1997 Conference Proceedings

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ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGIES AND THE FEDERAL LABORATORIES: A NETWORK FOR THE 21st CENTURY

Presenters:

Dinah F. B. Cohen
Department of Defense
Office of the Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs)
Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP)
5111 Leesburg Pike, Suite 810
Falls Church, VA 22041
Phone: (703)681-3976
FAX: (703)681-9075
E-Mail: dcohen@ha.osd.mil
WWW: http://www.ha.osd.mil/hpcap2.html

Scott Hall
United States Air Force Armstrong Lab
AL/CFP
2245 Monahan Way
Wright-Patterson AFB, OH 45433-7008
Phone: (513)255-4649
FAX: (513)255-7215
E-Mail: shall@eagle.al.wpafb.af.mil

Joe Lane
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on
Technology Evaluation And Transfer
State University at Buffalo
515 Kimball Tower
Buffalo, NY 14214
Phone: (716)829-3141
FAX: (716)829-3217
E-Mail: joelane@acsu.buffalo.edu

Bill Newroe
Consumer Assistive Technology Transfer Network/
Career Services for Persons with Disabilities
211 W. Water Street #209
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Phone: (505)989-9408
FAX: (505)989-9409
E-Mail: CATN@rt66.com
WWW: http://www.rt66.com/catn.org


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The need for assistive technologies for people with disabilities to be independent will continue to grow. The aging American population will require their work and home environments to be accessible as they develop disabling conditions.

This session will provide the audience with insight into existing and emerging assistive technologies and the transfer capabilities from the federal laboratories. Successful transfers from the laboratories in the past include voice recognition technology, eye-tracking systems, and lightweight composite materials for joints and wheelchairs.

The successful transfer of technology must include a working relationship among the following groups;


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A. Consumer Market

We can not move forward to solve a problem until we can identify the problem or need. Individuals with disabilities continuously face technology and accessibility barriers. The Consumer Assistive Technology Transfer Network (CATN) serves as a bridge between the consumer needs and potential solutions. Each day the CATN receives calls from across the United States requesting information on the appropriate accommodation.

The purpose of the CATN is for consumers to identify devices and applications regarding difficult to solve assistive technology problems as well as to develop and commercialize inventions. The CATN is also for developers, researchers and/or engineers to try out assistive technology-related research and development of applications with consumers for relevance to commercialization and manufacturing.

The CATN assists consumers (including end users, families, friends and providers), developers, researchers and/or engineers with assistive technology resources in the U.S. These resources involve fifty-six state/territorial assistive technology programs, sixteen rehabilitation engineering research centers, and over six hundred development federal laboratories.

The CATN is funded through a grant from the National Institute on Disabilities and Rehabilitation Research with the New Mexico Technology Assistant Program.


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B. Research and Development

According to the National Council on Disability July 26, 1996 report, it is a well known fact that the right assistive technology can make a monumental difference in the life of a person with a disability. Many people who need the technology remain frustrated by persistent barriers in gaining access to products and devices yielded by scientific research and development in a timely and usable manner. One major national asset to overcome these barriers to technology is The Federal Laboratory Consortium, FLC, which represents all major federal research laboratories and centers. The FLC's purpose is to promote and facilitate the full range of technical cooperation between federal laboratories and America's large and small business, academia, state and local governments, and federal agencies; and serve as an interagency forum to develop and strengthen nationwide technology transfer in support of national policy. The Air Force Armstrong Laboratory is just one member of the FLC that has numerous technologies that are not only available for commercialization, but have been specifically identified for use as assistive technologies.

Armstrong Laboratory's approach to a focused assistive technology outreach program consists of the following:

  1. Complete an inventory of intellectual property and conduct an analysis to determine what technologies exist that could have immediate technology transfer potential through license agreements.
  2. Conduct an inventory and commercialization assessment of existing programs for their rehabilitation application potential. At the same time, core technologies that exist in the rehabilitation community should be identified through organizations such as CATN that represent the disabled community's needs. These would be compared to Lab core technologies and Air Force needs identified in various requirements documentation. Approximately ten programs within Armstrong Laboratory's Crew Systems Directorate located at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, have already had a commercial assessment performed by a local Technology Transfer Team. Other programs could be assessed through a number of avenues ranging from in-house efforts, Intermediary Partnership Agreements, university graduate studies, and professional societies.
  3. Marketing program should be executed to solicit potential cooperative partners. The whole area of marketing would be accomplished with assistance outside the Laboratory due to the foreign nature of the subject to DoD research organizations. The use of intermediaries such as CATN could prove to be more productive in marketing technologies and selection of potential partners.
  4. Selection of partners that are most desirable would be nationally recognized companies that are financially secure, have diversity in products, have established R&D programs, and are influential. Companies should cover a broad spectrum of technologies that also represent core technologies found in Armstrong Laboratory or other federal laboratories, have the ability to collaborate on an equal level with the federal laboratory R&D efforts, have the financial backing to undertake R&D programs independently, have the ability and record of creating revenue from collaborative efforts, and would be influential in Congress for continued support. Perhaps more important, companies should be very familiar with FDA certification and insurance endorsement.
  5. Once collaborative research and development agreements are established, every effort will be made to execute them with the same levels of management and program review as Air Force sponsored programs. Progress will be promoted as widely as possible to achieve the proper recognition for all partners. Joint reports will be generated, published and presented at national and international conferences. The cooperation of professional societies in the review of all programs will add to the credibility of the research and end products. The number one goal of any collaborative effort will be to transition products to both the private sector and military sector in the most timely and cost effective manner.

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C. Commercialization of New Technology

Great ideas are only great if they become commercially available products, are useful to the buyer and return a profit to the seller. The overall process of moving from an invention to a product is called technology transfer. The technology transfer process encompasses a number of elements, from initial identification and evaluation, through development and intellectual property and protection, to negotiation, manufacture and sale.

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research supports a program that addresses all the elements of technology transfer. The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Evaluation (RERC-TET), at the University at Buffalo, helps commercialize promising new devices through its business entity AZtech Inc. AZtech Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation fun by and for people with disabilities.

The order and role of each technology transfer element is determined by whether the transfer is driven by supply push or demand pull forces, and by the needs of the participants in the transfer process. The following five categories summarize these elements:

  1. Identification - participants must identify a technology, a technology application, and the likely buyers and sellers needed to complete the remaining elements of the technology transfer.
  2. Research and Development - the identified technology is applied by generating a prototype device, which is designed to demonstrate how the product will function in reality. The R&D process may involve one or more participants, depending on the resources and expertise available. The results are assessed to determine if the prototype is an invention and if that invention has value as intellectual property. If so, the owners pursue patent or other protection.
  3. Evaluation - the prototype's potential value as a product requires assessment of its technical, market and consumer attributes. A thorough evaluation considers existing alternatives to determine if anyone really needs the product under evaluation. During evaluation, the prototype may go through multiple design iterations to meet technical, user and market requirements, including cost and production constraints.
  4. Transfer - the prototype device and supporting evaluation documentation is offered by the seller to the buyer, along with the terms for changing ownership (e.g., license or assignment). The transfer negotiations may require additional participants to provide needed expertise, funding or marketplace support to the partners. The negotiation's success depends on the match between the buyer and seller's perception of the product's value in the market.
  5. Commercialization - the buyer must then incorporate the product into their organization's capacity for manufacture, distribution, sale and support. Once the product is introduced, customer's make the purchase decision, acquire and use the product. the outcomes from the product use (e.g., utility, satisfaction) drive future sales. The company seeks customer feedback to refine the product as needed over time.

All the elements described above are needed to ensure a technology is successfully developed, transferred and commercialized. While every element in the technology transfer process is necessary, no one element is sufficient to guarantee the product's success in the marketplace.

The RERC-TET and AZtech Inc. are working with inventors, researchers, consumers and manufacturers to increase the number and quality of technologies transferred to the assistive technology marketplace.

The Department of Defense (DoD) works with all three areas. The DoD established the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) to provide assistive technology to individuals with disabilities throughout the DoD worldwide. DoD has a large consumer base which requires the latest in technology. It has the largest number of federal laboratories in the system. DoD has successfully transferred many of its technologies to the commercial market. The DoD and other federal laboratories have been players in the development of current assistive technologies.

The future of successful spin-off applications from federally developed technologies will enable individuals with disabilities to improve their quality of life into the next century.


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