Conceptual sketch of a wearable eye-movement tracking systemLevel 2 – Applied Research: Formulate technology concept and/or application At this step in the maturation process, research and development (R&D) is initiated. Practical development actions can then be formulated. Applied research, theory and scientific principles are focused on a specific application area to define the concept and characteristics of the application and specified in a document where functional block diagrams are described clearly. Materials and components are procured at this stage.
CAD preliminary 3D designs of a technology for visualization at TRL 2Level 3 – Establish critical function, proof of concept R&D work has begun. Laboratory studies aim to validate analytical predictions of separate components of the technology. This stage is also known as the “bread-boarding stage” where demonstration of technical feasibility produces representative data to achieve critical function and/or characteristic proof of concept.
Electronics or necessary modules required to demonstrate critical function are done at TRL 3Level 4 – Laboratory testing of prototype component or process Here, the designs, development and lab testing of various components are integrated to establish that they will work together to achieve the concept-enabling levels of performance required in the final design. They should also be consistent with the requirements of potential system applications. Thus, system-level component and/or breadboard validation in a laboratory environment will identify potential design issues and corrections can be taken at this step.
Several modules / components are integrated together for characteristic testing at TRL 4Level 5 – Alpha testing of integrated system The basic technological components (component level, sub-system level or system level) are integrated together with realistic supporting elements to be tested in a simulated or somewhat realistic environment. This prototype stage closely resembles the eventual system and comprises near-finalized electronics or mechanical designs. For example, a new type of solar photovoltaic controller promising higher efficiencies would, at this level, be used in an actual fabricated small-run prototype unit with actual integrated power supplies, protective enclosures, supporting structures, etc., and tested in a simulated environment for data-collection and performance evaluation. Level 6 – Verify prototype system, begin field testing The prototype system is tested and demonstrated in a relevant operational environment where full-scale realistic problems will be observed. If problems arise at this stage, the design must return to TRL 5 or 4 for corrective measures depending on the severity. Engineering feasibility must be fully demonstrated in the actual system application as the design is effectively “locked-in” at this stage and optimized for manufacturability. Ready-to-manufacture (RTM) designs and documentation steps will be carried out to ensure the design is reproducible with the relevant manufacturing steps. Not all technologies will undergo a TRL 6 demonstration. At this point the maturation step is driven more by assuring management confidence, than by R&D requirements. The demonstration might represent an actual system application, or it might be like the planned application, but using the same technologies. Level 7 – Demonstrate integrated pilot system, start tooling and manufacturing The prototype is near or at the planned operational system level. The final design is virtually complete. The goal of this stage is to remove engineering and manufacturing risk. System prototype is demonstrated in an operational environment. In this case, the prototype should be near or at the scale of the planned operational system and the demonstration must take place in the actual field environment. This level of maturity indicates system-engineering and development-management confidence. Not all technologies in all systems will go to this level. For example, solar-powered experimental weather nodes for data-gathering are deployed for extended periods of time to gather environmental data, but are not slated for mass production or productization. Level 8 – Incorporate system in commercial design The technology has been proven to work in its final form under the expected conditions. In most cases, this level represents the end of true system development. The actual system is completed and qualified through tests and demonstration and is submitted for regulatory approvals at this stage. All commercial technologies being applied in actual systems go through TRL 8. In almost all cases, this level is the end of true “system development” for most technology elements. Most user documentation, training documentation and maintenance documentation are completed. All functionality is tested in simulated and operational scenarios. Verification and validation are completed and commercially launched or deployed en masse. Level 9 – Deploy system commercially The technology in its final form, thoroughly tested and demonstrated, is ready for commercial deployment. The actual system is proven through successful operations in a variety of conditions across a variety of end-users. In almost all cases, this is the end of “bug fixing” and is no longer considered “technology development”. Successful operational experience and sustaining and/or maintenance engineering support mechanisms are put in place.
An example of a TRL 9 is the Tesla Model S sedan vehicle, image credit: TeslaLevel 10 – Commercial Acceptance The product, process or service has been launched commercially for an extended period, marketed to and adopted by a group of customers (including public authorities). The technology has been used without incident (or with incident levels within an acceptable range) for a protracted period of time. The technology has been certified (if applicable) via appropriate technology-type certification mechanisms, through evaluation of repeated operations and other means. Failure rates for the technology are known and failure conditions and their causes are understood. The technology/system operates without unacceptable levels of unplanned troubleshooting or repair being required.
Examples of TRL 10 are the Apple Iphone 6 and Boeing 747 aircraft
TRL summaryAn illustration of the TRL scale for increasing technology maturity, in the context of the progression from basic research to system operations. Further Reading on TRL definitions
- NASA TRL definitions
- NASA TRL definitions by John C. Mankins (1995)
- John C. Mankins (2009)
- ESA TRL handbook
- Department of Defense
- US department of energy
- DoD TRA Deskbook
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory- Emerging Technologies in Ocean Kinetic and Enhanced Geo-Thermal
- International Standard (ISO) for TRLs known as ISO16290 here.
- Jeremy Straub TRL 1-10 discussion paper
- European commission “From research to innovation”