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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-17-047    Date:  September 2017
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-17-047
Date: September 2017


Appendix C. TRL Assessment Report Example

This document represents a sample TRL Assessment Report of ETC technology from the mid-1980s, when researchers were piloting the initial ETC system.

Technology Readiness Assessment of FHWA EAR Program Project “Example Company: Electronic Toll Collection”


This report summarizes the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Assessment of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program-funded project “Electronic Toll Collection” (ETC). On May 11, 1985, the EAR Program convened a panel of experts to assess the maturity of Example Company’s ETC system; specifically, its ability to capture tolling moments and collect payment. The intended operating environment is any roadway that has a need for electronic tolling.

The remainder of this report provides information about the FHWA EAR Program, a summary of the TRL Assessment process and the TRL Scale, and the proceedings of the assessment panel.

EAR Program Background

The FHWA EAR Program focuses on high-risk, high-reward research that bridges the gap between basic and applied research and development. It also supports the development of transformative research tools that can accelerate development of solutions for highway-related challenges. In fulfilling its mission, the EAR Program identified the need for a system to describe the maturity of highway research products. Such a system would allow experts and nonexperts to: (1) document and communicate the maturity of the research at a specific stage of development; ( 2) indicate how the project might relate to other research; and (3) determine what steps might advance the maturity of a given research product. The John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center developed the TRL Scale for the EAR Program with these capabilities in mind.

About Technology Readiness Assessments and the TRL Scale

TRLs are formal metrics that support assessments of a particular technology and provide the ability to consistently compare levels of maturity between different types of technologies. The TRL Scale uses a set of questions designed to measure progress of a technology toward maturity. NASA originally developed the concept of TRLs. Other Federal agencies, notably the U.S. Department of Defense, adapted the concept later.

The TRL Scale assesses the maturity of a technology in terms of certain characteristics, as measured by successful tests. The scale considers two aspects of the completed tests:

To use the TRL Scale for successfully evaluating a technology, the EAR Program convened a panel of outside experts and a project’s principal investigator (PI) to review the technology and provide an assessment of its maturity, as well as to recommended next steps and additional testing required to advance the technology to a higher TRL.

Technology Overview

The ETC system developed by Example Company consists of the following subsystem components:

The ETC system relies on RFID tags and readers to provide vehicle identification and to trigger the toll charges. The small RFID tags are located on the front windshield of the vehicle, and the readers are typically mounted onto a stationary surface (such as a toll collection booth or on a gantry mounted above the roadway). The readers provide the ETC infrastructure, while the RFID tags are used to distinguish the vehicles and determine responsibility for the charges. Cameras are used to detect and capture license plate numbers to confirm and match RFID tags with vehicle owners.

The COLLECT software is an online software tool meant to standardize and simplify reporting of tolls that have been collected and those that need to be collected. When an RFID tag triggers an RFID reader, an entry is added to the COLL (Commonly Labeled List) with the vehicle tag number, time, toll fee, due date, and address. The system also automatically charges the payment information on file. If none is on file, the system automatically prints and mails a bill to the owner of the vehicle.

Proceedings of the Panel Assessment

EAR Program Manager John Smith opened the meeting with a brief discussion of the goals of the TRL Assessment process and provided an overview of the EAR Program’s role in supporting research on the ETC system. The panelists introduced themselves and then the panel facilitator outlined the structure of the panel assessment.

The project’s PI, Dr. Jane Doe, presented an overview of the research, including summaries of key tests conducted over the course of the project. She presented examples of how the system—including the RFID tags and COLLECT software—works. She summarized the project’s accomplishments during the research period and highlighted areas for next steps.

Following Dr. Doe’s presentation, the panel convened to begin the technology readiness assessment. The panel—including both in-person and remote participants—coalesced around a TRL score of 6 or 7 for the Example Company’s technology. Following the panel’s discussion, Dr. Doe returned to review a summary of the findings and the potential next steps for the research suggested by the panel.

Findings and Recommendations from the Panel Assessment

Potential applications of the ETC technology may be used on any roadway that has a need for electronic tolling. Some users may seek to decrease congestion caused by manual toll systems. Others may want to increase compliance and gather data regarding tolls paid.

The panel determined that the ETC system reached a TRL of 7 (prototype demonstrated in operational environment). The technology operates very well in an operational environment. The panel questioned whether limitations in the COLLECT system would prohibit linking tolling locations. This may lead to an inability to analyze system-wide data.

Possible Next Steps:

  1. The panel suggested that more testing be done to link separate tolling locations in a network. This would allow for system-wide data analytics, which may be important to a subset of the target audience.
  2. The panel suggested convening a virtual focus group of users to provide feedback.

Lessons Learned for Future Technology Readiness Assessments

The participants of the TRL Assessment offered feedback on how the TRL Assessment process can be improved in the future. The panel suggested providing panelists with project information further in advance of the panel meeting. Figure 7 shows an example of a partially marked-up TRL scoring sheet.

Figure 7 is a partial screenshot of a completed TRL scoring sheet, complete with the examiner’s hand-written notes.

Figure 7. Illustration. Sample TRL worksheet.




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