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Appendix 8: Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA)

Technology Transfer

The Norman Y. Mineta Research and Special Programs Improvement Act (P.L. 108-426, 118 Stat. 243, November 30, 2004) specifically grants powers and duties to the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), powers and duties as prescribed by the Secretary for “coordination, facilitation and review of the Department’s research and development programs and activities;” [The Mineta Act, § 4(a) (2), Powers and Duties of the Administrator].  Part of RITA’s mission is to coordinate and foster research activities across all DOT modes, thus the modes are inherently RITA’s internal stakeholders.  These stakeholders play major roles in the diverse areas of the Department’s research. 

RITA coordinates technology transfer efforts with DOT Operating Administrations in response to the Technology Transfer Commercialization Act of 20004, and the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 19805.  RITA’s mission is to help identify and facilitate solutions to the challenges and opportunities facing America’s transportation system through coordinating, facilitating, and reviewing USDOT’s research and development programs. 

RITA is involved with other departmental technology transfer activities, some examples include: DOT representation in the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer and active participation in the Inter-agency Working Group on Technology Transfer chaired by the Department of Commerce.  Also, RITA is finding ways to leverage technology transfer practices from other Federal agencies to the Department. 

University Transportation Centers

The University Transportation Centers (UTC) Program is managed by RITA in a new competitive environment for the purpose of conducting multi-modal and multi-disciplinary research, education and technology transfer activities in support of Departmental priorities.  Universities publish their research projects on various public websites (Transportation Research Board, UTC websites, and others) and submit electronic copies to various stakeholders.  Universities are also required to report on technology transfer and intellectual property activities, such as invention disclosures and patent application filings.  They must also report on the impacts technologies of their technologies, whether it be an invention, best practice, or other conceivable benefit.  Any transfer of results to the government or industry and instances where the research led to the initiation of a start-up company will now be reported.  RITA is looking to hire a patented bar attorney to support DOT’s role in intellectual property related activities.

Research HUB

RITA’s new Research Hub is a web-based, searchable database of the Department’s latest research, development, and technology projects, showcasing its research portfolio at the project level for the first time. The database pulls information from over 20 different data sources into a central repository of active and recently completed projects from ten Operating Administrations. The database has been developed in response to OMB and GAO’s request for a “DOT-wide database of all of DOT’s RD&T projects that will support RITA’s coordination, facilitation, and review efforts”6.  Before the Research Hub was available, any requests for project-level information on DOT’s research portfolio from external stakeholders or members of the public would have to be addressed through time-consuming “data call” exercises that pulled DOT staff from around the Department away from their normal responsibilities.  

Work on the current initiative began in 2010, a proof-of-concept project verified the feasibility of the multi-data source approach and this initial project’s success led to an early 2011 decision to establish the database as a permanent DOT resource and expand its content to DOT’s Operating Administrations. It was also decided to include research products and outputs in the database and to document “real-world” project impacts to demonstrate the value of DOT’s research investment. The Research Hub was released as a beta version to the public in January 2012, receiving positive feedback from DOT staff, external stakeholders, and the transportation research community. Plans are underway to release an upgraded 1.0 version in 2013. 

Discussions have been held with staff from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to use the Research Hub to represent DOT in the STAR Metrics Initiative, which seeks to establish a Federal-wide database of RD&T projects, products, and outcomes. It is expected that the Research Hub will join this initiative in late 2012.   

DOT programs in various Operating Administration RD&T offices, along with the UTC grants program, and tools such as the Research Hub, are examples of how DOT engages in enhancing its technology transfer program and create avenues for commercialization opportunities. 

Annual Performance Report on Technology Transfer

Every year, the Department of Commerce (DOC) submits a Federal Laboratory T2 Fiscal Year Summary Report to the President and the Congress in accordance with 15 USC Sec 3710(g)(2) summarizing the implementation of technology transfer authorities established by the Technology Transfer Commercialization Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-404) and similar legislation.  RITA prepares and submits the report for DOT agencies.

Transportation Safety Institute

The Transportation Safety Institute (TSI) provides knowledge transfer, a form of technology transfer, through training, products, and services to the transportation community through innovative methods and industry standards.  TSI incorporates the latest research and science into its curriculum to transfer timely and relevant information to each student.  TSI staff members are national experts in their fields of study and have proven skills in the science of accident and crash investigation.  Each year, approximately 25,000 transportation professionals receive the most up-to-date DOT safety training available, and TSI creates learning environment geared to speed the application of training back to the job. 

For more than 40 years, TSI has been improving the safety of our transportation system by teaching cutting-edge technologies and techniques to transportation safety practitioners around the world.  Read more about how TSI transfers knowledge and technology every day in the 2011 Significant Accomplishments report.

John Volpe Transportation Research Center

The Volpe Center, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been helping the transportation community navigate the most challenging problems for more than 40 years. As the National Transportation Systems Center, our mission is to improve transportation by anticipating and addressing emerging issues and advancing technical, operational, and institutional innovations across all modes.

Part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Volpe is a unique Federal agency that is 100 percent funded by sponsor projects. As a result, technology transfer activities are influenced by research sponsors, who have a controlling interest in managing the intellectual property that results from sponsored activities.   We partner with public and private organizations to assess the needs of the transportation community, evaluate research and development endeavors, assist in the deployment of state-of-the-art transportation technologies, and inform decision- and policy-making through our comprehensive analyses.

Home to renowned multidisciplinary expertise in all modes of transportation, Volpe serves its sponsor agencies with advanced technologies, research, and programs to ensure a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system that meets vital national and international interests and enhances the quality of life for the traveling public, today and into the future.

As a federal laboratory, the Volpe Center actively seeks technology transfer opportunities through a variety of means, including Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, research reports, technical presentations at conferences and workshops, and webinars on topics of national interest among transportation decision makers. Patent and copyright protection is used as appropriate; however, to the extent possible, access to innovations that serve the public good are provided at minimal or no cost to users.  Currently, the Maritime Safety and Security Information System (MSSIS) and the Aviation Environmental Design Tool (AEDT) exemplify how the Volpe Center works closely with its sponsors to transfer innovative concepts into practice.    

Initially developed for the Navy, MSSIS is a freely-shared, unclassified, near real-time vessel data collection and distribution network. Participating countries share data from Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) and other maritime-related systems. MSSIS enables collaboration and data-sharing among international participants, with a primary goal of increasing maritime security and safety. Volpe’s Transview (TV32) client software for MSSIS, serves as a common system interface and vessel tracking display for users. TV32 offers standalone display features and functions as a gateway for users to access and contribute to the aggregated, global dataset.  MSSIS received an Innovation in American Government Award from the Harvard University Ash Institute in 2008 and a Federal Laboratory Consortium Excellence in Technology Transfer Award in 2010.  As of September 2012, 72 nations around the globe participate in the MSSIS network –as the wave of innovation continues under the ongoing sponsorship by the Department of Defense. 

The Aviation Environmental Design Tool (AEDT) was developed in cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Environment and Energy and released in early 2012.  AEDT is a software system that dynamically models aircraft performance in space and time to produce and consider the interdependencies between fuel burn, emissions and noise.  AEDT is licensed by the FAA at $1,000 for a single site license, with lower per site costs for multiple site licenses.  Revenue is used to offset the costs of ongoing AEDT maintenance and support.  Since April 2012, AEDT has been transferred to several dozen organizations and interest continues to grow domestic and international regulatory bodies, air traffic service providers, airports, consultants, academia, environmental organizations, industry organizations, as well as airframe and engine manufacturers. 

4 42 U.S.C. 7261c

5 15 U.S.C. 3701 et seq.

6 United States Government Accountability Office. (2006). TRANSPORTATION RESEARCH. Opportunities for Improving the Oversight of DOT’s Research Programs and User Satisfaction with Transportation Statistics. GAO-06-917.