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Technology Readiness Assessment Work for EAR Program

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program focuses on high-risk, high-reward research that fills the gap between basic research and applied research or development. It also supports the development of transformative research tools that can accelerate the process of developing solutions for highway-related challenges. In fulfilling these missions, the EAR Program identified a need for a system for describing the maturity of highway research products. Such a system would allow experts and nonexperts to (1) document and communicate the maturity of the research at a specific point in time; (2) understand how their research might relate to other research; and (3) know what steps might advance the maturity of a given research product. The Volpe Center developed the Technology Readiness Level for Highway Research (TRL-H) scale with these capabilities in mind.

About TRLs

The TRL-H is a set of questions designed to measure progress of a highway-related technology toward maturity. It is based on a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale originally developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and later adapted by other Federal agencies, notably the Department of Defense. The original TRL scale measured the position of a technology on a path that starts with basic scientific principles and ends with a mission-deployed system or piece of hardware.

The revised TRL-H scale assesses a technology in terms of certain characteristics, as measured by successful tests. The scale considers two aspects of the completed tests:

  • How complete was the technology when it was tested? Was it a paper-and-pen concept, a system of equations, a component, a subsystem, or the complete system?
  • How representative was the test environment?
    • Was it a desktop computer simulation, a controlled laboratory experiment, a demonstration at a proving ground, or a real-world test?
    • How similar was the tester to the ultimate technology user? Was the tester the developer of the technology, another expert in the field, or a user with no more specific knowledge than the typical technology user?

Project Status

The TRL-H project was completed in September 2014, and the EAR Program has begun using the scale in Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA) panels for selected projects in progress and nearing completion.

TRL-H Scale

TRL-H Scale
 TRLDescriptionTo achieve the given TRL, you must answer yes to EVERY question. Discuss any uncertain answers.
Basic Research1Basic principles and research
  • Do basic scientific principles support the concept?
  • Has the technology development methodology or approach been developed?
2Application formulated
  • Are potential system applications identified?
  • Are system components and the user interface at least partly described?
  • Do preliminary analyses or experiments confirm that the application might meet the user need?
3Proof of concept
  • Are system performance metrics established?
  • Is system feasibility fully established?
  • Do experiments or modeling and simulation validate performance predictions of system capability?
  • Does the technology address a need or introduce an innovation in the field of transportation?
Applied Research4Components validated in laboratory environment
  • Are end user requirements documented?
  • Does a plausible draft integration plan exist and is component compatibility demonstrated?
  • Were individual components successfully tested in a laboratory environment (a fully controlled test environment where a limited number of critical functions are tested)?
5Integrated components demonstrated in a laboratory environment
  • Are external and internal system interfaces documented?
  • Are target and minimum operational requirements developed?
  • Is component integration demonstrated in a laboratory environment (i.e. fully-controlled setting)?
Development6Prototype demonstrated in relevant environment
  • Is the operational environment fully known (i.e. user community, physical environment, and input data characteristics as appropriate)?
  • Was the prototype tested in a realistic environment outside the laboratory (i.e. relevant environment)?
  • Does the prototype satisfy all operational requirements when confronted with realistic problems?
7Prototype demonstrated in operational environment
  • Are available components representative of production components?
  • Is the fully integrated prototype demonstrated in an operational environment (i.e. real-world conditions, including the user community)?
  • Are all interfaces tested individually under stressed and anomalous conditions?
8Technology proven in operational environment
  • Do all system components form, fit, and function compatibly with each other and with the operational environment?
  • Is the technology proven in an operational environment? (i.e. does it meet target performance measures?)
  • Was a rigorous test and evaluation process completed successfully?
  • Does the technology meet its stated purpose and functionality as designed?


9Technology refined and adopted
  • Is the technology deployed in its intended operational environment?
  • Is information about the technology disseminated to the user community?
  • Is the technology adopted by the user community?