CTRAC bridges ‘tech to market’

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Air Force Academy cadets present new technology to engage industry for collaboration, commercialization at Catalyst Campus.

The Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization hosted its first-ever “Tech 2 Market” event this week at Catalyst Campus to move early Air Force technology from the lab to local companies for licensing and commercialization.

The event included project presentations, brainstorming sessions and networking opportunities between government and industry professionals. Attendees included representatives from the Air Force’s technology transfer office and inventors from the Air Force Research Lab Information Directorate and the AFRL’s space vehicles and energy directorates in New Mexico.

About 40 industry leaders participated in the workshops and were exposed to unpatented research projects they could license or collaborate on with the Air Force.

The Academy presented four projects, including “Neuro Groove,” incorporating Recon Jet glasses, or smart goggles, to further mobility for quadriplegics.

The concept: Through the glasses, quadriplegics can drive their wheelchair, or potentially a car or golf cart, or even change their thermostat through head movements.

“I thought the session with industry today was productive, and everyone seemed to take it seriously,” said Duncan Stewart, chairman and president of Falconworks, a nonprofit that supports Air Force Academy projects. “A lot of ideas from companies were on how to do more things with the glasses — which is great — however, we don’t make them.”

The smart glasses were made by Recon, recently bought out by Intel, and include a microphone and speaker, similar to a Bluetooth device. They consist of a camera used to feed visual data back to the user and were initially made for extreme skiers to track their jumps.

“This version, which came out last year, is for runners and bikers,” Stewart said.

Last year, eight cadets worked on the project and this year, 12 are involved.

“We have a lot of cadets from different backgrounds who’ve worked on the project,” said Capt. Jeffrey Falkinburg, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Air Force Academy. “Put them together and they will come up with something innovative. The hope today was to be able to find our industry partners as well as avenues to make this technology patentable and marketable.”

KEEPING IDEAS ALIVE

The idea is to prevent innovative Air Force technology from losing momentum and sitting on the shelves, Falkinburg said.

“We can’t get innovation inside a vacuum, so we have to share it and get it out there,” he said. “Hopefully someone picks up with it and runs with it.”

Falconworks looks for innovative projects and finds subject matter experts to advise cadets through the design process, Stewart said.

“NeuroGroove  has been Falconworks’ main project this year due to its complexity,” he said. “Neuro Groove in itself is a whole bunch of projects. It’s still in its early phase but we intend to probably sit down with patent attorneys this year to make progress.”

The event was the first time the Air Force Academy and representatives from three other Air Force locations gathered to discuss licensing technology with industry, said Erin Miller, managing director of CTRAC.

The federal government has been doing tech transfer since 1980 but it’s a new endeavor for the Air Force — to seek more partnerships with industry to commercialize technology, she said.

It’s “uncharted territory” for the community, Miller said.

“You don’t see a lot of companies using already existing Air Force technology — licensing it and developing products,” she said. “It’s part of why CTRAC is in the picture, helping bring that to Colorado Springs.”

CTRAC formed a funded arrangement with the Air Force, an agreement with the Air Force Research Laboratory that supports the Air Force Technology Transfer Program.

WORKING WITH TECHLINK

CTRAC recently began working with TechLink, a nonprofit that serves as a DoD partnership intermediary and has been working with DoD and NASA for at least for 20 years, according to Miller.

“TechLink primarily focuses on patent license agreements and does about 60 percent of all licenses,” said Bryan Metzger, senior technology manager of TechLink. “We have a national presence and have probably touched about 60 labs across the country,” he said. “We review technologies, patents and then look for opportunities and play matchmaker.”

The DoD is not a manufacturer, therefore tech transfer must occur, Metzger said.

“If the DoD can get amateur technology to at least a prototype stage or proof of concept — a company can take it to the next level,” he said.

Because the DoD comes up with the ideas, it owns the intellectual property through the patent process, and doesn’t have to pay tax on it, Metzger said.

“I also think there is an opportunity for that same technology being developed from taxpayer money, to also somehow trickle out into the economy through a tech transfer process now that we’re getting more bang for the buck of that research dollar. That gets Congress excited about the process and all of the legislation about tech transfer that is out there, justifying the spending and trying to enable economic development.”

A lot of companies don’t know there is technology available to them to commercialize and opportunities to start new companies around technologies that have yet to be released or licensed by the government, said Don Kidd, executive director of Southern Colorado Technology Alliance at Catalyst Campus.

“The more we do events like this and expose Colorado Springs businesses to these opportunities, the more success we’re going to see,” he said. “We’ve seen some cool stuff come out of this campus that we never expected.” 

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