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Assistive Technology Transfer Update

 

Title: An Overview of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer
Author: Joseph P Lane
Published: 1999
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 1 Issue 1 (Spring)

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC) has three primary objectives: 1) advance the methods of technology transfer through research projects, 2) transfer technologies into products through development projects, and 3) facilitate the commercialization of new and improved assistive devices through utilization projects. These three primary objectives are being accomplished through collaborations with academic, industrial, consumer and government stakeholders. Our common goal is to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities.

Purpose

The T2RERC is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), in the U.S. Department of Education. The NIDRR expects the T2RERC to facilitate and to improve the process of moving new, improved and useful assistive technology devices to the marketplace, for the benefit of people with disabilities. Facilitating technology transfer means providing technical assistance to research centers (including other RERCs), and to other technology producers and consumers in small companies, laboratories and industry. Improving technology transfer means evaluating and refining existing process models, identifying the needs of all stakeholders, and then implementing refined methods and protocols to meet their needs. These dual objectives of facilitation and improvement require the integration of three forms of expertise: a) technical engineering and design, b) market and business analysis, and c) end-user assessments. The T2RERC is designed to function as an intermediary resource for technology transfer in assistive technology, by combining these three forms of expertise within one program.

The Center for Assistive Technology, University at Buffalo provides the technical engineering and design expertise. It also provides overall administrative support for the project activity. AZtech provides the market and business analysis. The Western New York Independent Living Project, Inc. (d/b/a Independent Living Center) provides the end-user assessment. This partnership has capabilities to conduct technology transfers directly, or to guide others through the process, whether they are starting with an idea for a technology application, a technology embodied in a product prototype, or an unmet need in the marketplace.

Plan of Operation

Our Mission Statement is: "The T2RERC advances methods, technologies and products, through collaboration with all stakeholders, to improve assistive technology devices and services. The goal is to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities through new or improved assistive technology devices. We are specifically pursuing six Strategic Goals to accomplish this Mission:

  • Goal 1: Improve the variety, quality and choice of products available in the marketplace through a demand-pull model of technology transfer (e.g., identify product limitations, identify and validate technology solutions, then deliver them to industry). We plan to transfer up to three breakthrough technologies to industry per year.
  • Goal 2: Improve the variety, quality and choice of products available in the marketplace through a supply- push model of technology transfer (identify innovative technologies and product prototypes, validate them by seeking current product limitations and market opportunities, and deliver them to industry). We plan to transfer three to five new inventions to the marketplace per year.
  • Goal 3: Study internal and external technology transfer models, methods and outcomes, for continuous program improvement. Benchmark best practices and identify critical factors, to generate a refined conceptual model of technology transfer for implementation.
  • Goal 4: Facilitate technology transfer through technical support on technical, marketing and end-user issues to NIDRR's RERCs and other stakeholders, using electronic and personal assistance.
  • Goal 5: Document technology transfer models, protocols and outcomes, then disseminate them to all stakeholders through appropriate forums and in accessible media. Dissemination includes presentations, papers, distance education, and participation in RERC conferences.
  • Goal 6: Establish strategic partnerships to accomplish the Mission, which requires intensive cooperation and commitment from stakeholders' management."

Program Value

Two sources of innovation - new technologies and unmet needs - will continue to generate a stream of technology transfer opportunities. Research organizations within the field of assistive technology are orienting their technology development and needs analysis activities toward tangible outcomes such as prototypes and products. At the same time, previously uninvolved organizations are beginning to recognize their connection with the assistive technology marketplace. This includes government agencies contributing to their constituents' quality of life, federal laboratories applying their military and aerospace technologies to civilian applications, other universities and mainstream corporations recognizing the demographic and economic imperatives of the aging baby boom generation. Collectively, these new entrants require substantial education to understand the field, networking assistance to establish appropriate research and development relationships, and access to the end-user populations they hope to serve. The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer's team is facilitating their involvement with technology transfer through development, utilization, demonstration and technical support programs.

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