History of Technology Readiness Level

Technology Readiness Level, or TRL, can be described as a method for measuring the development and evolution of technology all the way from basic research to shipment of the product in commercial products. The method was developed by NASA in the early 1970s to measure the development of different types of technology uniformly and consistently. In layman terms, it can be defined as a scale to measure the development of something from an idea to a market-ready product. 

The idea behind the Technology Readiness Level was originally conceived by a researcher named Stan Sadin to evaluate the development of aerospace components. The first Technology Readiness Level scale was developed in the year 1974 and formalised in the year 1989. The concept was first adopted by the aerospace industry in the 1987s, followed by aeronautics and aviation industry in the 1980s, followed by the electronics and pharmaceutical industries in the 1990s. Back then, as the government was spending a lot on aerospace fundings, a Technology Readiness Level came in handy to justify their funds to stakeholders. It derived a uniform method of proper planning, testing and executing technologies with feasible risk levels. 
Today, as technology plays a huge part in our daily lives and it's linked with almost every field of work, it is followed by all the industries to measure the development of new technologies. 

The development cycle for each product through the Technology Readiness Level differs a lot. A software may take just eighteen months to progress from an idea, Level 1, all the way to a finished product, Level 9. However, a drug developed in the pharmaceutical industry may take over twenty years to progress from Level 1 to Level 9 since a lot of testing is required. 

Originally, it had seven levels or scales to measure the maturity of an idea. However, in the 1990s, NASA adopted a nine-level scale which is still in use till date. 

Over the years, different industries and companies have modified the Technology Readiness Level to suit their needs and measure the maturity of their products depending on their respective needs and demands. Nonetheless, the 9 Level scale introduced by Nasa in the 80s still serves as the base for all the custom scales.

The European Space Agency officially adopted the Technology Readiness Level scale in the mid-2000s. The first European scale closely followed the 9 level scale proposed by NASA for their aerospace projects. However, the High-Level Expert Group on Key Enabling Technologies proposed that the Technology Readiness Level should be universally adopted across all the industries in Europe. The proposal was well received and the European parliament implemented the plan in subsequent EU frameworks. As per the updated 2014 frameworks, the Technology Readiness Level is implemented in six key industries, namely nanotechnology, advanced materials, biotechnology, micro- and nano-electronics and photonics. 

A key problem that’s faced by the standard Technology Readiness Level is uniformity. The scale was developed with the Aerospace industry in mind and although the 9 Levels can be implemented in other industries as well, it would be better if key industries have the opportunity to customise the scale as per their requirements instead of following the standard model.