RAL is a scientific R&D organization tasked to develop real world weather-related decision support applications for clients. The technology produced here results from merging scientific research with algorithm and software development.
The technology transfer methods fall into the following categories:
- scientific findings documented in scientific papers
- algorithms and models documented in scientific papers
- algorithms documented using pseudo-code
- individual software applications
- small software systems (a few applications running on a single machine)
- moderate software systems (a moderate number of applications running on a few machines)
- large software systems (a large number of applications running on many machines)
The software systems generally comprise components designed for some or all of the following tasks:
- data acquisition and transfer
- scientific algorithms and models
- dissemination of results
- display and visualization of results
The methods used for the transfer of technology and know-how varies significantly from one project to another.
For example, the Low Level Windshear Alert System (LLWAS), one of RAL's early successes, was delivered to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1992 in the form of algorithm specifications and pseudo-code. By today's standards the LLWAS windshear detection algorithm is a relatively small software system and this was a practical way to perform technology transfer for this application. For most of the current RAL projects this relatively simplistic form of technology transfer is not a practical option.
More commonly, RAL develops large, complex software systems which are delivered for clients as fully-functional (turn-key) systems. These are often developed prototypes that mature to become production systems. These fully-functional systems are generally delivered to the client as both source code and compiled applications. Frequently, the compilation step is performed at RAL. Some clients perform the compilation step on their own hardware. Almost all clients require source code delivery.
Since RAL software systems are typically large and complex, transferring the knowledge about how to install, run and maintain them is a major challenge. Client training has become an important step in the process. Formal documentation frequently only covers the installation and use of the system, and does not cover the details of individual components or system design.
For long term projects, on-going annual contracts generally cover maintenance for installed systems. A major part of this maintenance covers modifying the data acquisition components to keep up with changes in how data is delivered from the outside world.