Technology readiness level

Technology readiness level

Technology Readiness Level (TRL) is a measure used by some United States government agencies and many of the world's major companies (and agencies) to assess the maturity of evolving technologies (materials, components, devices, etc.) prior to incorporating that technology into a system or subsystem. Generally speaking, when a new technology is first invented or conceptualized, it is not suitable for immediate application. Instead, new technologies are usually subjected to experimentation, refinement, and increasingly realistic testing. Once the technology is sufficiently proven, it can be incorporated into a system/subsystem.


Different definitions are used by different agencies, although they are somewhat similar. The most common definitions are those used by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

DOD definitions

Related DOD definitions

The DOD uses similar definitions for the following specialized areas. See "DOD Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA) Deskbook" for more information.
* Software Technology Readiness Levels
* Biomedical Technology Readiness Levels
* Manufacturing Readiness Levels

NASA definitions

Other definitions

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) references Technology Readiness Levels in some of their documents, and seems to rely on the NASA definitions.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is drafting Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) for medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats.

Brief history of Technology Readiness Levels

Technology Readiness Levels were originally developed by NASA in the 1980s. The original definitions only included seven levels. These were later expanded to nine levels.

Original NASA TRL Definitions by Sadin, et al., 1989 (Source: Nolte 2003):Level 1 Basic Principles Observed and Reported:Level 2 Potential Application Validated:Level 3 Proof of Concept Demonstrated, Analytically and/or Experimentally:Level 4 Component and/or Breadboard Laboratory Validated:Level 5 Component and/or Breadboard Validated In Simulated or Real-space Environment:Level 6 System Adequacy Validated In Simulated Environment:Level 7 System Adequacy Validated In Space

The United States Air Force adopted the use of Technology Readiness Levels in the 1990s. In 1995, John C. Mankins, NASA, wrote a "White Paper on Technology Readiness Levels" that discussed NASA’s use of TRLs and proposed descriptions for each TRL. In 1999, the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) produced an influential report GAO/NSIAD-99-162 that examined the differences in technology transition between the DOD and private industry. It concluded that the DOD takes greater risks and attempts to transition emerging technologies at lesser degrees of maturity than does private industry. The GAO concluded that use of immature technology increased overall program risk. The GAO recommended that the DOD adopt the use of NASA's Technology Readiness Levels as a means of assessing technology maturity prior to transition. In 2001, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Science and Technology issued a memorandum that endorsed use of TRLs in new major programs. Guidance for assessing technology maturity was incorporated into the Defense Acquisition Guidebook. Subsequently, the DOD developed detailed guidance for using TRLs in the 2003 DOD Technology Readiness Assessment Deskbook.

TRL assessment tools

A Technology Readiness Level Calculator was developed by the United States Air Force by Nolte et al. This tool is a standard set of questions implemented in Microsoft "Excel" that produces a graphical display of the TRLs achieved. This tool is intended to provide a snapshot of technology maturity at a given point in time.

tasks that are tailored to the technology development and management goals. This approach is comprehensive, yet it consolidates the complex activities that are relevant to the development and transition of a specific technology program into one integrated model.

Uses of Technology Readiness Levels

The primary purpose of using Technology Readiness Levels is to help management in making decisions concerning the development and transitioning of technology. Advantages include::*Provides a common understanding of technology status:*Risk management:*Used to make decisions concerning technology funding:*Used to make decisions concerning transition of technology

Disadvantages include::*More reporting, paperwork, reviews:*Relatively new, takes time to influence the system:*Systems engineering not addressed in early TRLs

ee also

*Technology transfer
*Technology assessment



*GAO, (26 October 1999), "Presentation to the S&T Conference on the Transition of Technology to Acquisition".
*GAO, (October 2001), "Joint Strike Fighter Acquisition – Mature Critical Technologies Needed to Reduce Risk", GAO-02-39.


* [ DOD, (May 2005), "Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA) Deskbook"]
* [ DOD, (24 July 2006), "Defense Acquisition Guidebook"]
* [ GAO, (July 1999), "Best Practices: Better Management of Technology Can Improve Weapon System Outcomes", GAO/NSIAD-99-162]
* [ Graettinger, Caroline P., et. al., (September 2002), "Using the Technology Readiness Levels Scale to Support Technology Management in the DOD’s ATD/STO Environments: A Findings and Recommendations Report Conducted for Army CECOM", Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute, CMU/SEI-2002-SR-027.]
* [ Mankins, John C., (6 April 1995), "Technology Readiness Levels: A White Paper", NASA, Office of Space Access and Technology, Advanced Concepts Office.]
* [ Nolte, William L., et. al., (20 October 2003), "Technology Readiness Level Calculator, Air Force Research Laboratory", presented at the NDIA Systems Engineering Conference.]
* [ Craver, Jeffrey T., et. al., (26 October 2006), "Technology Program Management Model, Army Space and Missile Defense Command Technical Center", presented at the NDIA Systems Engineering Conference.]
* [, Draft BARDA Strategic Plan for Medical Countermeasure Research, Development, and Procurement]

External links

* [ TRL Calculator - available by searching at the "Defense Acquisition University"]
* [ TPMM version 2 - available by searching at the "Defense Acquisition University"]
* [ Uk MoD Future Business Group guide to TRL]

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