News | Apr 30, 2019

Navy-developed ‘smart connector’ licensed by Ohio-based avionics firm DragoonITCN

A U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit bomber conducts aerial refueling near Hawaii on January 15, 2019.

Russ Scalf/Air Force

DragoonITCN, a small business with a strong position in the military aviation sector, is expanding its tech portfolio and product line into commercial air transport maintenance.

On Monday, Dragoon’s founder and CTO Bob Appenzeller said the Ohio-based company had secured a patent license agreement with the Naval Air Warfare Center’s Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

The agreement, which contains undisclosed financial terms and royalties, allows DragoonITCN to commercialize the Navy’s patented “Smart Connector,” an electronic systems diagnostics tool that isolates faults between specific aircraft hardware by inserting test access points between avionics boxes.

The Smart Connector device, invented by four Navy electronics engineers led by Dr. Russell Shannon, is fully configurable and customizable to detect a wide range of fault indicators and is small enough to be integrated into aircraft wiring bundles or operate as standalone test equipment.

DragoonITCN has a small staff of senior engineers who have transitioned from services to production. The company’s primary product is an avionics diagnostic tool called CORVUS, which is Latin for crow; a bird having a multifunctioning beak, which was developed through the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

CORVUS is a unique test tool that integrates key functionality in a rugged, lightweight form factor. Part of the functionality arose from Air Force crews working on the B-2 stealth bomber who needed a way to find cable faults accurately and avoid unnecessary panel removal. Likewise, maintenance crews on the B-1 bomber Integrated Battle Station recap needed CORVUS for troubleshooting anomalies with its digital video interface.

“All of our military avionics customers require a tool to monitor the digital bus traffic and resolve intermittencies and errors, CORVUS wraps into a single package,” Appenzeller said.

Introduced to Tech Transfer

The company began pursuing the Navy patent license after learning of a newly formed organization near its Army customer at the Aberdeen Proving Ground–Maryland’s Defense Technology Commercialization Center (known as DefTech), which matches businesses with U.S. Government-owned patents that can be commercialized.

“It was DefTech that enlightened us on Navy tech transfer,” Appenzeller said.

Now, with the patent license, Dragoon can offer the smart connector as a new product in the commercial air transportation market.

“I had met Dr. Shannon at several conferences and knew that as one of the patent holders, he would be a great partner in furthering this troubleshooting technology, which is the core of the patent license,” Appenzeller said.

“Our immediate task is to assemble the hardware in our lab in Dayton and assign an engineer to replicate the ARINC 429 embodiment of the Smart Connector patent,” said Appenzeller. “We will characterize the system as we would any new sensor and identify the transition path to CORVUS, integrating a new capability that will be of high interest to the commercial avionics maintainers as well as our current military customers.”

Team Effort

To help manage the technology transfer process, Gaetan Mangano from the Navy lab’s Office of Research and Technology Transfer contacted Dan Swanson, a certified licensing professional at TechLink, the Department of Defense partnership intermediary for technology transfer, which guides businesses through the process of licensing DoD inventions at no charge.

“We helped the company prepare their commercialization plan and license application leading up to the license agreement,” Swanson said. “And Dragoon also signed an LP-CRADA (limited purpose cooperative research and development agreement) so they could begin working with the Navy’s prototype device.”

Mangano said the agreement with Dragoon proved the value in Navy technology transfer.

“Small businesses can reap big rewards through patent license agreements and cooperative research with Navy labs,” he said. “Our engagement efforts are paying off, and will translate into a better, more efficient maintenance effort for the fleet and a growing U.S. economy.”

Unfamiliar with technology transfer? Watch this new introductory video and find out how organizations and individuals can tap into the diverse treasure trove of expertise and hundreds of advanced technologies developed across the federal network of research labs.