AFRL to use up to $4.1M to identify technology for commercial use

The Air Force Research Laboratory will spend up to $4.1 million to expand an initiative to identify promising technologies that could be turned into products in the commercial market.

The Air Force wants assistance from educational or non-profit institutions to identify, catalog and rate intellectual property that could be used by warfighters and, in some cases, consumers, according to Bill Harrison, AFRL director of small business programs.

“AFRL has a huge number of promising technologies and we could use some help from an organization to work with us” as part of the Air Force Technology Transfer Program, Harrison said. “At AFRL, we are trying to get more of our technology out and commercialized.”

The goal is to reduce costs, spur innovation and get technologies to the warfighter more quickly, he said.

The U.S. government has pushed federal labs to commercialize more technology to strengthen the industrial base and create jobs. Earlier this year, officials said they’re aiming to start joint ventures by tapping Air Force developed lab technology with a potential within five to seven years for $100 million to $1 billion in sales.

The research agency reported in March it had 429 active patents. Last year, it recorded 55 patents with 40 of those from technology developed at the four AFRL directorates at Wright-Patterson. The lab is headquartered at the Miami Valley base.

Under the up to $4.1 million AFRL initiative, organizations will electronically catalog technology, investigate how inventions and products might be manufactured, and train AFRL engineers about the tools and processes used in the program, among other directives, he said.

“We envision three or four organizations getting funding from this, and the duration will be (based) on their proposals,” he said.

An existing technology transfer development agreement between AFRL and the non-profit Wright Brothers Institute in Riverside, will continue, Harrison said. In 2002, AFRL set up WBI as a non-profit spin-off and a neutral party in part to bring industry together with the lab, officials have said.

“What we want to do is expand,” Harrison said. “We’re really looking for innovative ideas. … It’s kind of wide open for beyond what we’re doing now and how do we get better at it.”

Military technology adapted for the commercial market has revolutionized civilian technology, such as the use of GPS navigation satellites in cars and trucks and the growth of the Internet.

In one recent example, the research lab and WBI announced plans to attempt to commercialize a Band-Aid sized sweat sensor — developed by AFRL and affiliated researchers — that tracks hydration and stress from heat exposure. Among others, Special Forces commandos and athletes could use the sensors, officials have said.

“Sometimes we don’t know where the use of military technology might end up in the commercial market,” Harrison said.

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