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“[HP Labs] is one of the few places where’s there’s still a lot of ‘R’ left in R&D.” Mark Hurd chairman and CEO, Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P. made this claim recently, during what he called the “re-launch of HP Labs” — an event held at Cupertino, Calif. last month.

It was an interesting statement, considering that until recently, less than 10 per cent of projects at HP Labs were “Blue Sky” research — in other words, not targeted at short-term product development, but expected to deliver phenomenal “long term” benefits to the company, and society. The 10 per cent statistic was provided by Prith Banerjee, HP Labs director, who was appointed to this post last August.

Presentations by HP execs at the event and — following these — the demos in the “experience room” did highlight key HP Labs initiatives (some of which are still in their nascent phase). These include:

CloudPrint: a technology that allows you to store documents on the Web and retrieve and print them on any printer, using a mobile phone. This service — developed by Bernardo Huberman and Scott Golder at HP Labs — is free with no limit to the number of documents you can print. The beta version of the service is available in Canada, the U.S., and Europe. ?Foodsville: a community site created by HP and Applewood Books for food enthusiasts that allows them to read, contribute to, or modify, recipes from out-of-print cookbooks.

Logoworks: Shane Robson HP’s chief technology officer related how through Logoworks — the Web 2.0 graphic design service that HP acquired last year — HP got a logo designed for the 2012 London Olympics that’s “better looking” than the official event logo, was delivered significantly faster, and was of an “order of magnitude” cheaper.

Interesting as all this was, following the massive buildup by Robson and Banerjee, what we actually got to see in the demo room was a disappointment. There was nothing, for instance, to illustrate Robson’s statements about the future of search technologies. “There [will be] more intelligence in the search, more understanding of who you are, where you are, what your preferences are — and this will give [you] the ability to target the information [you] care about,” the CTO said. This was a motif in Banerjee’s presentation as well. “Our researchers,” he said, “are working on technologies that will intelligently anticipate the services needs you have based on who you are, where you are, and what your preferences are.”

Wonderful concept. But I don’t recall demos of any actual or upcoming HP products or services that illustrated this principle. Even CloudPrint — indisputably a great technology — doesn’t really exemplify “location awareness” and “needs anticipation” — both prominent themes in Robson’s and Banerjee’s presentations.

The same is true of the HP CTO’s assertions about a seamless user experience. “How do we ensure that for all devices we use we use, we have a consistent interface to the services that we care about,” Robson asked. How indeed?

What I did find interesting, however, is the announcement that much of HP’s R&D, moving forward, will be accomplished win partnership with outside groups using what the HP Labs director dubs the “open innovation” model. HP, Banerjee said, would pursue relationships with venture capital firms, universities, startup companies, government agencies, and other partner companies to amplify its internal R&D. While “open innovation” sounds like a fabulous idea, getting multiple organizations to work together on a research project is a very complex business.

This kind of collaboration is not something HP has attempted in the past, and given the inherent challenges, if the experiment succeeds for HP, it may well serve as a prototype for other large enterprises to adopt.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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