Stephen Shepherd (center left), a mechanical engineer with Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Divisions Maritime Systems Hydromechanics Branch, discusses potential uses for an invention by a Navy engineer for the underwater towing of marine vessels, with attendees of the final Fed Tech event May 8, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Navy photo by Dr. Joseph Teter/Released) (Photo by Joe Teter)
WEST BETHESDA, Md. —
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division's Technology Transfer Office just sent the command's third employee through the Fed Tech program, a national program based in the capital region to promote the smooth transfer of technology from federal labs to market or industry.
As part of the Fed Tech program this year, which ended May 8, Stephen Shepherd, a mechanical engineer with Carderock's Maritime Systems Hydromechanics Branch, teamed up with entrepreneurs from different organizations in New York City to find out how a specific Navy technology might be useful in another market outside of the Navy.
Shepherd was initially approached by his supervisor at Carderock, Steve Ebner, to join this year's Fed Tech cohort because of an invention of Shepherd's that is currently in the patenting process. After he provided several technologies developed by the Navy, specifically Carderock, as potential projects for the program, Fed Tech ultimately chose an invention that was patented years ago by Dr. David Coakley, who works in Shepherd's branch. The invention is for underwater towing of marine vessels, U.S. Patent No. 6,416,369.
"It's just an idea," Shepherd said of the technology, rebranding it as a self-contained underwater engine pod that provides power to marine vessels. Shepherd said his Fed Tech team talked to nearly 50 experts in the marine field to see if it can be applied in commercial industry, focusing on the shipping companies that move large barges.
The Fed Tech program is sponsored by MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator, an innovation and entrepreneurship initiative run out of the Department of Defense's Office of Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy. Ben Solomon, founder and managing partner for Fed Tech, said he's seen more than 60 federal technologies come through the program.
"Seeing the connection between entrepreneurs and the DOD Lab community is amazing," Solomon said. "These two groups don't traditionally interact but there's so much mutual value for everyone when they come together. Everyone learns and great things can happen."
Dr. Joseph Teter, Carderock's director of technology transfer, said the Fed Tech program is just one way Carderock tries to get its technology introduced to the marketplace, and that it has been a very interesting process.
"It's an engaging, highly innovative program," Teter said, adding that Carderock's Fed Tech researchers are sponsored by the Office of Naval Research's Technology Transfer Program. "The benefit for Carderock is that we're exposing our scientists and engineers to a new way of thinking about how they interact with companies and get their technology to the point where it's usable by the Navy. It's great to come up with a new idea and then patent that idea. But then you have to take that idea and see if you can get it to the fleet. That's difficult."
When a federal laboratory develops certain technologies, it can take up to 20 years for the technology to be fully developed, tested and introduced to the non-federal market, according to Dr. Alexey Titovich, an acoustician in Carderock's Structural Acoustics and Target Strength Branch. Titovich was part of the second cohort, which completed the Fed Tech program last year.
By pairing up with entrepreneurs or business students, Titovich said the Fed Tech program helps inventors, like him, to determine the market value and potential customers of a technology.
"As the name (Fed Tech) suggests, the idea is to quickly transition technologies developed at federal labs, all federal labs, to essentially the world to market," said Titovich, who invented an aircraft infrasonic sensor designed to sense low-frequency acoustic waves in the atmosphere, potentially for weather and turbulence predictions. "Throughout the eight-week program, we interviewed about 30 viable customers or partners that might be interested in using this technology."
Carderock's Office of Counsel filed a patent application last year for the aircraft infrasonic sensor developed by Titovich, who has been at Carderock for almost three years. He said it's important for Navy engineers to patent their technology, and also to discover ways that the technology might be used outside of the original intention for the Navy.
"This Fed Tech program was the perfect way to do this," said Titovich, who was paired with students from the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business in College Park, Maryland, said. "I learned a lot about the business side of marketing the technology and the students learned a lot about the technology, in general."
Stephanie Bo, one of the Master of Business Administration students working with Titovich, said the program allowed her to learn and understand the government's process to obtain investments in technological developments.
"While working with Dr. Titovich, our team was able to connect with top scientists and researchers throughout the country," Bo said. "We were able to learn firsthand about our technology's current market and how the market will be evolving in the near future from both a military and commercial viewpoint."
Bo said the hands-on experience in working directly with the federal labs made her realize how important technology advancement is for both military and civilian use.
"The Fed Tech program opened my eyes to a world I did not know existed and the challenges federal labs face to promote their technologies," Bo said.
The first cohort involved Jonathan Kruft, an engineer with Carderock's Non-Metallic Materials Research and Engineering Branch, going into the program with a patented electromagnetic functionalized composite material developed for use in multifunctional armor. Kruft's Fed Tech team came out of the program with a potential medical use as an effective shield for electromagnetic radiation for medical devices, which could help prevent hacking of small devices like pacemakers and provide better shielding in some of the bigger X-ray or CT scan machines.
"This was a thought-provoking, yet intensive project to view patentable technologies from a fast-track commercialization perspective," Kruft said of working with the Fed Tech program. "This experience has enhanced my ability to view materials development from the occasional non-defense application."
Teter said that by commercializing the technology developed during the basic research levels, someone else could build it and put it forward as a commercial product. The Navy can then acquire the commercial product and use it.
"You don't know what your true market is when you go in," Teter said. "And once you've gone through the program you have a much better idea of where the market is for your technology."