The definition of main research areas and research project funding is a very complex process which needs to take into account multiple actors like the industry, standards definition groups, research communities, regulatory bodies and policy makers . What is happening with drones nowadays is a perfect exemple: the industry is waiting for standards and research results, standardisation groups are waiting for research and regulation to advance, research is waiting for industry to define their needs and for regulation to show the way, regulation is waiting for research results and industry enabler technologies, and finally policy makers are influencing each one of the previous actors. In this tangle, choices have to be made, projects calls have to be published and projects have to be funded. But this needs to be made in the right direction and with some level of supervision regarding the technological evolution. That is where research project management comes into play.

Initially developed by the NASA for space related topics, the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) can be used to qualify and monitor the maturity of any technology. A TRL based methodology is supposed to help include the right actors at the right moment as the technology maturity increases.

According to [1], the nine TRL levels can be described as follows:

trl_meter

Diagram from [2]

In Europe, an equivalent of the TRLs 1-6 has been developed by EUROCONTROL for ATM topics: the European Operational Concept Validation Methodology (E-OCVM). In this framework, technological development is divided into three ‘V’ phases (V1-V3):

eocvm

Diagram from [3]

There is a direct relationship between E-OCVM and TRL:

trl_vs_eocvm

Diagram from [4]

The V0 phase is also related to the E-OVCM as it is a crucial step before any technological development. And that is where the main difference between TRL and E-OCVM resides. Indeed, the TRL representation does not allow to represent the client needs. He is often forgotten (and you may notice that we omitted it on purpose in the list of actors at the very beginning of this article), yet the client is the main reason why technology is being developed. To incorporate the client in projects management, along with TRL considérations, the MITRE developed a new scale: the Transition Commitment Levels (TCL). Like for TRLs, this scale has nine levels to accounts for the interest of the client in the technology, which is supposed to grow as the technological maturity increases.

tcl

Table from [5]

As mentioned in [5], the combination of TRL and TCL will prevent developing technologies which stay on the shelf because of a lack of users. A research project management which makes TRL and TCL grow accordingly will yield useful and mature technology. To ensure staying on the “Ideal Path” (see below), the MITRE advice to set up guardrails. These should prevent the technology from being developed while no market exists or too much hype for a technology which is not mature enough.

tcl_vs_trl_mitre

The combined use of TRL and TCL has been pioneered by the U.S. Navy almost ten years ago, but nowadays it is still seldom used. As more and more European research projects ask for “business plan” or similar considerations, we can believe that the TCL will become a scale to refer to in the future.

For some more information, here is a blog post about the TCL from Dr. Mark Marbury, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at the MITRE: http://zafin.com/our-articles/brief-introduction-transition-commitment-levels-tcls-achieve-transformational-change/

References:

[1] Mankins, J. C. (1995). Technology readiness levels. White Paper6(6), 1995. (http://fellowships.teiemt.gr/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/trl.pdf)

[2] Office of Naval Research (SBIR/STTR), A Primer on Technology Risk Management and Partnering Strategies, Defense Contractor SBIR/STTR Partnering Manual , 2008. (http://www.navysbir.com/docs/Navy_Partnering_Manual_public_release.pdf)

[3] EUROCONTROL, E-OCVM Version 3.0, Volume 1, 2010. (http://www.icrat.org/icrat/seminarContent/2010/European_Operational_Concept_Validation_Methodology.pdf)

[4] EUROCONTROL, E-OCVM Version 3.0, Volume 2, 2010. (https://www.eurocontrol.int/sites/default/files/publication/files/e-ocvm3-vol-2-annexes-022010.pdf)

[5] MITRE. Managing Research Projects, Beyond Cost and Schedule. Opportunities for Impact, 2017. (https://www.mitre.org/sites/default/files/publications/5-managing-research-projects.pdf)

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