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Problem of Developing Assistive Devices for the Target Populations


Taken as a whole, the field of assistive technology lacks significant resources to allocate toward internal corporate research and development, so technological advances have to be transferred in from Technology Producers outside the field. The objective of the technology transfer is to apply technologies from any source to introduce new or improved features and functions in assistive technology devices.

To complicate the problem, the Technology Consumers and Product Producers who are stakeholders in the field of assistive technology particularly many manufacturers lack the resources, incentives and networks for effective and systematic technology transfer. Without a systematic process, technology transfer occurs as a serendipitous event, but the assistive technology stakeholders cannot rely on serendipity for the development and transfer of new products based on advanced technologies.

The field of assistive technology has experienced successful technology transfer through both technology supply push and demand pull. Technologies developed for defense or aerospace products have been successfully transferred into the assistive technology industry. For example, orthotists called for a strong, lightweight material for external braces, and a defense contractor replied by applying composite materials used in ballistic missiles. These composite materials were also transferred to sport wheelchairs. A technology that aims a fighter aircraft s weapons by tracking where the pilot looks, was transferred so that people with quadriplegia could control a computer's cursor with their eyegaze. The RERC-TET transferred technologies in inventions to aids for daily living, education, vocation and leisure products.

Conversely, technology has been transferred from the assistive technology field to mainstream commercial applications. The Boeing Company transferred technology developed for people with hemiplegia who type with one hand, to the cockpits of passenger airplanes to facilitate single-handed typing by pilots. These examples of transfer into and out from the field are welcome examples.

However, given the pace and breadth of technology advances, and continued consumer dissatisfaction with existing products, government agencies continue exploring options to increase the quantity and quality of technology transferred to the assistive technology marketplace. , The Office of Technology Assessment s 1982 report, established the need for a comprehensive technology evaluation and transfer program capable of working with all the relevant stakeholders. In Europe s Technology Initiative for Disabled and Elderly (TIDE) project, the HEART study recommended that, various mechanisms for technology transfer should be operated at regional, national or European levels.

The prior sections established the context of technology transfer as a process, the importance of technology transfer for introducing new or improved assistive devices to the marketplace, and the problems faced by all the stakeholders working through the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

The solution presented by NIDRR was to fund the Technology Transfer Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center establishing a neutral intermediary entity capable of facilitating transfers while accommodating the varied interests of the multiple stakeholders. The T2RERC has established efficient supply push and demand pull models, based on systematic processes and focused on effective outcomes. The T2RERC can provide the stakeholders with some of the knowledge they lack, and offer the tools needed to bring new or improved products to the A/T marketplace.

All stakeholders are viewed as customers by the T2RERC. Also, the process is managed so that technology applications progress through all of the critical phases from concept to product. Each phase is necessary for successful transfer but no single one is sufficient. Successful transfer requires a seamless progression from concept to product.

The T2RERC designs and implements a scope of work that encompasses all of these stakeholders and process phases to ensure a greater chance of success for the product reaching the end user.

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