Features

Bringing science to market

A path to societal benefits from atmospheric knowledge

September 21, 2012 | The NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center is a major public-private partnership, but it’s not the only one at UCAR that helps turn meteorological know-how into tangible benefits for the public and the economy. As a research organization, UCAR is not designed to develop or market products specifically for commercial applications. Instead, the UCAR Foundation—a nonprofit subsidiary of UCAR—has helped start up small, specialized companies that focus on market research and product development to move new technologies into the commercial sector, where they can meet important societal needs.

Bill Gail at his desk
Bill Gail (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)

“There are tremendous capabilities and knowledge within academia that could provide a public benefit,” explains Bill Gail, chief technology officer of Global Weather Corporation, a company formed by the UCAR Foundation for the purpose of technology transfer.

Legislation such as the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act encourages UCAR and other recipients of federal research dollars to demonstrate progress toward transferring technology to the business world. One of the organization’s first such transfers took place in 1987, when it granted the commercial rights for the NCAR mass storage system to Mesa Archival Systems, a company formed by the UCAR Foundation specifically to develop and commercialize the system.

Since then, other companies formed by the foundation have moved additional products into the marketplace. These include the Weather Support to De-Icing Decision Making System (WSDDM), which helps airport decision makers handle flight operations during wintry weather.

Worker hoses commercial jet with deicing fluid from "cherry picker"
An airport worker deices a commercial jet before winter take-off. NCAR's WSDDM system provides snowfall "nowcasts" specifically tailored to airport deicing operations. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)

More recently, Global Weather has worked to commercialize an advanced weather forecasting system developed at NCAR known as the Dynamic Integrated Forecast System, or DICast. The system generates highly localized forecasts of winds, temperature, humidity, and other atmospheric parameters. Utilities are adopting it to help forecast winds at wind farms, and road crews can also take advantage of its capabilities to keep traffic flowing during inclement weather. The technology has been developed over more than a decade under the leadership of RAL scientist and engineer Bill Myers.

Moving a research product into the commercial sector is challenging, says Jeff Reaves, chief operating officer for the UCAR Foundation. The product must be significantly modified for user groups that range from specific sectors to the general public, a process that involves market research as well as engineering. At the end, the process can lead to specialized and sophisticated products that save lives and safeguard property, as well as bolstering the nation’s economy.

“It’s all about finding applications for our knowledge and technology that benefit society,” explains Reaves.

Gail, who worked in the meteorological sensor field at Ball Aerospace and in software services at Microsoft, says there are numerous opportunities to move research at NCAR and the broader university community into the commercial sector in order to help users.

“There are many, many new ways of using weather that people are just beginning to understand,” he says. “Weather information is surprisingly under-utilized in the world today.”

For more on related NCAR and UCAR efforts, visit NCAR Community Resources: Technology Transfer and  UCAR Foundation: Technology Commercialization.