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CUTC Tech Transfer

January 10, 2022

At the 2022 CUTC Winter Meeting and Awards Banquet tonight,  Carnegie Mellon University was awarded the Council of University Transportation Center‘s 2021 Technology Transfer Leadership Award for its efforts through its Mobility21 University Transportation Center.  Watch the acceptance video here.

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) launched the Traffic21 Institute in 2009 with the motto of “Research, Development and Deployment” to connect cutting edge research being done at the university with “real-world” transportation practitioners and challenges they faced.

With dramatic changes in the field of transportation driven by rapid advancements in information and communications technologies, CMU recognized that researchers doing work in transportation were housed in many departments of engineering including civil and environmental, electrical and computer, mechanical, systems, etc.  Furthermore, there were researchers from other disciplines including computer science, robotics, public policy, business, architecture and design, etc.  Therefore, CMU has kept this transportation research funding open to all faculty in the university.

The technology transfer program is designed to:

    1. Reach out to public and private transportation practitioners to identify real-world problems.
    2. Share those real world problems with researchers.
    3. When there is alignment, connect researcher with practitioner to jointly scope out a research project that can be pilot deployed in the field.
    4. Identify research funding.
    5. Support the research and pilot deployment.
    6. In successful deployments, support transfer of the technology or policy research for agency adoption or commercialization.
    7. Support faculty with their spin off companies.
    8. Continue to re-engage with deployment partners.

The program began in 2010 with seed funding from the Hillman Foundation, 12 researchers and 20 deployment partners.

Researchers are supported by CMU’s Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation and the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship.  In 2021 the Mobility21 UTC sponsored two Swartz Center Innovation Fellows who were working on spin off companies.

By and large, what attracts entrepreneurial professors and students to CMU is a liberating technology commercialization philosophy.  This underlying philosophy, dubbed “Five Percent, Go in Peace” serves as CMU’s technology transfer model and is the driving force behind Greenlighting Startups. Developed on the Carnegie Mellon campus, “Five Percent, Go in Peace” is a first-of-its-kind spinoff-model for academia that has, itself, become one of the university’s great inventions.

The goal of Five Percent, Go In Peace, was to create a transparent, expedient and easy to understand process that minimizes extensive negotiations,” said Carnegie Mellon Provost and Executive Vice President Mark S. Kamlet. “Through this unique model, we have simplified our approach to free entrepreneurs so they can do what they do best.”

There have been six spin off companies at CMU that were support by UTC research.

With support from the US DOT University Transportation Centers program, CMU and its Traffic21 Institute has grown its original 20 deployment partners into a formal Deployment Partner Consortium with over 180 active public, private and non-profit members.  An annual symposium is held to continually foster the collaboration among students and researchers along with their research deployment partners.

Deployment partners are invited to participate in a seminar series, the Smart Mobility Connection, held throughout the school year where research is highlighted and networking is enabled.   Partners are also subscribed to the Smart Transportation Dispatch which is a weekly email newsletter of transportation technology news from CMU and around the world.

CMU has demonstrated the scalability of this model within the university through the growth of the consortium and its reach into students and faculty across the campus.

Starting in 2015 CMU began applying this deployment partner model nationally with other UTCs.  Using the annual consortium symposium as a model, CMU sponsored the first National Safety Summit of University Transportation Centers in Pittsburgh, convening a national group of public and private transportation leaders to discuss real-world problems and inviting over a dozen other UTCs to highlight their research.  In the second year this event was moved to Washington, DC to further engage a national audience of partners and UTCs from across the nation.  CMU has hosted a total of six national summits under the themes of safety and mobility.

When the US DOT UTC program required UTCs to develop and implement formal technology transfer plans, CMU’s Technology Transfer Plan was recognized by US DOT as one of two model programs and shared with other UTCs.