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The Government Role in Civilian Technology: Building a New Alliance
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TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER IN A ''MATURE" INDUSTRY: AUTOMOTIVE ELECTRONICS
Universities have played a much smaller role in the technology transfer process in automobile electronics than in biotechnology, according to the director of an academic electronics laboratory. Instead, the automotive industry has relied on in-house R&D capacities and, more recently, worked with the aerospace, computer, semiconductor, and electronics industries.
The director of electrical engineering at one U.S. automobile manufacturer told the workshop that most development work in automotive electronics is performed either in-house or through private sector collaborative R&D projects. There is much less interaction with U.S. universities, he reported. With the exception of a project involving the Department of Energy to develop an electronic car, one participant noted that there has been limited interaction with federal facilities.
Participants also noted that in automotive electronics, the federal government has promoted technology transfer primarily through federal regulatory control. The Clean Air Act of 1970 and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency provided the incentives for the automotive industry to use electronics to control tailpipe emissions. Other incentives for developing new technology came with the establishment of corporate average-fuel-economy requirements. In the 1980s, market incentives led to electronic advances in antilock and antiskid braking, digital instrumentation, and intra-and extravehicular communications.
Although advances in aircraft design can in some cases be applied to automotive transportation, a number of barriers exist to this form of technology transfer. For example, under DOD sponsorship, aerospace electronics are developed and manufactured without cost considerations, a critical factor in private sector technology strategies. Similarly, performance requirements for the technologies differ. Differences in design methodology and management style between the two industries have also served to hinder technology transfer. For instance, only recently did the automobile industry start using a true systems engineering approach (standard practice in the defense industry) to develop new vehicles. Rapid technology transfer is also inhibited due to the fact that upstream electronics developers, particularly those developing defense-related technologies, have different cost and performance requirements. Frequently, auto companies must redesign electronics to meet these requirements.
Technology transfer in this sector has also been characterized by in-