Project Readiness Level

We're trying out a system akin to NASA's Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) for open projects.

We’re trying out a system akin to NASA’s Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) for open projects.

Starting with a robot called SCUTTLE we want to reach a future where open multidisciplinary projects are ubiquitous and refined. So, we’re inventing a system that may help.

As of 2023 the world of developers hasn’t yet settled into standards for sharing robot designs at the same level that we have for single-discipline designs.

The multidisciplinary projects that have scaled tend to attract experts and mod-makers of one or two specialties. Prusa Printer contributors are CAD-savvy, Linux contributors are software-savvy, etc.

Technology Readiness level (TRL)

Many tech organizations have adopted the use of TRL to describe the stage of a design along an axis of development.

Here is a summary of NASA’s Technology Readiness Levels that have been re-used for many cases:

9actual system “flight proven” through successful mission operations
8actual system flight qualified through test and demonstration
7system prototype demo in space environment
6system/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment (ground or space)
5component or breadboard validation in relevant environment
4component/breadboard validated in lab environment
3analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof of concept
2technology concept and or application formulated
1basic principles observed and reported
Technology Readiness levels summary by NASA

Project Readiness Level (PRL)

In order to curate the best inter-disciplinary designs and help users find them, having a standard will help. Here is a first draft of a method for ranking open multidisciplinary projects.

9project tested, characterized, fully documented, and fully accessible to DIY community.
8project demo is repeatable with all OTS parts and 3D printable parts in repeatable condition, published.
7project demonstration with clear application & description of how community can customize.
6project integrated with custom-parts eliminated from test, with basic integration method published
5prototype integrated into robot system and validated with results published
4prototype is built and characterized with results published
3functional prototype built, experimental critical function or proof of concept
2formulated method to adapt new technology into ecosystem
1concept developed & recorded or carryover from reputable project described with compatibility established
Table 2: Project Readiness Levels Summary

The goals of an open project are a bit different from the goals of a space technology, so here is how the goals play in:

  • Feasibility is addressed at PRL 1 through 3
  • Modularity is addressed at level 5 where the project can be a discrete part of another system
  • Characterization is addressed at the component level, the subsystem level, and the integrated level between PRL 4 and PRL 9
  • Digital Manufacturability is addressed at level 8 where the components are refined
  • Documentation is addressed at different degrees for each level; that means we can have a useful contribution at the very first level. A document is the minimum creation that generates value for the community.

Editorial note from David: I hope to update this post with some examples this year to help show how we can use the PRL concept on existing projects and to collect feedback for improving it.

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