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What are TRLs and why are they important for your innovation project?

What are TRL

Innovation and R&D&I projects go through different phases from the moment an idea emerges until the technology is consolidated. For this reason, a tool is needed to quickly and universally measure the stage of a project. For this purpose, the TRL (Technology Readiness level), the technological maturity scale, is used as a unit of measurement.

These levels make it possible to measure how ready technology is for widespread use, and this has led to its increasingly frequent use in making decisions on where to allocate European funding used to develop innovative projects.

The origin of this scale dates back to the 1970s at NASA to measure how far a technology was from being ready to be tested in space. This classification allowed NASA to identify the minimum flight readiness requirements for each of the components of a technology, to reduce the risk of future missions.

But it was not until 2009 that the European Commission spoke about this concept. It did so in a communication entitled “Preparing our future: Developing a common strategy for key enabling technologies in the EU”. This article explained the concept of Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) and began to apply the TRL concept. But this first interpretation was broader than the one used now. It not only measured the maturity level of a technology for use in an operational environment but was also interpreted as the readiness of a product or service to be commercialised.

In 2014, this scale started to be used within the Horizon 2020 framework programme and now continues to be used in Horizon Europe.

The 9 phases of the TRLs or technology readiness levels

To categorise projects, several elements are considered, such as programme concepts, capabilities, and technological requirements. The TRL is determined on a scale of 1 to 9, where 9 is the most mature technology, the one most ready to go to market and be commercialised.


Advantages of knowing the TRLs or technology readiness levels

The main benefit of TRLs is the decision-making process related to technology development and transition. The most important thing is to know them well to understand the topics of the programmes to be carried out and that the proposals or projects respond effectively to that topic.

This classification, shown above, fits the industrial areas. However, in the case of the pharmaceutical or health sectors, and hardware and systems technologies, it is more appropriate to use the following.

Pharmaceutical industry

Hardware and systems technologies industry

Another way to measure human and social science projects

For topics that are more related to the human and social sciences, this second classification is not very useful either, which is why Societal Readiness Levels (SRL) are starting to be used in this sector. This is a way of assessing the level of social adaptation of, for example, a given social project, technology, product, or process for its integration into society. A realistic transition towards societal adaptation needs to be proposed.