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Technology transfers and its tools.

Technology Transfer and Its Tools


During the past year, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has greatly increased emphasis on the marketing of new technologies. As part of the October 1990 FHWA reorganization, a new office of Technology Applications was formed to increase the agency's effectiveness in implementing and deploying new and improved products. Prior to the formation of this new office, the requirement for marketing new technology and research and development (R&D) products to the highway community were developed and arrayed into a multi-phased process. [1](1) To further delineate marketing principles appropriate for inclusion in public sector operating programs and to help translate these principles into specific technology transfer efforts, a seminar is now being developed for both the FHWA and other transportation agency personnel.

Technology Transfer

Technology transfer is the process by which the results of R&D are converted into practical and useful processes, products, and programs. Earlier Public Roads articles have dealt with various issues related to technology transfer and R&D product marketing.[2,3,4] This article looks at the fundamental ingredients of marketing strategies and new methods of technology transfer to rapidly deploy implemented technology.

To be useful, the products of highway-related R&D must be carefully marketed to potential users. This selling process applies both to a technology which the "customer" acknowledges is needed (e.g., a highway sign format that allows improved message recognition and comprehension by drivers) or one which solves a problem of which the customer was previously unaware. In either case, the user must be convincingly "sold" on the product - particularly if it represents a substitution for existing procedures.

In such situations, the R&D product or process under development must be assessed for its ultimate transfer to users. A technology transfer specialist must thoroughly assess the R&D effort to devise a marketing strategy to get the R&D results to the appropriate users. This marketing strategy assessment follows the basic framework outlined below and displayed in figure 1. Ideally, users should become involved with - or interested in - the research early in the process and be afforded opportunities for following its progress. This goal is easily realized when the R&D is short term and yields waited-for results, but it is seldom realized when the R&D is more fundamental and provides results only after many years or even decades.

A product must be valuable. The first essential element in any marketing strategy is to have an actual or potential product that is unique and cost beneficial to users. Researchers who are conducting fundamental or methodological studies do not - by definition - focus on the ultimate value of their work to end users. Rather, their work must be independently assessed to determine whether it may result in a product likely to be of value to end users.

Users must be targeted. Users must be specified with considerable precision. It is not enough to say that a particular product is for highway engineers, city traffic engineers, or State transportation chief executive officers. The salient characteristics of the user target group must be specified so that product format and instructional language are appropriate for that set of users. Costs and other issues should be presented in a framework that is relevant to and easily understood by that audience.

A product must be tested. No product originating in R&D should be actively promoted before field testing. Consequently, a third essential element of a marketing strategy is the systematic testing and evaluation of the product under operational or real-world conditions. A product developed in an R&D environment may work very reliably in such a setting. However, because researchers want their products to succeed, they may overlook simple and obvious problems that may occur when customers begin to use the new product. An example of such a flawed product was a traffic data base manager known as the Integrated Traffic Data System; although very impressive when demonstrated, it has yet to succeed in an actual operating environment.[5]

Appropriate technology transfer techniques must be used. The fourth element in a highway product marketing strategy is the selection of appropriate techniques for product delivery. Traditionally, the delivery of new highway products derived from R&D has been through written reports that generally aim to provide the detail and background needed to carry out specific implementations. Many other delivery techniques are available and they generally are preferable to text formats.

The appropriate marketing techniques to be used ultimately depends upon the potential user's prior information and selection of appropriate ways of demonstrating the product's use and benefits. The most common way to determine this information need is by conducting a limited marketing survey (i.e., getting systematic feedback from a sample of potential product users). Unless the product helps fulfill a brand new objective or function, the most effective technology transfer techniques are ones which permit the user to actually use a new product and allow the customer to visualize contrasts between the techniques currently being used and the new product. "Hand-on" demonstrations ideally are included in any new technology transfer technique, whether it is primarily educational, informational, or promotional. In other words, if a customer is convinced that he or she can master a new technique, the first step toward operational or day-to-day use is achieved and resistance-to-change is reduced. This critical hands-on element should be borne in mind as various innovative technology transfer techniques are examined in the next section of this article.

There must be followup with users. The final element in a marketing strategy is to followup with and get feedback from users. This step is frequently treated as nonessential and separate from the task of getting new technology into use. However, some techonology transfer efforts succeed and others fail; a great deal of information can be obtained by understanding the causes of such success and failure. This information can only be derived through followup with users.

Technology Transfer Techniques

Over the years, the FHWA has been most successful in providing technology transfer through direct technical assistance and its demonstration projects. The salient characteristics of such efforts are:

* Personal and direct contact which provides a

highly motivated interaction between the technology

transfer agent and the customer.

* A guided tutorial with hands-on experience and

feedback that offers the most effective form of

learning new procedures.

The principal reasons that such techniques are not used more are simply there is insufficient time and money available to do the job. Techinques which augment or substitute for person-oriented technology transfer must create and maintain a "user-friendly" environment.

Recent technological advances have brought about sweeping changes in the ways in which techonology transfer activities can be conducted. The remainder of this article details the newest and most useful technology transfer methods for application in marketing the products of highway-related R&D. For simplicity, these products and techniques are grouped by relevant area of technology transfer activity, i.e.:

* Training.

* Information dissemination.

* Promotion


The FHWA presents highway-related training mostly through short courses funded by the National Highway Institute (NHI). The NHI mechanism represents a significant training tool: during fiscal year 1990, the NHI offered 73 different courses and made presentations to more than 15,300 participants.

The drawbacks of such training are that students must schedule their time far in advance and travel to specific locations. In recognition of these drawbacks, the NHI has recently tried to develop and present more "train-the-trainer" type courses. While such courses yield an expanded network of instructors thereby increasing training opportunities, this approach does not address participants' scheduling problems. Other, relatively new, training technologies do, however. The use of satellite, teleconferencing technology, and interactive videodiscs alleviates many logistic difficulties and facilitates training of more persons - including those support and paraprofessional personnel who frequently are not included in training allocations at all.

Training using communications satellites is becoming commonplace for high-tech industries and organizations such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which routinely develops and/or uses this technology. There are major differences between standard classroom training and training using space satellites to reach a larger number of students over a broad geographic area.

Only one U.S. organization is currently using satellites for highway training. Pennsylvania State University has to date presented 3 courses on highway design and hydraulics to 32 centers throughout Pennsylvania.[6] These courses are based on training materials already developed for classroom settings and augmented with video graphics and videotapes from construction sites. The incremental cost of satellite training over classroom training is approximately $20,000 per course. However, it is estimated that in Pennsylvania alone, the number of students reached during the same instruction periods is five to six times that possible via classroom training.

Teleconferencing allows meetings to be held without participants having to travel long distances. The first highway-related teleconference took place in 1984, during the annual Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, D.C. In conjunction with this meeting, a teleconferencing session took place involving 1-way video and 2-way audio transmission among 20 States.[7] Since then, two demonstrations of teleconferencing for highway engineers have taken place: one in Pennsylvania on hazardous wastes shipments; the other on hydraulics, originating at the University of Tennessee.

Interactive video provides self-paced instruction for individuals. It uses laser-video technology and has received the most study by the FHWA as an advanced training resource. In 1982, the first FHWA interactive video project was undertaken to determine the technology's feasibility for highway engineers and technicians. The FHWA began by developing basic hardware configurations and assessing system cost effectiveness.[8] This effort resulted in the Individualized Self-Paced Instruction for Traffic Engineers (IN-SPITE) system. The first instructional material developed for this system was a course on traffic control in work zones, which contains modules on the proper selection of traffic control devices, sample applications, and flagging. Based on testing in Arizona and Maryland, this course was more effective than standard training. Last year, six complete IN-SPITE systems were operating on IBM-compatible computers; the system has since been distributed for further field testing.

Microcomputer tutorials are provided on disk formats. These tutorials are usually developed for specialized courses rather than for more general training purposes. Moreover, if substantial audio and complex visual materials are needed, an interactive videodisc system is used rather than a tutorial format. Tutorials are best used to simulate the actual operations of an analyst using given computer software.

The FHWA has developed one such tutorial to assist intermediate and advanced users of TRAFNETSIM, a microscopic simulation model that provides detailed evaluation of proposed operational improvements on urban networks. A second course has been planned for the corridor flow model, CORFLO, a macroscopic computer simulation for corridors with both signalized intersections and freeways.

Information dissemination

Generally, technical information is disseminated to potential users via technology-sharing reports; demonstration projects; and oral presentations at national, regional, and local meetings. However, the most effective method of acquiring information on new technologies is through informal discussions and telephone conversations. These informal means of dissemination tend to have greater value than the formal mechanisms, mainly because when an inquiry is made, it is usually answered immediately. These critical characteristics of human communication (i.e., active involvement and timeliness) are usually not present when articles are published and speeches presented. Also, although much written information is archived so that knowledge can be actively pursued through modern library systems and computer-based information retrieval systems, highway agencies seldom use archived information to seek out new technologies for performing old tasks.

Thus, better methods for disseminating new technical information in a manner consistent with human communication needs include the use of electronic bulletin boards (EBB's) and expert systems. Both of these methods obviate the need for answering communications in a real-time, person-to-person exchange, yet provide a similar convenience.

Electronic bulletin boards provide a logical extension of personal networking by allowing questions and their answers to be posted using telephone lines. Although all established EBB's maintain data bases and utility programs and post general bulletins and announcements, their greatest benefits come from exchanges of needed information. Figure 2 illustrates how to use EBB's to get specific information. The expansion of national services such as PRODIGY is resulting in the broader acceptance of EBB's as a routine approach for exchanging information. Presently, there are about 20 active EBB's for highway-related information in the United States. These bulletin boards are operated by several of the Rural Technical Assistance Programs at their respective Technology Transfer Centers and by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. In addition, the FHWA initiated its Federal Electronic Bulletin Board System in 1988.[9] This board supports information on specialty conferences, such as meetings of the Traffic Software Users Group, and other specific information related to their fields of inquiry.

EBB use is restricted by the availability of personal microcomputers for technical personnel and the number of laptop and other portable computers available for use in field settings.

Expert systems are computer-based methods for simulating the reasoning and decision-making processes of human experts. They make use of domain-specific knowledge, allowing nonexperts to make viable decisions without extensive training or experience in narrow specialties. An operational expert system is a decision tool that allows both managers and technicians to orchestrate facts and judgments so as to develop solutions to particular problems that mimic those that would be reached by experts.

Expert systems can be used to solve complex problems for which there are no useful algorithms for carrying out analytical or mathematical solutions. Because most decisions made by highway operational personnel are of this type, it is not surprising that the highway transportation field has begun to seriously tap the potential of expert systems technology. To date, more than 15 highway-related expert systems have been evaluated and refined for practical use by generalists.

Expert systems now available cover a selection of work zone traffic control techniques, analysis of bridge maintenance procedures, and selection of mixes for rehabilitation of flexible pavements.[10,11,12] Many more such specialized systems covering a wide variety of common transportation engineering topics are currently under development or have been recently released. The FHWA created guidelines for developing expert systems to assist those interested in using this technology.[13]


Private industry devotes substantial funds to promotional activities. The industry recognizes that technicians and managers must have an appreciation of the potential of new products being introduced into the marketplace. Public sector organizations such as the FHWA do not have large budgets for such activities, but can nevertheless launch effective promotional campaigns with the aid of several new communication and computer-oriented technologies.

Traditionally, technology transfer specialists have used educational techniques such as slide-tape shows, exhibits, road shows, and hands-on demonstrations of new technologies. Newer promotional tools, derived from the latest generation of microprocessors, are now coming into common usage. These microprocessor-based tools permit significant reductions in labor and time to produce useful materials including videotapes and demonstration disks.

The successful promotion of new products require a means of motivating potential users. Such motivation can come through identification with actual users. Short of actual demonstrations, of handson simulations, videotape is currently the most readily available medium for providing a substitute for direct experience.

The computer demonstration disk is a medium which can be used to provide the experience and running an actual applications program, without having the actual program. This technique can provide hands-on experience by a simple simulation of actual operations.

As greater usage is made of the interactive tools described earlier in the section on training techniques, promotional materials will be able to provide increasing faithful simulations of the use of actual design, evaluation, and operational tools.

Videotapes have often been used to present and promote complicated concepts to an array of target audiences. Recently, however, numerous developments in videotape scripting, production, and editing have increased their use and distribution. For example, the popularity of home video camcorders has increased the availability of high-quality equipment, reduced costs, and gone far toward eliminating the need for experienced production personnel. Consequently, good quality productions now only need a few individuals, none of whom require extensive training.

The price for a videotape production has remained relatively high, despite reductions in actual production costs. A number of promising developments should result in reduced costs, however. Recently, short promotional materials have been produced by relative novices using a technique known as video desktop publishing. The video desktop publishing technique is exemplified by a series of 5- to 10-minute videos depicting new and better methods for performing routine engineering and technician jobs. This video series, titled "The Idea Store" is produced by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and has been used effectively to motivate audiences unfamiliar with new products and techniques available to the transportation community.

The potential increased value of videotape as a promotional tool comes from the availability of affordable, easy-to-use production techniques. It is a relatively simple matter today to blend and enhance video footage taken by novices. The inclusion of off-the-cuff presentations of new technologies in an operating environment can provide the alliance needed to help convince skeptics. Such involvement is not exactly hands-on, but it comes close.

Demonstration disks provide another means of dramatically presenting new technologies to an increasing number of potential users. The general availability of personal microcomputers facilitates this method of graphically representing new highway products using standard-sized micro-computer floppy disks.

Demonstration disks are most appropriately used to convey the benefits of microcomputer software; the technique is commonly used by the computer software industry. The first FHWA demonstration disk aimed at promoting the use of a specific software package has been developed for the microcomputer version of TRAF-NETSIM. The program's graphics quality enhances the outputs for both users of the software and managers.

Demonstration disks also can be used to promote products that have little or no relation to microcomputers. For example, one of the FHWA's demonstration disks converted a general information brochure to a computerized format. This format depicted the relationships among major federally supported traffic software packages more dynamically than was possible with a static brochure. In fact, the demonstration disk appears to have increased comprehension of potential traffic managers and software users as to the capability of various software packages.


Numerous new tools that make extensive use of common communication and computer technologies are available to technology transfer specialists. Used properly, these tools can facilitate the rate at which new technologies are understood by potential users and put into use. All traditional areas of technology transfer - training, information dissemination, and promotional activities - can be enhanced by these new tools. However, such technologies should not be used indiscriminately; rather, they should be applied in the context of an overall marketing strategy for transferring those new technologies that have been shown to work under real-world conditions and are cost effective. (1) Italic numbers in parentheses identify references on page 21.


[1] Marketing Highway Technology and Programs. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, October 1990.

[2] Robert J. Betsold. "Implementation of Highway Research: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow," Public Roads, A Journal of Highway Research and Development, Vol. 45, No. 4, March 1982, pp. 145-52.

[3] Robert Ellington and Richard Reynolds. "Traffic Controller Synchronizer - Time-Based Traffic Signal Coordination," Public Roads, A Journal of Highway Research and Development, Vol. 45, No. 1, June 1981, pp. 6-16.

[4] Robert J. Betsold and Merton J. Rosenbaum. "The Marketing of New Highway Research Products - A Difficult Process," Public Roads, A Journal of Highway Research and Development, Vol. 52, No. 3, December 1988, pp. 82-88.

[5] Alberto Santiago. "ITDS: A Data Base Driven Interface to Traffic Models Using a Microcomputer," Public Roads, A Journal of Highway Research and Development, Vol. 49, No. 4, March 1986, pp. 122-26.

[6] John M. Mason, Jr., and W.P. Kilareski. "Continuing Education via Satellite Television," Proceedings of National Forum on Education and Continuing Professional Development, Las Vegas, NV, April 1990.

[7] Michael Perfater. Application of Teleconferencing Within the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation, Publication No. FHWA/VA-86/35, Virginia Research Council, Charlottesville, VA, April 1986.

[8] Jeffrey Paniati. "Application of Interactive Videodisc for Work Zone Traffic Control Training," Proceedings of International Conference on Microcomputers in Transportation, American Society of Civil Engineering, San Francisco, CA, June 1989.

[9] Juan Morales. "Transportation-Related Electronic Bulletin Board Systems," Public Roads, A Journal of Highway Research and Development, Vol. 53, No. 2, September 1989, p. 65.

[10] Ardeshri Faghri and Michael Demetsky. A Demonstration of Expert Systems Application in Transportation Engineering, Vol. II: TRANZ - A Prototype Expert System for Traffic Control in Highway Work Zones, Report No. FHWA/VA-89/R3, Virginia Research Council, Charlottesville, VA, October 1989.

[11] Hani G. Melhem and James A. Wentworth. "FASTBRID: An Expert System for Bridge Failure," Public Roads, A Journal of Highway Research and Development, Vol. 53, No. 4, March 1990, pp. 109-17.

[12] Hamid Aougab, Charles W. Schwartz, and James A. Wentworth. "Expert System for Pavement Maintenance Management," Public Roads, A Journal of Highway Research and Development, Vol. 53, No. 1, June 1989, pp. 17-22.

[13] David Barnett, Charles Jackson, and James A. Wentworth. Developing Expert Systems, Publication No. FHWA-TS-88-022, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, December 1988.

PHOTO : Figure 1. - Essential steps in developing a highway transportation marketing plan.

PHOTO : Figure 2. - The Traffic Software Users Conference.

Burton W. Stephens is the chief of the Traffic Performance Branch of the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Traffic Operations and Intelligent Vehicle-Highway Systems. Until October 1990 he served as chief of the Safety and Traffic Implementation Division. A key assignment in that role was helping to form a new marketing strategy for improved use of products from public and joint private-public highway transportation R&D. Mr. Stephens joined the Bureau of Public Road's Traffic Operations Division as a human factors researcher in 1961. Since that time, he has had a variety of research and management assignments in the areas of safety, traffic operations, environment and human factors.
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Title Annotation:sharing new technologies
Author:Stephens, Burton W.
Publication:Public Roads
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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