RESNA 26th International Annual Confence
The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC) Demand Pull Program facilitates the transfer of technology to AT industries, leading to the introduction of products into the marketplace addressing high priority consumer needs. Effective outreach to technology developers (e.g. university researchers, advanced technology manufacturers) - the source of technology solutions - is critical to project success. This paper examines the relationship between outreach activities, technology sources and transfer outcomes.
Technology transfer is the movement of technology (information, techniques, technology) from one domain of application to another (e.g. university to private sector manufacturer, one industry to another). Systematic technology transfer programs (e.g. SBIR programs) have become major, national economic drivers with broad public policy support. However, systematic technology transfer efforts applied to the field of assistive technology have generally not been successful (1). Recently, the T2RERC developed and implemented its "Demand Pull Technology Transfer Project" resulting in multiple transfers of wheeled mobility (wheelchairs and scooters), hearing (hearing aids and assistive listening systems) and communication (augmentative and alternative communication) technologies. Project methods are described elsewhere (2, 3, 4).
Comprehensive market and technical research in the early stages of each project results in a series of "problem statements" outlining unmet consumer needs, market opportunities and "requirements" for technology solutions addressing these needs. In this paper we look at how we reach technology developers, which developers are reached, who is responding by submitting technology proposals, and the fate of these proposals.
sources include: Independent Inventors with no affiliation
to companies, federal labs or universities (II), small companies
(SC), large companies (LC)2,
federal labs (FL), or universities (U). Proposals are tracked
by outreach activity resulting in the submission, technology
source, and proposal status (accepted/rejected; active/inactive,
transferred/not transferred). Technology developers become
aware of problem statements through outreach activities.
Technology developers then submit proposals (submit); proposals
are reviewed (accept/reject); receive pre-transfer or post-transfer
assistance (active/inactive); and are eventually transferred
(transfer/fail to transfer). At each step, proposal number
decreases (e.g. low quality proposals are rejected, proposals
without industry interest become inactive). Minimum transfer
rate is ≥ (# of transfers) / (# of submissions). Maximum
transfer rate is ≤ (# active proposals) / (# of submissions).
Problem statements mailed to 300 Federal Lab ORTA (mobility 8/99) and emailed to Federal Laboratory Locator Service (hearing 2/01, communication 6/02)3
Outreach activities include shotgun dissemination (S-D), Internet dissemination (I-D), university -assisted dissemination (U-AD), FLC-assisted dissemination (F-AD), and targeted solicitation (TS). A comprehensive listing of all outreach activities is not practical. Table 1 includes outreach exemplars and tracks proposal status versus outreach activities leading to proposal submission. Table 2 tracks proposal status versus technology source.
Small companies (38), federal labs (13) and universities (7) were the leading source of technology proposals. In terms of quality, small companies (47.4% ≥ rate ≥ 10.5%) and university (85.7% ≥ rate ≥ 14.3%) proposals were superior to federal lab proposals (0% ≥ rate ≥ 0%). Large companies (1 submission, none active) and independent inventors (2 submissions, none active) were not factors. Small companies were best reached by Internet (19/40) and shotgun dissemination (16/40) while universities were best reached by assisted dissemination through technology transfer offices (6/9). Data for targeted solicitation is incomplete and strong conclusions cannot yet be drawn.
Current results have immediate implications. Given the importance of Internet outreach, the meta-keywords and meta-descriptions for T2RERC project websites were recently modified so as to maximize the number of "hits" by Internet search engines. Currently, about 9,600 distinct individuals visit T2RERC websites each month where some 40% of visits are by individuals in the private sector (as indicated by ".com" extensions). We remain very committed to technology transfer from federal laboratories and we are working closely with the FLC Locator Service to improve transfer efficacy.
Future research will consider the relative cost of outreach activities and analyze the relationship between the outreach activity and the onset, level and termination of responses from technology developers.
This is a publication of the RERC on Technology Transfer funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, US Dept. of Education (under grant #H133E980024). Opinions contained do not necessarily reflect those of the Dept. of Education.
Dr. Stephen Bauer
616 Kimball Tower
Center for Assistive Technology
University at Buffalo,
Buffalo, NY 14214;
Phone: 716-829-3141x 117;
1. The Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) provides resources and expertise to facilitate the transfer of technology from more than 700 federal laboratories to the private sector, universities and privately run federal laboratories.