RESNA 26th International Annual Confence
The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC) implemented a technology transfer program designed to meet high priority needs of assistive technology manufacturers. The Demand Pull project has been working in three industry segments: mobility, hearing and speech, to improve the features and functions of existing products. This paper recounts the project's progress over the past four years, in terms of technologies transferred and in process.
Technology transfer is the application of existing technologies in new or novel applications. (1) Systematic technology transfer programs (e.g. SBIR programs) have become major, national economic drivers with broad public policy support. However, efforts to systematically transfer technology in the field of assistive technology have not been successful. (2) The T2RERC developed and implemented its "Demand Pull" project in 1998, where we first identify and validate needs for technology-based improvements in existing assistive devices, then seek and transfer technologies that meet these needs.(3) The Demand Pull methods are described elsewhere. (4)
We have now identified high priority technology needs for three Assistive Technology industries: wheeled mobility (wheelchairs and scooters), hearing (hearing aid and assistive listening devices), and augmentative and alternative communication. We are currently engaged in the same process for vision technology. This paper examines our progress to date in meeting industry needs.
In this paper we are concerned only with the status of technology proposals that have been submitted to the three projects, rather than the methodology employed. In simplest terms, technology developers become aware of technology needs via our outreach activities (e.g. publications, websites). Interested developers submit proposals (submit); proposals are reviewed; and high quality proposals are accepted (accept). Developers of accepted proposals receive transfer assistance (active) and some of the active technologies are eventually transferred (transfer). At each step, the number of proposals decreases (e.g. low quality proposals are rejected, proposals without industry interest made inactive). T2RERC staff track these variables throughout each project.
It isn't feasible to fully list or provide detailed descriptions of each high priority technology need that has been identified through the projects. Instead, for each project, technology needs are introduced with exemplars. The status of technology proposals is then tracked in tables from submission through transfer. When possible, a description of transferred technology is provided.
Wheeled Mobility Project (inception 10/98) - Outreach began in August 1999 with thirty-five tech developers; submitting thirty-nine proposals; seventeen proposals were accepted; seven proposals are active pre-transfer; three technologies have transferred and five recent proposals are (in review). One submitted proposal was inappropriate relative to the technology areas and rejected. Wheeled Mobility Technology Needs with (exemplars): power management (e.g. batteries, chargers, battery string equalizer) and monitors (power gauge); motors (e.g. electronic transmission capabilities); transmissions (e.g. user controlled multi-speed); and tires (e.g. material, design).
Power Designers ( http://www.powerdesigners.com ) is a high tech manufacturer of power management, charging and monitoring products for the electric vehicle industry. Their PowerCheq? "battery string equalizer" greatly extends the life, capacity, and range of power wheelchair batteries. Ten wheelchair manufacturers have expressed interest in the PowerCheq? with two manufacturers set to introduce products incorporating PowerCheq? technology. Several manufacturers have requested small modifications prior to incorporation of this technology. Outstanding benefits of the PowerCheq? includes:
WaveCrest Laboratories ( http://www.wavecrestlabs.com ) is a leading-edge research company that develops innovative electric propulsion systems. WaveCrest's revolutionary, patented Adaptive Motor? enables the creation of a new generation of personal and specialty mobility vehicles, automobiles, trucks and mass transit vehicles. WaveCrest became aware of the Wheeled Mobility Project through an Internet "search hit" in October 2001 and adopted power wheelchairs as a new target application for its motor technology. Outstanding benefits of Adaptive Motors™ include:
Hearing Enhancement Project (inception 10/99) - Outreach began in February 2001 with seventeen tech developers submitting nineteen proposals; ten proposals were accepted; six proposals are active pre-transfer; one technology has transferred and four recent proposals are (in review). Hearing Technology Needs with (exemplars) - earmolds (e.g. ear canal scanning, rapid prototyping, compliant materials); assistive listening devices (e.g. small group, BlueTooth based); microphones (e.g. beam forming directional & adaptive); processing (e.g. filters, anti-feedback)
Communication Enhancement Project (inception 8/01) - Outreach began in January 2002 with eight tech developers having submitted eight proposals; six proposals were accepted; five proposals are active pre-transfer, one technology has transferred and no proposals in review. One non-applicable technology was submitted but not accepted. Communication Technology Needs with (exemplars): input interface (e.g. gesture, bio-signal, multi-modal); output interface (e.g. speech customization and quality); communication processing (e.g. context based word prediction, error tolerant disambiguation); wireless integration (e.g. cell phone access, environmental control)
Transferred technologies address high priority consumer needs and create new business opportunities for the AT industry. Projects help partner RERCs to identify longer-term research opportunities, and establish collaborations with technology developers and manufacturers. In addition:
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;