Hewlett-Packard looks to the future

Hemingway’s Paris. Seattle in the mid-1990s. Vegas when the Rat Pack Ruled. There are certain places in the world where it is nothing but vogue to be a resident. Hewlett-Packard, the founder of Canada’s newest municipality, hopes that Cooltown becomes a hotspot for visitors and permanent residents.

Officially opened at the end of July, Cooltown is a customer experience centre located at Hewlett-Packard’s Canadian headquarters in Mississauga, Ont. The centre is designed to inspire creativity among businesses and professional end users, by featuring current and future technologies in a variety of scenarios. More than just a showcase, Cooltown is a research program of HP Labs, designed to turn ideas into real applications and devices.

According to Joseph Belsanti, Hewlett-Packard Canada’s Mississauga, Ont.-based e-services program manager, these future technologies are within an arm’s reach of where we are today.

“My biggest fear when I picked up this project was that it would be futuristic technologies right out of a popular science magazine,” Belsanti said, referring to flying cars and Captain Kirk-type technologies. “The premise behind Cooltown is to not fall into the trap that organizations or individuals do when they talk about futuristic technologies. Cooltown is grounded in reality. We are shaping the future with realistic goals and by realistic means, living by the two primary standards that our founders set for us back in 1939: create something meaningful and useful or it doesn’t leave the garage. Everything in Cooltown has those goals in the back of our minds.”

Like many ideas, the premise for Cooltown was born in an odd manner. A developer at one of Hewlett-Packard’s labs wanted to create an application to control the temperature of his hot tub remotely. This idea – and eventual execution of the idea – prompted more research on mobile computing, and has resulted in the creation of Cooltown.

Canada’s Cooltown is the third of its kind worldwide, and will likely prove to be an advantage for Hewlett-Packard Canada and its customers, according to Giga Information Group’s Santa Clara, Calif.-based analyst Rob Enderle.

“[Cooltown] gets local developers interested in this future world, so they can begin focusing on what they’re going to build for the next generation,” Enderle said. “It also gets the customers looking at this stuff, and really builds a demand for the technology once it’s built. It can help the country or the geography take advantage of the sales potential for the technology as well as make sure that the geography has a market opportunity for it once it’s finally released.”

Lynn Anderson, vice-president of business marketing for Hewlett-Packard in Mississauga, Ont., sees Cooltown Canada as a significant benefit to the company.

“It’s a great opportunity to be able to showcase Hewlett-Packard’s inventiveness,” Anderson said. “It allows us to help our customers be more competitive on the world stage. Cooltown will not be in every country, but the infrastructure is here for Canadians to be very successful in this space. There are innovative companies in Canada, and this is set up to help build their visions.”

One vision includes a biometric watch, which interacts with a space manager, senses a medical crisis and sends an e-service alert for help. Another vision presents a vehicle as a mobile device with its own presence on the Web, that uses multi-modal voice browsing technologies that allow the driver to control interactions with the vehicle while driving.

While some of this technology may seem like the sort of gizmos seen in movies taking place in 2020, the future is closer than it seems, according to Enderle. How soon these technologies will become part of our daily lives has much to do with where you are, he said.

“If you’re in a city centre, probably three years. In more rural areas, probably five to ten years,” Enderle said. “Unless something stalls badly, which is always a chance when you have major market downturn like we currently have, it seems like about three years before you get the full Cooltown experience, if you’re in a city centre that embraces the technology.”