Government scientists and engineers can now more easily determine the practical viability of a new technology using assessment tools similar to those used in industry, thanks to the Very Early Product Realization (VEPR) technology transfer tool suite developed by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and Soldier Center (SC).
The problem the Army and other federal research laboratories often face is not generating new, world-class scientific knowledge, but demonstrating the value proposition and competitive product potential of these new discoveries early on.
The VEPR tool suite modified and synchronized the following familiar tools and approaches to address the gap between new laboratory discoveries and potential product relevance:
As a case study, DEVCOM ARL and SC, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Sherpa 6 and Creative Engineering used the VEPR tool suite to reveal and assess the “unknown unknowns” associated with transforming a “nanogalvanic alloy” discovery into a potential product: Soldier Nanogalvanic Alloy Power, or SNAP.
It could also potentially enable a new and safer emergency power source for people affected by floods, hurricanes and other crises.
The nanogalvanic alloy can safely generate hydrogen from water, snow and ice without any environmentally unfriendly catalysts or toxic byproducts. The hydrogen produced by the nanogalvanic alloy’s reaction with water can be converted into electricity by means of a fuel cell.
Hypothetically, this could enable new ways to provide “on-demand” power for soldiers in the field to keep critical mission devices and systems operational longer. It could also potentially enable a new and safer emergency power source for people affected by floods, hurricanes and other crises.
Use of the VEPR tool suite resulted in three generations of MVPs. The first demonstrated the novel ability to rapidly and safely generate hydrogen from the new nanogalvanic alloy using a manually operated system for initiating the nanogalvanic reaction. The second- and third-generation MVPs included much more complex, electronically controlled and automated devices that could be assessed by soldiers.
Based on the use of VEPR tools, the original product design criteria and recommendations were significantly revised to better exploit the hypothesized nanogalvanic alloy potential. After the assessment, the use of the nanogalvanic alloy revealed a much narrower field of potential soldier-portable applications than originally hypothesized, but could provide significant competitive benefits in the target applications.