Free research and development: Match projects to researchers
Matching research and development (R&D) projects with university-based researchers can be challenging and time consuming if a company doesn’t have close ties with a local university or college. Another way is a recently created site that’s still seeking participants free of charge. FreeRandD.com launched in October 2006 and has tried to spread the word to about 350 universities, government agencies, business development centers, and media, says co-founder Gerald B. Zerfas of FreeRandD.com .
“I don't believe there is an appreciation for the magnitude of the number of projects that a firm would like to pursue but cannot due to limitations on funding or not having the qualified staff,” Zerfas told Control Engineering. Initially, free postings at FreeRandD.com were to end Dec. 31, 2006, then Feb. 1, 2007, and now are extended until May 1, 2007, to better fit university scheduling, Zerfas suggests. As of early January, seven main industries are listed (including a handful of technology and engineering projects), among more than 60 specific categories.
While the U.S. government does have programs to match proposals to researchers, R&D projects from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), for instance, can run for multiple years and require a specialized research department within a university, Zerfas says. “Typically you have Ph.D. candidate students working on them. In addition, the process for putting such programs in place is very elaborate. FreeRandD.com is targeted to the senior-level student (or a team of students) who have to do a senior design project, also called a capstone project at some universities.”
FreeRandD.com is similar to eBay, Zerfas says, because it uses the Internet to create national exposure for a firm seeking assistance on an R&D project and gives students a broader view of available projects. The site is banking on approximately 5 million U.S. businesses in the U.S., some of which may have projects they would like to pursue and cannot because of resource limits. In addition, start-up companies and non-profit organizations often are “severely limited as to the amount of funds they can allocate to research and development.”
More than 2,000 universities, especially engineering schools, want undergraduate and graduate students to do a final year project, working with a business on a new idea or process, the site says. FreeRandD.com allows businesses to select from interested students. Teams and students gain valuable experience and connections. Creators Zerfas and Howard A. Wright seek input, advice, and participants. They’ve already answered many frequently asked questions on their site, based in Grand Rapids, MI.
— Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Mark T. Hoske, MHoske@cfemedia.com