The R&D system brings equipment mods and superior consumables to the game, and it's broken down into four major gameplay spheres: researching, gathering, salvaging, and collecting. Researching involves finding upgrade plans throughout the game world while gathering involves acquiring exobytes. Salvaging is all about turning items into crafting materials, and collecting hinges on getting drops from various boss mobs.
The new mechanics are free for all players via the game's eighth major update. The patch notes can be viewed on the official DCUO forums.
[Source: Sony Online Entertainment press release]