Science and Technology: A proud record in Research and Development

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A proud record in Research and Development
Tendani Tsedu, Media Relations Manager, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)

Here we are now. It has been two decades since the dawn of democracy in South Africa. Since then, many things have changed. The new democracy brought in opportunities as well as challenges.

The new South Africa required many companies and organisations to change the way they conduct their businesses. The same was required for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The CSIR’s ultimate aim is to have a beneficial effect on the economy, society and environment that we live in. The organisation’s mandate calls for the improvement of the quality of life of the people of South Africa and impact is at the heart of the CSIR’s undertakings.

A lot of good research and technological solutions have been developed at the CSIR in the past 20 years and not all of them can be listed here. However, here are some of the examples of the beneficial effect of CSIR research, development and innovation (RDI) on the economy, society and the environment that we live in.

1.1. Heavy Vehicle Simulator:
The CSIR’s accelerated pavement testing facility called the Heavy Vehicle Simulator (HVS) has had a major impact on the design construction and maintenance of roads locally and abroad. A country’s roads infrastructure is the lifeblood of an economy and needs to be scientifically constructed and maintained to maximise cost effectiveness. The HVS is a high tech field lab with unique instruments that measure and analyse the engineering performance of road structures and material layers to test whether a specific road will have an acceptable lifespan. The effect of traffic on a road over a period of 20 years can be simulated with this unique machine in about three months. These massive roadside laboratories have been exported to countries such as the USA, Sweden, China, India and Costa Rica.

1.2. Bomb disposal:
A CSIR invention in bomb disposal has been generating international interest for more than three decades. Bomb technicians use these devices to disrupt explosive devices from a safe distance by using a high-speed projected water jet to neutralise the bombs. The disruptors have been used by the South African Police Service and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) operators. The CSIR has signed at least two non-exclusive licensing agreements for this innovation with Electrochemical Machining Technology and Hausler Engineering.

1.3. Protecting cash-in-transit vehicles:
Another CSIR innovation with enormous local benefits helps to reduce attacks on cash-in-transit vehicles. It involves the installation of a polyurethane dispensing unit, which is a sense-and-deploy device that dispenses quick-drying and solidifying polyurethane foam into the vault area of cash-in-transit vehicles when they are attacked. The foam covers the cash in the vehicles and making it impossible for attackers to retrieve it. The CSIR has developed four generations of the product and it has been licensed to a local company that designs, manufactures and distributes cash protection systems. It has also been exported to security companies in South America, Europe and the United Kingdom.

1.4. Mobile internet and TV:
The CSIR has developed a mobile internet and TV broadcasting platform. The platform allows viewers to watch live content on their mobile devices and computers from anywhere in the world without interruption to their video stream, even at very low connection speeds. A core feature of the Adaptive Real-Time Internet Streaming Technology is the ability to adapt one or more data streams received from multiple sources to the real-time changes in the speed of the user’s network. The content is reproduced in multiple bit rates. The selection is done automatically in the background and is continuously adjusted for uninterrupted streaming and viewing. A South African consortium comprising the CSIR, the University of Cape Town and the Durban-based Internet service provider, East Coast Access (Pty) Ltd (ECA), entered into a licensing agreement with Tuluntulu (Pty) Ltd, a new company which is pursuing commercialisation.

1.5. CoroCAM
CSIR researchers have achieved worldwide success with the development of the CoroCAM, an invention that enables power utilities to do more efficient maintenance of power lines. The ultraviolet (UV) imaging camera can detect and display UV discharges that indicate problems with high-voltage equipment. These include discharges that fall below the range of light that humans can see. The unit was developed to detect these discharges at night or during daytime and has been sold in China, Russia and the USA.

1.6. Eyes:
Another invention, a polymer gel that originated in the CSIR laboratories, was reinvented to become a highly successful international cosmetic product called Eyeslices. The eye pad slowly releases active ingredients to the skin to combat the appearance of red eyes, dark circles under eyes, wrinkles and puffy eyes.

1.7. A mouth piece to keep miners safe:
The CSIR has also licensed a patented rubber mouthpiece used in a rescue breathing apparatus which underground mine workers can use to get oxygen during an emergency escape. The system can provide oxygen for up to 40 minutes during an escape or for up to two hours when waiting to be rescued, depending on breathing rate. They breathe into the apparatus via the mouthpiece connected to a breathing tube. The exhaled carbon dioxide is then converted to oxygen through a chemical reaction. The CSIR co-developed a new version of the mouthpiece with Hannover Engineering and Afrox has been granted a non-exclusive license to manufacture and distribute the mouthpieces. Another CSIR invention which improves the safety of miners, is an electronic sounding device used to detect loose, overhead rocks in underground mines.

1.8. Digital Laser:
The first of its kind in the world. The CSIR National Laser Center developed the world’s first digital laser that could have an impact in manufacturing, communications, health and electronic devices. The CSIR has shown that it is possible to alter the beam from inside the laser by replacing one of the mirrors with a computer interface.
Looking into the future, the CSIR plans to make major breakthroughs in the field of science. The technological developments that will emerge will be aligned with assisting businesses, improve the economy and better the lives of the people. The company would also like to see more people from disadvantaged areas entering the Science, Engineering and Technology sector and to support that, the CSIR provide bursaries and internships to those who are deserving.

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– By Tendani Tsedu (CSIR), SABC