
Cell: 918 813 2955

Tracking the growth of Oklahoma’s leading public companies

I was recently asked to contribute a couple of stories to the special Oklahoma Inc. section published by The Oklahoman. It was an opportunity to write short profiles on a couple of the state’s leading public companies.

So I signed on.

If you’re not familiar with it, Oklahoma Inc. ranks all 28 public companies in our state based on three key categories: one-year return to shareholders, revenue growth and earnings per share growth.

I was fortunate to be able to select the companies I wanted to profile, so I chose Paycom and AAON, ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the 2020 Oklahoma Inc. standings. Paycom’s stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, while AAON is traded on the NASDAQ market.

You can read the stories here (subscription required). Paycom 
AAON

Paycom is the shining star among Oklahoma public companies.

I first interviewed Paycom founder Chad Richison for The Oklahoman shortly after Paycom was founded in 1998, with no clue that it would some day employ more than 3,000 Oklahomans and build an awesome campus in far Northwest OKC.

Paycom moves fast, both with the innovative HR software it offers clients and in its philanthropic efforts across Oklahoma and in the cities in which it operates. I cited an example of Paycom’s philanthropy in my story, but have since been made aware of something even more recent.

The company most recently announced a donation of $30,000 to Folds of Honor to help provide scholarships to military families. That contribution closely follows the $10,000 it gave to Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity to support its Critical Home Repair program.

AAON, meanwhile, has a great story about how the pandemic is driving demand for its heating, air conditioning and ventilation technologies.  

Congratulations to Paycom, AAON and all the companies that made the top 10 of this year’s Oklahoma Inc.

One More Thing: Apple brings back totally uncool ‘PC’ and it’s awesome

John Hodgman revives his take as the uncool “PC” at Apple’s One More Thing event

I’m a long-time Apple fanboytm, so when I see that a new Apple product event is about to drop, I wait for it with the same impatient anticipation that consumed fans of Game of Thrones or The Sopranos.

Apple held its latest event today, entitled “One More Thing,” plagiarizing the famous Steve Jobs line. The company introduced three Macs built around its own silicon architecture that it calls the M1 chip.

One More Thing did not disappoint, although the highlight of the event for me turned out to be a huge surprise.

Apple brought back John Hodgman as “PC,” and it was a drop-the-mic moment. If you’re not familiar with Apple’s “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” ads from the early 2000s, I invite you to check out some on this YouTube channel. They are hilarious.

Anyway, Hodgman shows up at the very end after Apple CEO Tim Cook had already signed off.

It was sort of like how Matthew Broderick resurfaces at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to tell everyone to go home because the movie is over.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Hodgman bursts on to the screen and says “Stop! Hang on! Wait! One more thing.” Then as the totally uncool PC, he demands to know why Apple is making all these advancements.

I laughed out loud when PC demonstrated how “fast” he is. Check out the whole Apple event or fast forward to 44:29 to watch Hodgman’s performance. 

Definitely worth it.

Oh, and one more thing (apologies). Apple’s new M1 computers, the MacBook Air, the Mac Mini and the 13-inch MacBook Pro, all look incredible. Can’t wait to get my hands on them.

Oklahoma Innovators: NASA awards SBIR contract to Stillwater’s XploSafe

I’ve worked on the periphery of Oklahoma City’s startup community for about two decades, first as a business news reporter at The Oklahoman newspaper, then as communications specialist for i2E, Inc., and now as a freelance writer.

It’s pretty exciting to see local companies announce a breakthrough discovery, a new product or investment that will carry their innovation into the commercial market.

Unfortunately, many worthy developments don’t always make it onto the pages or websites of local news media, whether it’s a newspaper, television or even digital news site.

There are hundreds of voices seeking media attention every day, so it can be pretty daunting to attract the attention of an editor or reporter.

So, I’ve decided that this blog can be a conduit for my entrepreneur friends to find an audience for their news. From time to time, I’ll publish news that comes my way that hasn’t found its way into any other media.

For example, today I want to share some exciting news from a Stillwater-based company called XploSafe. If you don’t know XploSafe, the company describes itself as a provider of “critical safety solutions for homeland security and chemical safety.”

XploSafe has its roots in the Oklahoma State University laboratories of co-founders Allen Apblett, Ph. D., and Nick Materer, Ph. D., both chemistry professors, along with former OSU graduate student Shoaib Shaikh, also a co-founder and now CEO.

I learned about XploSafe more than 10 years ago when Shoaib pitched the concept in the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup business plan competition (now known as the Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup).

Since then, XploSafe has expanded its mission beyond explosive detection to chemical vapor sampling and other areas where detection of potentially dangerous materials is critical.

Recently, XploSafe was awarded a $125,000 Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from NASA to develop specialized air filtration units for the next-generation of American space suits.

XploSafe released the exciting SBIR news in mid-October, but received little media attention. I invite you to read their announcement from October 15 below.

Stillwater, OK – 15 October 2020 – XploSafe announced today that it has been awarded a Phase I SBIR contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop specialized air filtration units for the next-generation of American space suits.

The award amount is $125,000 over a six-month period.

These filtration units will help keep the space suit’s internal air-flow free of any toxic, trace contaminants, which naturally build-up while astronauts use their suits. XploSafe aims to capture these contaminants within their proprietary sorbent media, which could then be vacuum regenerated to enable longer spacewalks and substantially improve time in-suit over the duration of a mission. Such a capability will be required for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions, in which the United States intends to return to the moon by 2024.

The design of XploSafe’s filtration units would provide astronauts with safer air to breathe, as well as lighter, easier to use suits. XploSafe’s filtration unit would be housed within the Exploration Portable Life Support System (xPLSS) backpack of the next-generation xEMU suits, alongside other critical life-support systems. The company holds multiple patents for vapor nanoconfinement technology that facilitates high-capacity absorption, stabilization, and consistent recovery (removal) of a wide range of volatile, semi-volatile, and even reactive organic compounds.

XploSafe’s Operations Manager, Michael Teicheira, had the following to say: “we are ecstatic about this opportunity to showcase the research and development efforts of XploSafe here on the national and even international stage. The prospect of our products enabling astronauts to spend more time in space is an enthralling one, and we are so grateful for this opportunity to show what a small Oklahoma research company can achieve.”

XploSafe based in Stillwater, Oklahoma, is a provider of critical safety solutions for homeland security and chemical safety. Their XploSens explosives detection, XPell peroxide safety products, and XCel+ chemical vapor sampling badges are used by first responders, industrial safety officers, threat assessment officials, and laboratory and chemical manufacturing personnel all over the world.

For questions, please contact Shoaib Shaikh, Co-Founder and CEO, at Shoaib@XploSafe.com, or visit XploSafe online at www.XploSafe.com.

Congratulations to Shoaib and the XploSafe team.

An October ice storm and an unexpected Staycation

Typical of trees with limbs down in our neighborhood because of the October ice storm.

Our house went dark about 7:20 this morning. No big deal. Power went off yesterday and came back on about an hour later.

But by 3 p.m., we figured out this might be a long-term outage. We had driven out of our neighborhood a couple of times and were amazed by the number of trees that were down with limbs covering both the street and sometimes the roofs of homes.

Winter arrived extra early with an October ice storm that threatened to take out every tree and power line in Oklahoma County. Late this evening we saw that OG&E was reporting nearly 300,000 customers without power.

As I prepared for a night of “adventure sleeping” in our living room in front of the gas logs in the fireplace, my wife suggested it was time to seek a hotel room for the night.

Yeah, right. So, I reluctantly fired up the Priceline app on my phone and began to see what our choices were. We sought a hotel in Northwest OKC or Edmond.

But as I scrolled through the choices, every one had a note that said “no rooms available.”

I switched to Expedia, and got the same thing.  I even tried to find an available Bricktown hotel, but there was no room at the Inn for us.

Adventure sleeping it would be. Our household consists of me, my wife, Paula, daughter, Sarah, and her 16-month old son, Solomon. 

Paula did not want Solomon sleeping in a cold house.

So, I decided to stop by a few hotels in the Quail Springs Mall area to put my name on the list if there were any cancellations. First up was the Holiday Inn North, but the desk clerk told me they were 10 rooms “overbooked” and gave me the front desk number to call later to check.

A room at the Inn

Next stop was the Holiday Inn Express at the intersection of Memorial Road and the Lake Hefner Road. This place was Grand Central Station judging by the people going in and out, but I approached the desk anyway and ask about cancellations.

The clerk gave me some paper to write my name and phone number, but then the manager on duty walked in from out of the back and said they just might have a room for us. Turns out they did, and I whipped out my payment on the spot to secure it.

It was a Christmas an October miracle!

So, we’re lounging in the room tonight, making the most of our Ice Storm Staycation.

Here’s hoping it ends first thing tomorrow.