It might seem a long leap from the federal laboratory network to the local dry-cleaning establishment, but bringing the two together is just one of the more unusual successes of the National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC). Since its establishment in 1990, the center has acted on more than 10,000 technical requests and recorded more than 100,000 log-ons to its electronic information system.
Funded by NASA, and with additional support from the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the U.S. Navy, and other federal agencies, the NTTC has its headquarters on the campus of Wheeling Jesuit College in Wheeling, WV. From there it extends its reach throughout the country, drawing on the expertise of more than 700 laboratories and thousands of scientists, engineers, and managers who make up the Federal Laboratory Consortium. NTTC also teams with NASA's Regional Technology Transfer Centers (RTTCs) - six offices nationwide that assist local industry in technology evaluation and commercialization, as well as market assessment and other areas of business expertise.
NTTC's programs run the gamut of technology transfer initiatives. A key service is called the National Gateway, providing callers from business and industry free access to technology and expertise from the NASA labs and other federally funded research facilities. This is done through NTTC technology access agents, who, once apprised of a technical challenge or area of interest, search the proper databases, contact the labs, and often put the inquirer in touch with the individual experts who are the best resources.
But if the inquirer simply wants to browse through the ideas and technical information available from federal sources, there is Business Gold, a free service available via the Internet or direct modem contact. Operating 24 hours a day, NTTC's electronic bulletin board provides information that can be downloaded onto the user's computer free of all charges except for the phone lines. Included are descriptions of new technologies available for licensing and commercialization; NASA RTTC contacts; current SBIR, Technology Reinvestment Program, and similar solicitations; technology transfer conference calendars; information from government software centers; and more.
Using the regional connection, NTTC referred Jay Carter Jr., president of CarterCopters Inc. of Wichita Falls, TX, and designer of a unique gyroplane, to the Mid-Continent Technology Transfer Center (MCTTC) in Texas. After MCTTC's evaluation, Carter was directed to NASA Ames Research Center officials, who helped him draw up a Small Business Innovation Research proposal that won a $70,000 award from NASA last fall. He hopes the CarterCopter will fly as early as the end of the year.
The Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization (OLETC) is another recent example of NTTC's successful partnerships. The center hosts OLETC, a joint undertaking with NASA and the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice. Through it, NTTC funnels state-of-the-art law-enforcement product ideas to the manufacturing community, and arranges for rapid prototyping at test facilities. The center also provides timely funding information to law-enforcement and criminal justice organizations throughout the country to help them acquire advanced technology.
OLETC is pursuing several innovative projects, including a remote-controlled retractable roadway barrier strip that deflates tires, thus eliminating the hazards of high-speed auto chases; a "smart" gun that can be fired only by its owner; a pepper spray launcher-dispenser intended for use in efforts to free hostages; a disabling net and launcher system that deploys a lightweight net to trap escaping suspects; and concealed-weapons detection s;systems.
Last year the partners in OLETC presented Law Enforcement Technology Innovation Awards to Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL) and 3M Law Enforcement Products. INEL designed a rear-seat air bag for patrol vehicles that restrains a violent apprehended suspect, preventing him from injuring himself or others or damaging the vehicle. 3M's fingerprint visualization system (FVIS) is a small kit that detects prints left on nonporous surfaces at a crime scene by dispensing heated cyanoacrylate vapor over an area via a self-igniting wand.
Another critical function of OLETC is helping law-enforcement agencies find ways to pay for innovative equipment. The office has compiled a guide to federal law-enforcement technology funding sources that provides eligibility requirements, criteria for selecting proposals, and examples of funded projects.
As for the dry-cleaning innovation, David Porter, president of Garment Care Inc. in Kansas City, came to NTTC with an idea that would eliminate the environmentally troublesome dry-cleaning chemical perchloroethylene. His rack conveyor system would carry soiled clothes through a water-based ultrasound bath, eliminating the need for the traditional chemical. An NTTC agent searched the center's technology database and came up with a potential research partner: the Kansas City Department of Agriculture facility operated by AlliedSignal. Researchers there responded with 40 hours of free discussion and preliminary tests on swatches of material. The ultimate result was a two-year Department of Energy "mini-CRADA" award of $50,000 for full-fledged research and development.
The dry-cleaning industry "wants innovation that not only takes care of our environment, but also our wallets," Porter says. "That's why we're excited about the technology transfer possibilities now before us. NTTC has, in my opinion, great networking potential for small business."
To access the National Gateway, phone 1-800-678-6882; to reach Business Gold, use Internet: http://www.nttc.edu. For more information on the NTTC, phone Jim Reed, Deputy Director of Marketing, at (304) 243-4400. OLETC is searching for 1996 Technology Innovation Award candidates: call NTTC at 800-678-6882 for more information.