Last Research Mile

If you build it, they will use it ... if you are willing to go ... the last research mile.

The BORDERS Center is committed to developing cutting-edge technologies to assist homeland security in completing national security objectives. While a majority of our research is conducted in laboratories and other research facilities, the end-goal of our research is field testing and implementation. Our commitment to delivering high-quality systems and technologies to our partners is evidenced by our reputation of going the last research mile. In practical terms, this means collecting quality data that is complete, consistent, accurate, realistic, and relevant.

A common approach to research is simply developing an idea, but failing to implement that idea or develop it further. There is often a misconception that the gap between the lab and the field is narrow and can easily be bridged. Unfortunately, this approach rarely results in a fully-functional tool ready for use. The following three statements concisely represent the problems associated with failing to go the last research mile.

Your “interesting idea” is naïve until someone takes it through the last mile.

Your understanding is rudimentary until you go through the last mile.

The work you have done is trivial until it has been worked through the last mile.

The previous statements stress the importance of studying an idea in depth and transitioning that idea into a prototype that can be tested in the field. While some researchers are concerned that an idea may be “stolen” from them, they fail to recognize that the insights gained from going the last research mile cannot easily be derived.

An example illustrating the importance of going the last research mile is the 1969 mission to the Moon. What if the astronauts had stopped one mile before landing and never touched down on the surface of the Moon? The following quote from Neil Armstrong demonstrates the insight and knowledge that can be gained by going to last research mile.

“Experts had, prior to the flight, predicted…difficulty might be encountered attempting to work on the surface of the Moon due to the variety of strange atmospheric and gravitational characteristics that would be encountered. This didn't prove to be the case. After landing we felt very comfortable in the lunar gravity. It was, in fact, preferable both to weightlessness and to the Earth's gravity.”

Payoffs from Going the Last Mile

The payoffs that can achieved by taking research the “last mile” are as follows:

Understanding what is really going on
Unraveling the complexities
The satisfaction of having made a difference
It is where the value to society is created
It is where you can make a lasting difference