Published on March 6, 2008
What Is A Technical Readiness Level and How Is It Used? : What Is A Technical Readiness Level and How Is It Used? L. Waganer 12-13 December 2007 ARIES Project Meeting at GA Origin of Technical Readiness Levels: Origin of Technical Readiness Levels Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) are a systematic metric that provides an objective measure to convey the maturity of a particular technology. They were originally developed by NASA*, but with a little modification (getting rid of all the "in space" qualifiers, for example), they are used to express the readiness level of just about any technology project. The Department of Defense has adopted this metric to evaluate the readiness levels of new technologies and guide their development toward the state where they can be considered “Operationally Ready”. * Mankins (1995), Technology Readiness Levels: A White Paper GAO TRL Recommendations: GAO TRL Recommendations In a 1999 report , the General Accounting Office (GAO) showed that failure to properly mature new technologies in the science and technology (S&T), or laboratory, environment almost invariably leads to cost and schedule over-runs in acquisition weapons system programs. In their report, the GAO found [4, p.12] that separating technology development from product development is an industry best practice. The report puts it this way, “Maturing new technology before it is included on a product is perhaps the most important determinant of the success of the eventual product—or weapon system.” This statement says that you must be certain that a technology is mature before including it as part of a product or weapon system. “GAO recommends that the Secretary of Defense adopt a disciplined and knowledge-based approach of assessing technology maturity, such as TRLs, DOD-wide, and establish the point at which a match is achieved between key technologies and weapon system requirements as the proper point for committing to the development and production of a weapon system.” Explanation/Examples of TRLs: TRL 1: Basic principles observed and reported, or "Hey, that's neat." This level represents pure research. There really isn't even a particular piece of technology in question. We might be studying basic properties of materials, or noticing what works really well in “Warcraft III”. TRL 2: Technology concept and/or application formulated, or "Ooo, idea!" This level represents taking our observations and coming up with some sort of practical use for them. Things are still speculative. We could be thinking about superconductors or Real-time strategy games. TRL 3: Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof-of-concept, or "Let's do it." Development has begun. All we're trying to produce is proof-of-concept for the stuff we came up with in TRL 2. Getting an experimental process to work in a laboratory setting, for example. TRL 4: Component and/or breadboard validation in laboratory environment, or "Gold spike!" We take our proof-of-concepts from TRL 3, and we integrate them into a lo-fi version of the system we came up with in TRL 2. A playable demo for project-pitching purposes, for example. Explanation/Examples of TRLs Explanation/Examples of TRLs: Explanation/Examples of TRLs TRL 5: Component and/or breadboard validation in relevant environment, or "Alpha" Similar to TRL 4, but this version is robust enough to deal with "real life" conditions, or, at least, a decent simulation of those conditions. Testing something in a vacuum, or a playable demo that you could bring to a conference for people to try out. TRL 6: System/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment (ground or space), or "Beta" Any model or prototype is now well beyond the jerry-rigged TRL 4 version. At this point, testing is happening in a real environment. Beta testers are called in, or you throw it on a shuttle, and try it out in space. According to NASA, this step is driven more by management confidence than actual technical requirements. TRL 7: System prototype demonstration in a space environment, or "Things! In! Spaaaace!" Not mapping very well to projects outside of NASA, this level is for the purpose of assuring system engineering and development management confidence. Not all technologies need this level of assurance. One example of one that does would be the Mars Pathfinder Rover, which is a TRL 7 technology demonstration for future Mars micro-rovers of similar design. Explanation/Examples of TRLs: Explanation/Examples of TRLs TRL 8: Actual system completed and "flight qualified" through test and demonstration (ground or space), or "Gone gold" By definition, all technologies being applied in actual systems go through TRL 8. At this point, you have completed a Theoretical First Unit (TFU), or otherwise gotten a product ready for primetime. Version 1.0, basically. TRL 9: Actual system "flight proven" through successful mission operations, or "Kid tested, mother approved." Once your product is in use, it's TRL 9 by definition. This TRL does not include any expansions, or upgrades, which have their own TRLs, as appropriate. Real Usage of TRLs: Real Usage of TRLs In Aerospace and high technology companies, TRLs are used to determine if the status of a technology and what is needed to mature it for an operational application. It is used for both hardware and software technologies. Processes and software tools are judged to the TRL metric to help them mature. The DoD TRL definitions is a refined set of the previous NASA set of TRLs (shown on the next several pages). The Defense Acquisition Agency is the primary user and advocate of TRLs. They have a complete program called Technology Maturity and Technology Readiness Assessment that is used on evolving programs. NASA Graphic Depicting TRLs: NASA Graphic Depicting TRLs This graphic illustrates the progressive steps necessary to mature technologies and integrate them into subsystems, systems, and programs The Whale Chart 2: The Whale Chart 2 This version of the Whale Chart maps the Technology Life Cycle to the DoD and NASA Project Life Cycle and Program Milestones Technology Readiness Levels occur early in the Technology Life Cycle TRL Calculator, Wm L. Nolte, AFRL at Assessing Technology Readiness and Development Seminar, 4/28/05 Defense Acquisition Definition of TRLs: Defense Acquisition Definition of TRLs Defense Acquisition Definition of TRLs: Defense Acquisition Definition of TRLs Defense Acquisition Definition of TRLs: Defense Acquisition Definition of TRLs AFRL TRL Calculator: AFRL TRL Calculator The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) has developed and is using a hardware and software TRL calculator. It has a set of criteria for each TRL level to analytically assess the maturity of the hardware or software. Link to Excel-Based AFRL TRL Calculator Should ARIES use the AFRL TRL Calculator? I hesitate using this calculator as it implies more detail than we know or probably really need. Instead, I would suggest if you have any question the maturity level of your technology, refer to the written tables and the calculator for guidance to help formulate your own assessment. More Extensions to TRLsSystems Readiness LevelIntegration Readiness Level: More Extensions to TRLs Systems Readiness Level Integration Readiness Level Some experts feel that implementation of TRLs are inadequate to accurately assess the ability to integrate new technologies into systems. The Stevens Institute of Technology has introduced two additional assessments to help address these areas. Determining System Interoperability using an Integration Readiness Level Also a Process Readiness Level Should ARIES-Pathways Use TRLs?: Should ARIES-Pathways Use TRLs? The use of TRLs would help our project quantify our understanding of the maturity of the technologies needed for Demo. This would provide a uniform set of baseline metrics for assessment. The downside is that the fusion community and the nuclear industry, in general, probably is not familiar with this terminology, so we will have to educate them. Yea or Nay?