What are Technical Readiness Levels?
Drones, as a developed and refined technology, originated in the domain of the military since the early 2000’s. The Department of Defense has encouraged the development and use of unmanned technology long before the first airborne selfie was taken via quadcopter. Yet, at the commercial and enterprise level, adoption has lagged.
Part of this is due to the incredible hype levels drones reached in the public. Projections for applications, growth, and value were astronomical, as is characteristic of a new, exciting technology. There is no denying the potential of drone technology to commercial and enterprise sectors. Reality has yet to match the hype in the U.S. In part, this reflects the regulatory realities of the FAA. It also may reflect the need for the presence of proven, reliable systems in the young market.
Finding reliable platforms goes hand-in-hand with developing a sustainable market. This is a key intersection where the practices and lessons of the defense space can pay dividends in the commercial space. For example, Technical Readiness Levels (TRLs) are a set of standard which the DoD often utilizes in system and technology development. TRLs are a good model for technology development for drone-makers in the consumer, commercial, and enterprise sector.
What are TRLs?
Technical Readiness Levels (TRLs) are self-certified standards for the development, implementation, and use of new technology. The idea is to give well-defined development benchmarks for new technology. It’s important to note that TRLs are not an engineering process. TRLs are guidelines and self-certified standards for the engineering process.
Originally developed by NASA, the Department of Defense quickly adopted TRLs to guide development. This organically led to companies at the intersection of the commercial and defense worlds to embrace TRLS as well.
There are the nine Technical Readiness Levels as defined by the DoD:
Basic Principals Observed and Reported
Technology Concept and/or Application Formulated
Analytical and Experimental Critical Function and/or Characteristic Proof of Concept
Component and/or Breadboard Validation in a Laboratory Environment
Component and/or Breadboard Validation in a Relevant Environment
System/subsystem Model or Prototype Demonstration in a Relevant Environment
System Prototype Demonstration in an Operational Environment
Actual System Completed and Qualified Through Test and Demonstration
Actual System Proven Through Successful Mission Operations
For in-depth descriptions of each TRL, supplemental information, and development examples from our own systems, download our full whitepaper for free now: “Examining Technical Readiness Levels and the R&D of UAS Technology”
Finding a Field-Ready System
TRLs are by no means the only way to develop technology. There are very successful consumer drones that have been fully-realized, developed, and brought to market. There are successful commercial systems that have proven themselves or filled niches in the market. They may or may not have been developed using self-certified standards like TRLs, and TRLs are not a requirement for a great piece of technology.
What we advocate to the commercial and enterprise market is seeking out a system that is backed by a process such as TRLs. Fully developed technology provides reliable performance and stability in a young market. TRLs are a good example of where the intersection of the commercial and defense UAS market provides dividends: in the development of field-ready and proven technology.