An NSF I/UCRC carries out industry-driven pre-competitive research in a specific technology area. This means that industry leads and/or strongly influences the research process from definition of the problem and project scope through mentoring and monitoring the progress. The members of a center work together on this process and the result is a research scope that is pre-competitive.
Pre-competitive means the research lies at the interface between fundamental research (usually carried out in universities or research institutes) and company-specific product development. It is the work needed to advance technology that is the middle ground between focused cutting-edge research and proprietary research performed in corporate laboratories. The work is non-competitive, cooperative and often developmental in nature, leading the way to full scale competitive development in the future.
Pre-competitive research DOES NOT lead to things like:
- incremental improvements in cost, features or performance of a particular product
- a differential advantage for one competitor over another
- results allowing one or more competitors to catch up to a place where someone else already is
- improvements in existing, successful products or their immediate successors
It DOES lead to things like:
- solutions to common problems
- solutions to obstacles that prevent a technology from being used in commercial applications
- an understanding of the characteristics of new technologies or materials
- new tools, information, and data that enables others to develop future products and services
- equal benefit to all competitors
- answers to high-cost or high-risk-of-failure questions that individual companies cannot afford to answer on their own
- knowledge about something no one knows how to do
- industry standards and test procedures where no precedents exist
- results that the direct sponsors (e.g. I/UCRC affiliate members) are usually willing to share publically
The Center for Freeform Optics (CeFO) focuses on technologies based on freeform optics. It provides vertical integration of mathematics, optics, optical science, materials science, optomechanics, precision optical manufacturing and testing, and instrument design in order to realize the full potential of freeform optics in wide array of future technologies. As an NSF I/UCRC, CeFO follows the industry-driven research program management structure outlined above. In addition, CeFO maintains an up-to-date, collectively-authored roadmap for the realization of the new ‘manufacturing’ infrastructure needed. The research focus areas and individual project choices are made in the context of the roadmap.