June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
Energy Conversion and Conservation
22.15.1 - 22.15.10
A Balanced View of New Technology EvolutionMost programs try to reflect new technology trends in senior or masters-level courses. Thecontent is usually drawn from research programs and gives a snapshot of today’s technologyfrom the point of view of the specialist researcher. Since the presenters are strongly committed,the view is invariably optimistic and rarely includes the brutal Darwinian selection process thatultimately determines the winners and losers. Students, however, have a longer-term careerinterest and need to learn how to reach a balanced and realistic view before they commit. Thepaper concentrates on how this might be done in a fuel cells course but the approach may be usedmore generally for any emerging technology.The life cycle of established products from design through prototyping and manufacture to end-of-life disposal is usually given thorough treatment in engineering and technology degreeprograms. However, the corresponding features of the life cycle of a technology are less visible.A few decades ago, this process could take the greater part of a professional working life so itcould be learned on the job. Now, however, the development of new technologies progressesmuch faster. By the time a student completes the degree and has some industry experience, theemerging technology will have matured to the point where the job opportunities are booming.On the other hand, the early promise may remain unrealized. The intent is to provide the studentwith tools to determine successful trends before they are common knowledge.The paper describes a process to characterize the technology life-cycle by using a number ofquantifiable parameters. Typically, there are 12 to 18. The research experience that currentlyforms the basis of most new technology courses is only one of the parameters. Another is thedemonstrated applications experience which is embodied in the commonly-used TechnologyReadiness Index. However, there are many more indicators such as the status of intellectualproperty, the sources and levels of investment, the emergence of specialist suppliers, dedicatedstandards and the support infrastructure. The educational value to students comes from directedresearch to find corroborating data, filter out hype and analyze where there is enough synergy tojustify a sustainable business trend in an emerging technology. Invariably, this requires balanceacross the technology maturity parameters so there are important learning outcomes to comparethe relative contributions of strong versus debilitating technology features. The concepts havebeen tested in senior BS and MS academic courses in two universities and in industry shortcourses for engineering executives. The most significant educational impact comes fromstudents finding data to justify their parameter values and projections for technology evolution inthe form of an industry-level roadmap.
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