University-Army Alliance Seeks to Speed up Technology Inventions

Federal funding will allow the Maryland Proof of Concept Alliance to take technological breakthroughs and translate them into tools that keep soldiers safe.

by / December 6, 2010

To speed up the process of bringing promising technological projects to the commercial market, the U.S. armed forces have invested in research institutions at the University System of Maryland.

More than $5 million in funding from various federal investors will allow the Maryland Proof of Concept Alliance to take technological and scientific breakthroughs in Maryland’s university and federal labs, and translate them into tools that keep soldiers safe and help them complete their missions. The alliance teams University System of Maryland research institutions and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.

Proof-of-concept centers have worked successfully at several private universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Southern California, where they’ve helped create dozens of companies. The Maryland Proof of Concept Alliance is one of the first applications in the public sector.

The alliance will help university researchers overcome the common obstacle of proving a new product concept to investors in order to bring the inventions from the lab to the commercial market.

“Too many promising technologies never make it beyond university labs, when they could be commercially viable, and go on to create jobs and revenue,” said the project’s principal investigator and administrator, Jacques Gansler, a former U.S. under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics who also directs the University of Maryland’s Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise, in a statement. “A small, strategic investment at this early point allows researchers to prove to potential partners that their innovation is more than just a good idea.”

Technologies the program will fund include:

  • a revolutionary thin-film battery to power military remote-sensing devices;
  • a miniature location device modeled on the super-efficient sensory array found in fly ears;
  • an imaging device to map the molecular surface of unknown biochemical weapon materials;
  • a high-efficiency solar cell that uses a technology unique to Maryland; and
  • a new class of antibiotics that enhance people’s natural immune response.

The grants are being made in stages — the first round went out last spring and a second round went out in early December.

“This is all about new technology, new jobs and national security,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., who championed the two-year federal grant funding the program, in a statement. “It is so important that we invest in the technologies of the future to keep our country safe, stay on the cutting edge and grow the innovation work force of tomorrow.”

In addition to funding, the program makes key federal and University System of Maryland equipment available to researchers, as well as legal and business support to guide them as they enter the commercial market.