Resource Report:
NASA's Regional Technology Transfer Centers

"A network within a network." That is how the staff at the Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) aptly describes its role as one of the six NASA Regional Technology Transfer Centers (RTTCs). Each of them reaches out to its national brethren, as well as to the hub, the National Technology Transfer Center at Wheeling Jesuit College, Wheeling, WV. But at the same time, each, in ways that are similar but uniquely suited to its locale, stands at the center of a regional network linking federal laboratories with state and local agencies, universities, and businesses.

The RTTCs, funded by NASA and aligned with the six Federal Laboratory Consortium regions, opened their doors in January 1992. Since then they have established regional ties to more than 70 state and local organizations, creating a national web to enable U.S. companies to learn of, evaluate, and acquire NASA and other federally-funded technologies for commercial exploitation.

Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC)

CTC, serving the Northeast from Westborough, MA, defines its mission as making American companies more competitive worldwide through market-driven product and process definition, technology acquisition, and product commercialization. The corporation's "inner" network comprises eight Satellite Technology Transfer Centers located in the six New England states, New York, and New Jersey. These are responsible for knowing industrial market needs and capabilities, opportunities, and programs throughout their local areas.

CTC's NASA Business Outreach Program, established in 1993, acts as advocate for Northeast businesses in seeking contracting opportunities with NASA and its prime contractors. The program focuses on small, minority-owned, and woman-owned firms to help them realize the full potential of NASA opportunities for their products, services, and technology areas.

CTC also participates in the Advanced Research Projects Agency's TAP-IN, a program that helps small defense-related companies develop commercial products, enter new markets, and find commercial applications for defense technology. Other resources include CTC's Technical Information Center, which facilitates technology, marketing, and patent research, and document and patent delivery.

Since its inception in 1992, CTC has established four new companies, licensed 26 NASA and federally-funded technologies to private industry, completed 51 partnership agreements between federal laboratories and private companies, provided technical and commercialization services to more than 3000 Northeast companies, assisted small businesses in raising more than $3 million in capital, and helped Fortune 500 companies obtain $1.5 billion in new contracts.

The center helped arrange a three-year $1-million collaboration between Brown University and NASA in which remote sensing data of Narragansett Bay obtained by the space agency will be studied by Brown geological scientists. Applied Science Associates, a Rhode Island company that designs computer models to track water pollutants and other coastal activities, will apply the information commercially.

In another instance, a member of CTC's network assisted in the transfer of satellite antenna technology developed by NASA to KVH Industries, another Rhode Island firm, which will manufacture units for recreational vehicles and trucks. Furthermore, the prominent toy maker, Hasbro, after contacting the CTC for help in improving the air-worthiness of a flying foam glider, joined with NASA Langley Research Center scientists in a successful collaboration.

For more information: CTC, 1400 Computer Drive, Westborough, MA 01881-5043; (508) 870-0042; Fax (508) 366-0101; William Gasko, director.

Mid-Atlantic Technology Applications Center (MTAC)

Headquartered at the University of Pittsburgh, MTAC calls itself a champion for its industrial clients, aiding them in locating, assessing, acquiring, and commercializing technologies and expertise in the federal laboratory system. Its watchword is its "Cradle to Success" service, in which it provides assistance from the identification of technologies to their use in a product or process.

Recent initiatives include MTAC's efforts to find potential partners to commercialize NASA Langley's LaRC-SI, a moldable, soluble, strong, and crack-resistant polymer with promise for many kinds of protective coatings. (See "NASA Innovations," NASA Tech Briefs, October 1995, page 22.) MTAC also is aiding NASA Langley in a similar search involving THUNDER, a high-displacement piezoelectric actuator. Cooperative opportunity program sessions early this year will disclose these new materials to industry, paving the way for licensing their manufacture.

After four Pittsburgh firefighters died in the line of duty in 1994, MTAC coordinated an agreement between the city's Bureau of Fire and NASA Langley in a multifaceted effort to find technologies to improve firefighter safety equipment. Innovations being investigated include an advanced tracking system for locating personnel and equipment in a burning structure; noise reduction and control technologies to improve communications with the on-scene command post; in-mask carbon monoxide management through application of Langley's low-temperature oxidation catalyst, coupled with a warning system; and new lightweight, heat-resistant, and self-extinguishing materials for use in equipment, clothing, and hoses.

In the biomedical area, MTAC recently helped a startup company commercialize a portable, handheld noninstrumental immunoassay, and located a test facility for a company designing an accelerometer. MTAC now is helping the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative to locate federal technologies associated with engineered tissue, including cell culturing, gene therapy, and organ transplants and regeneration.

Late last year, the center facilitated the signing of a cooperative R&D agreement between the Department of Energy's Pittsburgh Energy Technology Center and Cetek, a Transfer, PA, company, through which Cetek will use the former's facilities to test coatings on advanced combustion systems.

For more information: MTAC, University of Pittsburgh, 823 William Pitt Union, Pittsburgh, PA 16260; (412) 648-7000; Fax (412) 648-7003; Lani S. Hummel, executive director.

Southern Technology Applications Center (STAC)

STAC, housed at the University of Florida's College of Engineering in Alachua, FL, works to expedite technology transfer and economic development throughout the nine southeastern states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.

STAC's networks crisscross the region in various ways. It recently formed the Southeast Regional Technology Transfer Alliance with the three NASA field centers in its region - Kennedy Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Stennis Space Center - to leverage NASA technology through bilateral understandings with state economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, small-business development agencies, and others. In the past each member had pursued specific technology transfer endeavors, but the Alliance will bring their combined resources to bear on specific problems.

STAC's Alabama affiliate helped Eggstra Enterprises locate a foam rubber technology developed by NASA for the seats of fighter jets that improved the marketability of its product while reducing the cost of production. As a result, the company expects sales of its "Egg- sercizer" handheld therapeutic wrist and hand exerciser to increase two- to three-fold over the next 18 months.

In an ongoing initiative with NASA Stennis, the Louisiana Business and Technology Center, a STAC affiliate, has helped Cryopolymers Inc. to improve a process used in recycling tires, facilitating the reduction of rubber to "crumb" that can be used in road surfacing, agricultural hose, and culvert piping.

STAC also serves as a mechanism for delivery of federally- and state-funded R&D to the private, academic, and public sectors. Recently the Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded STAC a grant, matched by the University of Florida, to establish a University Center for Technical Assistance to promote the private-sector use of university and other federal technology.

For more information: STAC, University of Florida College of Engineering, One Progress Blvd., Box 24, Alachua, FL 32615; (904) 462-3913; Fax (904) 462-3898; J. Ronald Thornton, director.

Great Lakes Industrial Technology Center (GLITeC)

Battelle, the world's largest not-for-profit industrial R&D organization, hosts NASA's midwest RTTC. GLITeC, located in Cleveland, OH, helps industry access NASA and other federal technology and expertise in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. A random sampling over a single year showed that GLITeC saved its clients as much as $2-4 million through 236 instances of transfer or commercialization of NASA expertise and knowledge.

Working with GLITeC and NASA's Lewis Research Center (LeRC) in Cleveland, an Ohio company is adapting LeRC composite mechanics software to model concrete microstructures and predict mechanical performance under structural loads. Lewis is extending the reach of the collaboration by modifying its Integrated Composite Analyzer software for polymer matrix composites.

In another case, a Lewis-developed material helped a Michigan company expand its product line. GLITeC arranged for Lewis's technical counseling, testing, and data on the microstructure and metallurgy of LeRC's palladium-chromium alloy to be used as a wire filament for a unique high-temperature strain gauge. The company now manufactures its Harsh Environment Weldable Gauge based on the alloy.

GLITeC and Lewis have assembled the Advanced Coatings and Surface Texturing Consortium, whose members receive a detailed state-of-the-art evaluation of surface treatment technology, as well as consulting and research services tailored to their specific interests. Through the consortium, GLITeC and Lewis are enabling a major manufacturer of medical devices to apply surface modification technology to plastics to expand their use in disposable medical products.

The Chicago Fire Department gave GLITeC a list of technical needs that would improve fire safety, and enlisted its help in finding technologies, manufacturers, and financing. In collaboration with Stennis, GLITeC is pursuing commercialization and application of a device to identify invisible hydrogen and alcohol fires. Anticipating the delivery of a prototype to the fire department early this year, the team is looking for a commercial partner to license the technology and design a product.

For more information: GLITeC, Battelle Memorial Institute, 25000 Great Northern Corporate Center, Suite 450, Cleveland, OH 44070-5310; (216) 734-0094; Fax (216) 734-0686; Christopher Coburn, executive director.

Mid-Continent Technology Transfer Center (MCTTC)

From its headquarters at Texas A&M University System's Engineering Extension Service in College Station, MCTTC encompasses the largest area of any RTTC, serving 14 states: Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Utah, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas. MCTTC is at the center of a consortium whose affiliates include the Extension Service's Technology and Economic Development Division, the University of Houston-Clear Lake, the Midwest Research Institute, SaraTech Finance Inc., and the Economic Council of St. Louis County.

Through another of its affiliates, Knowledge Based Systems Inc. (KBSI), also in College Station, MCTTC has a direct impact on the small business community. KBSI is an information systems engineering, modeling, and software development company that specializes in integrated business methods, tools, training, and infrastructure consulting. One of KBSI's clients is the Small Business Accelerator Facility (SBAF). Located in a former Texas Instruments plant in College Station. SBAF provides an environment in which small agile manufacturers can refine their manufacturing, information systems, and business practices. KBSI provides liaison between SBAF-housed companies and the MCTTC, and between the companies and the CALS Shared Resources Center in Orange, TX.

One example of the way MCTTC brings together startup commercial enterprises and NASA expertise is CarterCopters Inc. Of Wichita Falls, TX. Jay Carter Jr., the company's president and chief designer, approached the center with his innovative design for an aircraft combining a rotor with a fixed wing and propeller that he said would be able to take off vertically, cruise nonstop at 45,000 ft. From Los Angeles to New York at speeds up to 400 mph, and land vertically anywhere, even downtown. MCTTC's initial commercialization assessment was positive, seeing great potential for general aviation. For technical savvy it turned to a project manager at the CTC who was knowledgeable in the aerospace field. He soon became an ardent supporter of the design, and paved the way for Carter to meet with experts at Ames Research Center.

After verifying the aircraft's design and performance tests, Ames encouraged the company to apply for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. CarterCopters received Phase I funding from NASA last fall. Carter got further help on a business strategy and the identification of venture capital sources from MCTTC, and speculates that with private financial support a prototype could be in the air by the end of the year.

It was just such a combination of public and private support that enable Gateway Technologies of Boulder, CO, to get on its feet. The company licensed enhanced thermal insulation technology developed by Triangle Research and Development Corp. of Raleigh, NC, under SBIR agreements with NASA and the Air Force. The crucial ingredient in their textile fibers and substrates, originally intended for use in space gloves, are microencapsulated phase- change materials that raise heat capacity and slow heat transfer. From its founding, Gateway sought private industry partners, and calls MCTTC's role in its commercialization efforts crucial to its success in lining up several partners to develop a diverse array of insulated products such as blankets, gloves, scuba-diving skins, and firefighting gloves.

For more information: MCTTC, Technology and Economic Development, Texas Engineering Extension Service, Texas A&M University System, 301 Tarrow, College Station, TX 77843-8000; (409) 845-8762; Fax (409) 845-3559; Gary Sera, director.

Far West Regional Technology Transfer Center

Headquartered at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the Far West Regional Technology Transfer Center serves an eight-state area: Arizona, California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii. The center estimates that in the first quarter of last year its clients' revenues increased by more than $6 million, more than 60 jobs were created or saved, and cost savings to clients exceeded $120,000.

One recent initiative to yield promising results began when SpiraMed Corp., a California startup, became interested in a NASA Ames Research Center technology developed to determine whether life has existed on other planets. In collaboration with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and San Jose State University, Ames developed a carbon-isotope laser spectroscopic analysis technique for soil samples from other planets. Believing the analysis of such isotope ratios in soil and in breath can use the same process, SpiraMed requested Far West's assistance in obtaining rights to commercialize the technology for medical diagnostics. The result was a Space Act Agreement with Ames, as well as negotiations between the company, venture capital firms, and medical equipment manufacturers to fund product development.

Even when a NASA project seems space-specific, Far West has probed commercial possibilities. The Stardust program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory proposes a spacecraft to fly through the extended tail of an active comet to image it and obtain comet dust samples. Far West assisted the JPL team in identifying commercial potential in the work and developing marketing strategies. This led to a Technology Cooperation Agreement between a substantial commercial partner and JPL for development of aerogel, a gel from which the liquid is removed and replaced with gas without shrinkage.

Far West extended its reach as far as NASA Langley on the east coast when H&H, a California bioremediation services company, came to it looking for a material to increase the life of fan knife blades used in its Turborator, a machine for cutting and mixing contaminated soil for hydrocarbon bioremediation. H&H will test a new polyimide coating spawned at Langley that should allow diamond and other hard substances to be embedded in the blade surface. Far West also identified commercial markets - for example, making one-piece epoxy composite golf clubs - for a company whose composite molding technique was developed for defense purposes, and introduced it to Langley resilient coating technology for application to the epoxies.

For more information: Far West RTTC, University of Southern California, 3716 S. Hope St. , Suite 200, Los Angeles, CA 90007-4344; (213) 743-2353; Fax (213) 746-9043; Robert I. Stark, director.

To reach the RTTC nearest you, call 800-472-6785.