Staircase to Utopia: Advances in Technology Roadmapping


Olivier de Weck, MIT Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Systems Engineering, recently sat down for a webinar, entitled Staircase to Utopia, to explain the concept of technology roadmapping. With MIT Professional Education’s online program Management of Technology: Roadmapping and Development, which de Weck instructs, participants will be able to learn about the steps involved in elaborating these roadmapping frameworks, as well as see real-life applications, including various technologies whose roadmaps are being developed.

de Weck explains that the title of the webinar, Staircase to Utopia, as well as the inspiration to create and teach the program, come from his personal experience working with Airbus. Using the example of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s, or JPL, Profile of Deep Space Communications Capability chart, we can see vast improvements in imaging data rate capabilities connected to advancements in technology, both in spacecraft and on the ground, between 1960 and 2020. These improvements closely resemble the steps of a staircase.

“So, what is a technology roadmap?” de Weck asks. In its most basic definition, he defines its essence as a “mapping of technologies to products or services” over time, as both technologies and products or services evolve. The MIT professor goes on to add, however, that there are different “flavors” of roadmaps, as well, which businesses and organizations can use for various types of planning and development. He states that the top applications of technology roadmapping being used today are, among others, strategic planning, technology planning, R&D planning, and product & service planning.

Beyond its definition, de Weck poses another question to the webinar’s participants, “Why do we need technology roadmapping?” The reasons are threefold:

    1. to show the relationships across technologies, capabilities, products/services, and needs;
    2. to align investments in technology and new development of capabilities to deliver on future market needs; and
    3. to map technologies to products/missions/services and define a timeline for maturation and technology adoption.

Using the example of solar electric aircraft, a new technology that allows aircraft to fly at double the height of commercial aircraft using only sunlight, Professor de Weck walks Staircase to Utopia’s participants through the ins and outs of creating a technology roadmap. He discusses quantifying technological process over to establish a portfolio of R&D projects that can get roadmappers to realistic targets.

Through his experience with Airbus and MIT, de Weck describes how the MIT-ARTRA, or MIT Advanced Technology Roadmap Architecture, methodology was developed and is now the foundation for the new online program from MIT Professional Education, Management of Technology: Roadmapping and Development.

To close out the informative webinar, de Weck discusses the structure of this new online program, available to professionals around the world. It walks participants through the history of technology to analyze different methods and tools to quantify technology evolution over time, and, after doing so, instructs them in how to plot and prepare for the future across different sectors like aerospace, transportation, energy, communications, agriculture, and medicine.

To watch the online webinar, click here:

Online webinar