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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


Exploratory Advanced Research Program

Technology Readiness Level Guidebook

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The mission of the Department of Transportation is to serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system. Ongoing research activities offer an opportunity to explore methods of making our transportation system more robust in all of these ways. From researching novel modes of transportation to developing advances in agent-based modeling of traveler behavior, research is at the core of making our system one that enhances the quality of life of the American people.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program focuses on high-risk, high-reward research that bridges the gap between basic and applied research. It also supports the development of transformative research tools that can accelerate development of solutions for highway-related challenges. The value of this type of research lies in how researchers in Government, academia, and industry use the results. For EAR Program-sponsored projects that reach or exceed their anticipated results or develop other advances that have immediate or near-term value, the EAR Program is committed to providing the support necessary to apply those results toward advancing roadway-related tools and technologies.

In fulfilling its mission, the EAR Program identified the need for a system to describe the maturity of highway research products. Numerous mechanisms exist for sharing research results, including technical reports, fact sheets, and demonstrations, but capturing the core of the research project while offering tangible next steps is a more difficult undertaking. The EAR Program uses Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Assessments along with other tools to help identify which research products to emphasize for transition and which audiences would be interested in the results.

The lessons presented in this Guidebook will help those working in transportation research to conduct an evaluation that will likely rank the maturity of a technology and describe the followup steps for advancing their efforts.



This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The U.S. Government assumes no liability for the use of the information contained in this document.

The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trademarks or manufacturers' names appear in this report only because they are considered essential to the objective of the document.

Quality Assurance Statement

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides high-quality information to serve Government, industry, and the public in a manner that promotes public understanding. Standards and policies are used to ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of its information. FHWA periodically reviews quality issues and adjusts its programs and processes to ensure continuous quality improvement.


Technical Report Documentation Page

1. Report No.


2. Government Accession No. 3 Recipient's Catalog No.
4. Title and Subtitle

Technology Readiness Level Guidebook

5. Report Date

September 2017

6. Performing Organization Code
7. Author(s)

Nate Deshmukh Towery, Elizabeth Machek, Anthony Thomas

8. Performing Organization Report No.


9. Performing Organization Name and Address

U.S. Department of Transportation
Volpe Center
55 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02142

10. Work Unit No. (TRAIS)

11. Contract or Grant No.

Contract DTFH61-14-V-00025

12. Sponsoring Agency Name and Address

Exploratory Advanced Research Program
Federal Highway Administration
6300 Georgetown Pike
McLean, VA 22101-2296

13. Type of Report and Period Covered

Final Report
February 3, 2016 - October 31, 2016

14. Sponsoring Agency Code


15. Supplementary Notes

FHWA's Contracting Officer's Technical Representative: Zachary Ellis (HRTM-30)
Technical Contact: David Kuehn (HRTM-30)

16. Abstract

This guidebook provides the necessary information for conducting a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Assessment. TRL Assessments are a tool for determining the maturity of technologies and identifying next steps in the research process. This guidebook offers background on the TRL Scale, walks through every aspect of preparing for and conducting a TRL Assessment, and provides helpful tools and tips throughout. TRL Assessments are flexible evaluation tools and can be used in a variety of settings to fit the needs of the agency conducting them. Having a simple mechanism to determine and communicate technology maturity improves research outcomes and program management.

17. Subject Terms

Technology Readiness Levels, TRLs, Portfolio Assessment, Research Management, Evaluation, TRL Scale, Advanced Research, Technology Adoption

18. Distribution Statement

No restrictions. This document is available to the public through the National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA 22161.

19. Security Classification
(of this report)


20. Security Classification
(of this page)


21. No. of Pages


22. Price
Form DOT F 1700.7 (8-72) Reproduction of completed page authorized

SI* (Modern Metric) Conversion Factors

Table of Contents


1. What is a TRL?

2. Preparing for the TRL Assessment

3. Conducting a Successful TRL Assessment

4. Using the Results of TRL Assessments



Appendix A. Technology Framing Documents

Appendix B. Principal Investigator Questionnaire

Appendix C. TRL Assessment Report Example

Appendix D. Frequently Asked Questions

Appendix E. Example Projects and Associated Technology Readiness Levels

Appendix F. TRL Scale

Appendix G. Additional Resources on the TRL Scale and the Use of TRLs for Assessment

Glossary of Terms and Acronyms


List of Figures

List of Tables


Researchers use evaluation as a key component of the research process. Funding agencies use evaluation tools to rank the maturity level of a technology within the context of the research process. Agency researchers examine how a technology was developed and how that technology functions within its defined operating environment at the time of the examination. They include this information in their evaluation before ranking the maturity level. In some cases, the researchers evaluate a technology to determine its readiness for inception into a technology system (deployment). In other cases, they evaluate it to determine if funding should continue to support the research.

A Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Assessment is a tool for determining the maturity of a technology and provides a foundation for identifying next steps in the research process. Researchers use TRL Assessments as a means to understand a research project’s technological maturity, but the assessments have their limitations. TRL Assessments can help improve communication, research outcomes, and contract management, but they do not address risk, cost, or the feasibility of deployment. Therefore, examiners should use TRL Assessments alongside other evaluation techniques to obtain a complete picture of a research project’s maturity.

This Guidebook provides the necessary information for conducting a TRL Assessment. It offers background on the TRL Scale (shown in appendix F),1 walks through every aspect of preparing for and conducting the TRL Assessment, and provides many helpful tools and tips throughout. The Guidebook begins with an explanation of the TRL Scale, because it provides the foundation for the TRL Assessment. Researchers follow a specific process for conducting the TRL Assessment, as shown in figure 1.

This Guidebook is broken into the four sections below:

Figure 1 is a graphic representation of the TRL Assessment process, using arrows to show progression from one stage to the next, as described in the following text.

Figure 1 TRL Assessment process.

1 All references within this document to the “TRL Scale” refer to a modified TRL Scale developed by the Volpe Center for Highway Transportation R&T on behalf of FHWA.



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