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:
|actual system “flight proven” through successful mission operations
|actual system flight qualified through test and demonstration
|system prototype demo in space environment
|system/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment (ground or space)
|component or breadboard validation in relevant environment
|component/breadboard validated in lab environment
|analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof of concept
|technology concept and or application formulated
|basic principles observed and reported
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.
|project tested, characterized, fully documented, and fully accessible to DIY community.
|project demo is repeatable with all OTS parts and 3D printable parts in repeatable condition, published.
|project demonstration with clear application & description of how community can customize.
|project integrated with custom-parts eliminated from test, with basic integration method published
|prototype integrated into robot system and validated with results published
|prototype is built and characterized with results published
|functional prototype built, experimental critical function or proof of concept
|formulated method to adapt new technology into ecosystem
|concept developed & recorded or carryover from reputable project described with compatibility established
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.