by Jamie Beckett
It's hard to believe now, but establishing an HP research center in Israel
was once considered a risky proposition.
It was the mid 1990s, and the technology industry was just emerging from a
recession. HP's only successful research laboratory outside its Palo Alto,
CA, headquarters were facilities in Cambridge, MA, and in Bristol, England,
where the company already had business operations. No such operation existed
in Israel at the time.
Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, HP Labs Israel has more than proven
its worth. The small team of about a dozen researchers has made key contributions
to nearly all of HP’s digital cameras and scanners and to most of the company’s
printers. They’re prolific inventors, with 37 granted patents and another 58
patent applications pending with the U.S. Patent Office.
extraordinary success is no accident," says Dick Lampman, director
of HP Labs and senior vice president for research, HP. "It is
the talent of the people who make all of this possible -- especially
the exceptional leadership of Senior HP Fellow Abraham
Lempel, who founded and runs the lab, is well known in the scientific community as one of the world’s leading experts in noiseless source coding and computational complexity. He co-invented the Lempel-Ziv Algorithm, the most popular lossless compression data algorithm to this day.
Lempel began his association with HP in 1984, working in Palo Alto while on a sabbatical after completing a four-year term as chairman of the computer science department at Technion, Israel's oldest and premier institute of science and technology. Less than a year later, he set about trying to establish an HP research branch in Israel.
"I liked working for HP and I wanted to live in Israel,"
he explains. "This
was a way to do both."
Nearly a decade (and many meetings) later, Lempel became HP's
first employee in Israel.
Then, says Lempel, he began worrying about making HP Labs Israel
a success. "Until then, the primary challenge had been all the
bureaucracy in getting it established," he recalls. "Now came
the real thing -- having
to prove it was all worthwhile."
As he went about building a staff, Lempel focused on researchers with talent, a proven ability to conduct independent research and an open mind.
Knowing the team would be small, "Abraham looked for depth of
expertise and skills that could be applied to a variety of research
topics instead of only to the immediate problems at hand," Lampman
focused on bringing in the highest-level talent."
Another policy Lempel set early on -- a heavy emphasis on collaboration.
HP Labs Israel is located on the Technion campus, atop Mount Carmel
overlooking the city of Haifa, and the team often works with faculty
from Technion. Lempel also encourages staff to teach at the institute.
In addition, researchers frequently join forces with other university partners, as well as others in HP Labs and elsewhere in HP.
"Many people are afraid of collaboration. I believe that
collaboration doesn’t diminish credit -- it doubles it," he says.
no better way of doing research than to collaborate with other
groups. No one has a patent on all the great ideas."
Nonetheless, the Israel group has contributed its share.
recent achievements from the Israel lab: a demosaicing algorithm incorporated
into HP's newest camera, the Photosmart
The Robust Demosaicing algorithm, which gives pictures sharp, high-resolution
detail and suppresses noise, was invented by a team that included Renato
(HP Labs Israel employee number three, with seven granted patents
and 11 pending patent applications). It is a major enhancement over
previous HP cameras.
Other recent contributions to HP products include:
- Robust denoising and sharpening for digital cameras, which minimizes
artifacts and preserves sharp edges in images. This was developed
by Keshet, Doron Shaked
(HP Labs Israel employee number two, with 11
granted patents) and Ron Maurer
(18 pending patent applications).
lighting. Keshet and Shaked were part
of a team that developed this technology, which balances dark and bright
areas in a photo while maintaining the overall contrast.
to HP's third printing technology, the Indigo
digital printing presses, to measure and improve print quality.
These include screen designs that enhance image quality, a system
for automatic image enhancement and tools to improve color registration
and to automatically measure and eliminate "banding" artifacts.
- Denoising for improved image quality on new ultra-thin
HP scanners that feature a see-through window (Keshet).
for removing scratches and dust from scanned images (Ruth Bergmann,
Hila Nachlieli, Gitit Ruckenstein and Pavel Kisilev).
- Substantial modifications of Indigo's embedded Linux machine that
turned an underperforming platform into one that surpassed all performance
Staelin, with seven granted patents and 15
"By all measures, the researchers at HP Labs Israel are, as a group,
among the most prolific inventors in HP Labs," says
Howard Taub, director of the Printing and Imaging
in HP Labs
and an HP vice president.
Maurer, one of the team's top inventors, compares the lab to a startup company.
"We're a small group of people doing something between industrial and
academic research," he says. "Each individual can make a difference."
Like a startup, the lab is no place for formality. Although researchers are divided into three teams – one focusing on image processing and analysis, another on digtal printing automation and a third on software for the Indigo diigtal printing presses – the barriers separating these groups are porous.
"There are no boundaries," says Lempel. "Everyone works with everyone."