Looking to address harsh criticism from its own inspector general that has been painfully slow in getting important technologies out of the lab and into commercial applications, NASA today said it has opened a revamped Technology Transfer Portal which aims to streamline the way the space agency handles that business.
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Not unlike its efforts of the past, NASA said the new tech portal simplifies and speeds access to the agency's intellectual property portfolio, much of which is available for licensing. The site features a searchable, categorized database of NASA's patents, a module for reaching out to a NASA technology transfer specialist and articles about past successful commercialization of NASA technology. Historical and real-time data for NASA's technology transfer program also are available.
"One of NASA's highest priority goals is to streamline its technology transfer procedures, support additional government-industry collaboration and encourage the commercialization of novel technologies flowing from our federal laboratories," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement. "One way NASA can streamline and increase the rate of aerospace technology transfer is through tools like NASA's Technology Transfer Portal."
Examples of the types of technologies NASA has licensed in the past include devices designed to operate remotely and with limited servicing in the harsh environment of space, and strong and lightweight materials that can withstand the extreme temperatures of supersonic flight or space travel. NASA has designed lifesaving techniques, protocols, and tools for use when orbiting the Earth and the nearest doctor is more than 200 miles below. Closed environment recycling systems, as well as energy generation and storage methods also have useful applications here on Earth.
A report released in March by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin that assessed NASA's technology commercialization efforts and said among other things that decreased funding and reductions in personnel have hindered NASA's technology transfer efforts. Specifically, funding for technology transfer has decreased from $60 million in fiscal year (FY) 2004 to $19 million in FY 2012 while the number of patent attorneys at the Centers dropped from 29 to 19 over the same period. As a result, patent filings decreased by 37%.
Martin's report cites a number of "missed opportunities to transfer technologies from its research and development efforts and to maximize partnerships with other entities that could benefit from NASA-developed technologies." For example:
• Algorithms designed to enable an aircraft to fly precisely through the same airspace on multiple flights - a development that could have commercial application for improving the autopilot function of older aircraft - was not considered for technology transfer because project personnel were not aware of the various types of innovations that could be candidates for the program.
• NASA personnel failed to capitalize fully on the Flight Loads Laboratory at Dryden Flight Research Center - a unique facility used for aeronautic testing services - because they did not recognize the facility as a transferable technology and consequently had not developed a Commercialization Plan to manage customer demand.
• The NASA project team for a precision landing and hazard avoidance project was not aware of NASA's technology commercialization policy and had not conducted a commercial assessment or developed a Commercialization Plan for the project. However, team members provided us with several examples from their work that could be considered new technologies with potential commercial application, such as technology to improve communication between aircraft and air traffic control that could be useful to the aviation community and technology to aid helicopter landings during dust storms, low cloud cover, fog, or other periods of low visibility that could be useful to the military.
Aside from reduced money for their efforts, NASA project managers and other personnel responsible for executing NASA's technology transfer processes could improve their effectiveness in identifying and planning for the transfer and commercialization of NASA technologies. Specifically, NASA personnel did not realize the transfer potential of some technological assets and project managers did not develop Technology Commercialization Plans that provide a methodology for identifying potential commercial partners, Martin stated.
At the time, NASA did not disagree with the report's observations and promised to address the situation with training and other improvements. Creating new technologies is fundamental to NASA's mission, and facilitating the transfer of these technologies to other government agencies, industry, and international entities is one of the Agency's strategic goals. Technology transfer promotes commerce, encourages economic growth, stimulates innovation, and offers benefits to the public and industry.