The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC), the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheeled Mobility (WM-RERC), and the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) have teamed with the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) Mid-Atlantic Region to conduct a technology transfer project on wheelchair technology. The work of the T2RERC on this project is supported by the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) of the U.S. Department of Education. We refer to this as a "demand-pull" project because the technical and end-user needs (the demand) are identified before the technical solutions are "pulled in" to address these needs. The targeted outcome for this project is the introduction of innovative new technology into the wheeled mobility marketplace.
The protocol followed for this project is an adaptation of RTI's technology transfer model. Experts first identify high priority needs for manual, power and related wheelchair technologies. An industry and product profile is developed for each need (seating and positioning, controllers and control interfaces, batteries and so forth) identified by the experts. A consumer panel is convened to validate the technical needs from the end-users' perspective, and, in turn, industry representatives are contacted to corroborate these needs from the manufacturer's perspective. From three to six technology areas are selected for further work. A stakeholder forum is then convened to clarify and expand upon the selected needs. Stakeholders include technical experts, end-users, industry representatives, third-party reimbursers, research funding sources, clinicians, technicians and others. The outcome from the forum is a set of problem statements focused on technical needs whose solutions are currently beyond the capabilities of the wheeled mobility industry. It is required that each problem statement appears to have a technically feasible solution, meets an important end-user need, and represents a significant business opportunity.
Finding technical solutions
Proposed technical solutions for these problems are sought from the Federal Laboratories, advanced technology manufacturers and research institutions having the necessary technical capabilities. The proposed solutions are reviewed by technical and industry experts to confirm that they provide a satisfactory solution to a problem. Transferring the technology
A commercialization package is prepared which summarizes the problem statement, technical solutions, business opportunity, and the end-user needs being met as well as the perspectives of third-party reimbursers and research funding organizations. Manufacturers are contacted and presented with the commercialization package. The technology transfer is completed through such mechanisms as direct licensure of the technology or cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs) between a federal lab and manufacturer.
The transferred technology supports the development of innovative commercial products that meet important disability needs and represent significant business opportunities. The T2RERC and its partners have the experience, capabilities and commitment to support and speed the development of these commercial products. Wheeled mobility is just the first technology area we will work in. In the coming years, the T2RERC and its partners will be approaching other RERCs in order to identify and address further needs in the technology areas these research centers represent.
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