HP revamps research labs

HP has announced a “new identity” for its research labs globally, saying the restructuring will help HP Labs better address customer challenges.

The new approach balances exploratory research with an entrepreneurial approach to technology, company execs said at a media event, Thursday at the Hewlett Packard Development LP’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. Talent pooling, a focus on high-impact research areas and “open innovation” are key aspects of the HP Labs restructuring initiative.

“Instead of working on hundreds of smaller projects – as we used to – we’re now focusing on 20 – 30 big bets,” said HP Labs director Prith Banerjee. This sharpened focus, he said, will enable HP address some of the most daunting challenges facing its customers.

A new “internal review board” comprising top HP technologists and business executives will assist researchers in transforming Lab’s inventions into commercializable products.

This new thrust by no means implies that HP labs will shelve breakthrough or exploratory research, Banerjee clarified.

“Quite the contrary.”

He noted that up until now less than 10 per cent of research done at HP Labs was Blue Sky.

“We’re changing this so a third of our future research will be exploratory, a third applied research, and a third advanced product development.” Banerjee said a new review board would ensure the company placed the right bets in these [three] portfolios.”

Until recently, HP Labs’ 600 researchers have been spread over seven worldwide facilities.

Moving forward, Banerjee said, they would be regrouped into 23 separate labs, each with around 20–30 researchers.

Research teams will focus on key areas including: the information explosion, dynamic cloud services, content transformation, intelligent infrastructure and sustainability.

Banerjee said HP researchers collectively possess thousands of PhDs and product patents, and are recognized globally for their expertise in fields such as nanotechnology and computer algorithms, data compression and data mining, computer architecture and digital signal processing.

Each lab will be led by one of these internationally acknowledged experts. The nine labs focusing on this issue will work on better ways to acquire, analyze and deliver information so people can use it, said Banerjee.

He cited the example of FaceBubble – a technology created by HP researchers from the “Multimedia, imaging and understanding” lab at Palo Alto.

FaceBubble, he said, is a face recognition technology based on digitized visual content.

Dynamic Cloud Services is another big focus area for HP researchers. “Our researchers are working on technologies that will intelligently anticipate the services needs you have based on who you are, where you are and what your references are,” Banerjee said.

He cited the example of CloudPrint, a technology that allows you to store documents “out in the cloud” and retrieve and print them on any printer in the world, using a mobile phone.

Designing smart and secure computing devices and architectures that operate at Internet speeds and scales is yet another “big bet” initiative HP’s structured R&D teams will be working on.

And this research work will be accomplished win partnership with outside groups using a model that Banerjee dubs the “open innovation” model.

He contrasted this with the practice by many other corporate labs of keeping all their research within the company.

HP, he said, will pursue relationships with venture capital firms, universities, startup companies, government agencies, and other partner companies to amplify its internal R&D.

The HP exec announced three the HP Labs Innovation Research program with universities.

Under this program, HP will formally call for proposals from university researchers in these focus areas.

Banerjee said the 23 lab directors will work together with university researchers to solve those five grand challenges.

“We’ve never done that in the past,” the HP Labs director said. “These students will work in summer as interns in labs and that will provide a pipeline of recruits and future talent for HP labs.”

During the event, HP researchers from across the world demoed products such as:

  • BRAIN, a Web-based tool that uses proprietary algorithms to tap into the collective wisdom of employees;
  • WaterCooler, a Web-based service developed by the Social Computing Lab at Palo Alto, that allows enterprises to tap into the distributed knowledge base of its employees – while helping employees find people with specific expertise or interests. The tool also makes this aggregated and shared knowledge searchable across the organization.
  • Pluribus, a system created by HP’s Multimedia, Interaction and Understanding Lab, which combines multiple, inexpensive, commercially available projectors to create a “super projector” that provides high resolution, vivid colours and amazing resolution. Pluribus, the presenters said, could have a significant impact on a range of display markets, including gaming, digital cinema, event projection and visualization.

The growing popularity of software as a service (SaaS) model was commented on by Shane Robson, executive VP and chief strategy and technology officer at HP.

Robson said HP delivers many software products to customers using this model because it frees them from the expense and hassle of installing and maintaining applications locally.

But he predicted that SaaS is just the tip of the iceberg, and a precursor to a future state where “everything will be delivered as a service. “Individuals and businesses will have full control to customize their computing environments and shape the experiences of what they want to have.”

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