DOD looks to accelerate commercialization of military tech

While it’s very common for the military to solicit technologies from private industry, sometimes it’s the other way around. Case in point: The Defense Department is trying new approaches to transfer technologies from government research labs to the commercial market.

To test these approaches, DOD has selected the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate to commercialize its command, control, communications, cyber and intelligence technologies that have been determined to be dual-use. These technologies, which have both civilian and military applications, will be available for license by New York-based entrepreneurs and existing aerospace, defense and other existing industrial companies in a state-wide competition, according to an AFRL release.

The winners of the competition will then participate in a startup acceleration program known as the New York Furnace Technology Transfer Accelerator.   

The Furnace program is the result of collaboration between DOD and Arizona State University’s Pracademic Center of Excellence in Technology, which received a $1 million DOD grant earlier this year. The current goal of the NY-based program is to form, fund and launch between five and 10 new startups that will commercialize AFRL technology through 2015.

The program has resulted in three Furnace regions. The original Furnace, based in Arizona, has fostered 14 new startup companies that have leveraged technologies from public universities and private health care groups. In addition to the N.Y. Furnace, a separate Furnace will be conducted in San Diego to work with the Navy’s SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific to commercialize the Navy’s technology.

While many common commercial technologies such as the Internet or Global Positioning System were initially military technologies, not all of the military’s inventions have the means to make it to the commercial market.

"Beyond their initial development for our servicemen and women, many technologies developed by DOD laboratories possess strong commercial potential, but end up remaining within the labs due to limited means to launch these discoveries into the marketplace," said Dr. John Fischer, director of the Defense Laboratories in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. "This technology transfer competition provides technologies to entrepreneurs, taking taxpayer-funded technologies outside the lab and potentially providing new solutions to the warfighter."

While the military is expected to benefit from the technology transfers as entrepreneurs market and improve the technology, the Furnace will allow civilian entrepreneurs to leverage DOD technologies into new, commercial uses.

"This initiative empowers our community of innovators and serial entrepreneurs to envision commercial applications for these technologies that our colleagues in the Air Force may have never intended," Mary Carol Chruscicki, executive director of the CYBER New York Alliance, said in the AFRL release. "For example, one of the technologies being showcased is self-repairing computer code that protects Web-enabled devices against known and unknown cyber threats. Clearly, with the recent 'Heartbleed' password encryption bug, along with other similar cyber threats facing consumers and businesses alike, there are obvious commercial applications for this particular technology."

About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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