HP Canada prepares for mobile world at Cooltown

Retro mixes with futuristic at Hewlett-Packard’s Canadian headquarters where “nomadic pervasive mobile computing” is on display in a customer experience area called Cooltown.

Officially opened Tuesday in Mississauga, Ont., Hewlett-Packard Canada Co. plans to use Cooltown to show its Canadian customers the potential of mobility and help them transform businesses to give customers the benefits of intelligent connected devices.

The multi-site Cooltown features a mock up of a mechanic’s garage populated with information appliances, embedded URL-broadcasting “beacons” and an always-on Internet infrastructure – alongside an antique gas pump, pop machine, juke box and 50s-style metal desk.

A bright yellow roofless car takes up a large part of the display. The windshield is an oversized version of a touch-sensitive screen that some future driver might use to prompt a voice – in this case a woman’s – to impart directions, information, warnings of malfunctions or heavy traffic and even read new e-mail messages. Nearby on the wall, another flat-touch screen shows a mechanical assembly with which the mechanic can readily get instructions or order needed parts. At the desk, a small computer terminal gives the mechanic another means to source parts and converse with a supplier via a Web camera.

Joseph Balsanti, e-services program manager, got himself a root beer from the pop vending machine by paying through his HP Jornado personal digital assistant (PDA). Later, he wirelessly connected with a beacon invisibly embedded in a poster on the wall and got information downloaded about the subject – in this case a 2002 Thunderbird – to his PDA. Earlier, he had run his presentation on a thin, clear projection screen hung in mid-air. Instead of using a laptop, he used his HP Jornado to prompt the Web-connected screen to download the presentation from a URL.

A video shown earlier at the launch presented more dramatic potential scenarios of Cooltown. An elderly woman is saved by paramedics who were alerted to her heart attack by her Internet watch and then able to download her medical information to their mobile device. A firefighter at a house fire sees on his visor the plan of the house and the location of a life in distress and so is able to rescue a mewing cat. A driver whose car is breaking down gets a warning of an impending failure and gets help in contacting someone for repairs and transportation. An employee who earns a company recognition award gets congratulated by the door he opens via fingerprint recognition, the soft drink machine he uses, the copier, his own computer, as well as colleagues both in person and via Internet messages from colleagues.

“The population of Cooltown is unlimited,” said Lynn Anderson, HP Canada’s business marketing vice-president. “It’s not a place but a vision for the future. In stores, in homes and at play, Cooltown is just down the road.”

While the Cooltown applications are feasible in laboratory demonstrations and based on existing capabilities, Anderson admitted the features displayed might be five to seven years away. Between now and then the lack of wireless standards must be overcome. As well, although HP describes the end result of Cooltown as every person, place or thing having a protective Web presence, media attending the event raised many questions about the concern for loss of security and privacy.

More information on Cooltown is available at http://www.cooltown.hp.com. HP can be reached at http://www.hp.ca.

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