by: Anthony Garland
When I tell people what I've been doing for the last few weeks, they always look at me in awe as though I had just performed some magic trick. Yes, I'm a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering, but I'm working on a software application. Interestingly, almost everyone in my research group at Clemson is also working on software of some sort. The difference is that I'm trying to take an idea that I've developed while teaching at Clemson and turn it into a commercial application that is helpful for other universities besides Clemson.
Most software developed in academia seems to die on the journey from academic project to a commercial tool. So, what prevents other applications developed in academia from becoming actual commercial (or open source) software applications that are used? I have a few ideas.
So if software can't be developed into a commercial product then is it bad? NO! Academic research certainly has a place for theoretical research or proof-of-concept type software applications. However, when a project is worked on by multiple sets of graduate students for years, and NO effort is placed on making it into a commercial product then I wonder whether the software/research effort is helpful.
So, what should be done? I think that research projects that are focused on making a software tool should include a chapter in their thesis or dissertation on how the software would be commercialized or made into a useful open source project. I think this will force students to understand what the engineering community needs by contacting them. If you claim that developing some python library to help with voxelization of .stl files is necessary, then I'm sure the Python community will be willing to tell you if they agree. If you claim that a new decision-making tool is helpful, then make it into a web app and let people try it out. Without people using your tool, you will not be able to identify if it is helpful. Finally, I believe that all research that is not directly funded by industry partner should be made open source. Hoarding code seems to defeat the whole point of academic research and should be eliminated.
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