The science and technology community employed by the Department of Defense uses the abbreviation TRL in reference to “technology readiness level.” It’s a helpful knowledge-based standard and shorthand for evaluating the maturity of a technology or invention.
One is the lowest level of technology readiness and nine is the highest.
It’s important to understand this because the technology readiness level scale might be referenced when small businesses are licensing technology from the DoD. Here’s the definition of each TRL so you can familiarize yourself with the scale.
Technology Readiness Level 1: Basic principles observed and reported
Lowest level of technology readiness. Scientific research begins to be translated into applied research and development (R&D). Examples might include paper studies of a technology’s basic properties. Supporting information includes published research that identifies the principles that underlie this technology, references to who, where, and when.
Technology Readiness Level 2: Technology concept and/or application formulated
Invention begins. Once basic principles are observed, practical applications can be invented. Applications are speculative, and there may be no proof or detailed analysis to support the assumptions. Examples are limited to analytic studies. Supporting information includes publications or other references that outline the application being considered and that provide analysis to support the concept.
Technology Readiness Level 3: Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof of concept
Active R&D is initiated. This includes analytical studies and laboratory studies to physically validate the analytical predictions of separate elements of the technology. Examples include components that are not yet integrated or representative. Supporting information includes the results of laboratory tests performed to measure parameters of interest and comparison to analytical predictions for critical subsystems. References to who, where, and when these tests and comparisons were performed.
Technology Readiness Level 4: Component and/or breadboard validation in a laboratory environment
Basic technological components are integrated to establish that they will work together. This is relatively “low fidelity” compared with the eventual system. Examples include integration of “ad hoc” hardware in the laboratory. Supporting information includes system concepts that have been considered and results from testing laboratory scale breadboard(s). And references to who did this work and when. Documentation provides an estimate of how breadboard hardware and test results differ from the expected system goals.
Technology Readiness Level 5: Component and/or breadboard validation in a relevant environment
Fidelity of breadboard technology increases significantly. The basic technological components are integrated with reasonably realistic supporting elements so they can be tested in a simulated environment. Examples include “high-fidelity” laboratory integration of components. Supporting information includes results from testing laboratory breadboard system are integrated with other supporting elements in a simulated operational environment. How does the “relevant environment” differ from the expected operational environment? How do the test results compare with expectations? What problems, if any, were encountered? Was the breadboard system refined to more nearly match the expected system goals?
Technology Readiness Level 6: System/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment
Representative model or prototype system, which is well beyond that of TRL 5, is tested in a relevant environment. Represents a major step up in a technology’s demonstrated readiness. Examples include testing a prototype in a high-fidelity laboratory environment or in a simulated operational environment. Supporting information includes results from laboratory testing of a prototype system that is near the desired configuration in terms of performance, weight, and volume. How did the test environment differ from the operational environment? Who performed the tests? How did the test compare with expectations? What problems, if any, were encountered? What are/were the plans, options, or actions to resolve problems before moving to the next level?
Technology Readiness Level 7: System prototype demonstration in an operational environment
Prototype near or at planned operational system. Represents a major step up from TRL 6 by requiring demonstration of an actual system prototype in an operational environment (e.g., in an aircraft, in a vehicle, or in space). Supporting information includes results from testing a prototype system in an operational environment. Who performed the tests? How did the test compare with expectations? What problems, if any, were encountered? What are/were the plans, options, or actions to resolve problems before moving to the next level?
Technology Readiness Level 8: Actual system completed and qualified through test and demonstration
Technology has been proven to work in its final form and under expected conditions. In almost all cases, this TRL represents the end of true system development. Examples include developmental test and evaluation (DT&E) of the system in its intended weapon system to determine if it meets design specifications.Supporting information includes results of testing the system in its final configuration under the expected range of environmental conditions in which it will be expected to operate. Assessment of whether it will meet its operational requirements. What problems, if any, were encountered? What are/were the plans, options, or actions to resolve problems before finalizing the design?
Technology Readiness Level 9: Actual system proven through successful mission operations
Actual application of the technology in its final form and under mission conditions, such as those encountered in operational test and evaluation (OT&E). Examples include using the system under operational mission conditions. Supporting information includes OT&E reports.
Source: Technology Readiness Assessment Guidance, prepared by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering