By Jamie Beckett, August 2008
Forty-one professors from some of the world's top technical universities are winners of HP Labs' inaugural Innovation Awards funding collaborative research for the next academic year and beyond.
The winners, selected from more than among 450 submissions from 200 universities, represent such top-tier institutions as MIT, Stanford University, the Indian Institute of Technology, Israel's Technion and the Tsinghua University in China.
"This level of competition has never happened at HP Labs before. It's like the Olympics of research, where the best professors from the best universities around the world were selected to work with researchers at HP Labs," says Prith Banerjee, director of HP Labs and senior vice president for research, HP.
Together with HP Labs researchers, the professors and their graduate students will tackle some some of the most challenging scientific and technical problems today.
Several projects aim to advance the science of photonics, using light to replace the copper connections inside racks, blades and even chips. Others are focused on developing new types of data analysis and new ways of organizing, viewing and printing information. Still others explore such far-reaching topics as quantum computing, next-generation multimedia communications, future data centers, cloud computing and social computing.
"We're thrilled about the relationship with HP. Students and faculty working on these projects have the sense that they're really at the leading edge of something," says Frank Cost, a
professor and associate dean at Rochester Institute of Technology's College of Imaging Arts and Sciences.
Cost and his students are developing an automated framework for collecting and tagging Web content and then publishing it in an attractive, well organized book, magazine or other format. He hopes to have a system working by the end of the 2008-2009 school year.
Although HP Labs has long funded academic research, the new program is a more formal approach designed to deepen HP's university relationships and to provide professors students with opportunities to work on real business and technology problems. The winning projects, submitted in response to HP's call for proposals in May, come from 34 different academic institutions in 14 countries. Some of the graduate students also will be awarded HP Labs internships.
"Students find it more exciting to work on something that has industry relelvance. They are encouraged by the idea that their work has value and may even be used," says Venu Govindaraju, a professor of computer science and engineering at the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo).
Together with Anurag Mittal of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Govindaraju is working to advance the state-of-the-art in human-computer interaction by allowing people use simple gestures to manipulate virtual objects on a computer monitor or projection screen.
At the University of California at Berkeley, Ruzena Bajcsy will use the HP funding to advance her research in tele-immersion technologies that allow people in remote locations to collaborate in real time in an environment that feels as if they're in the same room.
"I'd like to use this technology to improve communication among people," says Bajcsy, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and director emeritus of Berkeley's Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS).
With 360-degree stereo capturing that allows full-body 3D reconstruction of people and objects, Bajcsy and her students have experimented with remote collaborative dance performances and Tai Chi instruction. She sees applications for the technology in 3D computer-aided design, ergonomics, physical therapy and entertainment.
Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management, is investigating how ideas spread among people in some of the world's most innovative regions. Specifically, he and his students are measuring how quickly ideas flow inside these regions and to determine the importance of geography given the advances in information technology.<
Brynjolfsson, who is also director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, says he's particularly pleased about the opportunity to collaborate with HP Senior Fellow Bernardo Huberman. The two have talked but never had the chance to work together.
"Bernardo is a pioneer in quantifying the importance of social networks and information flows," says Brynjolfsson. "I'm looking forward to learning from him and hopefully discovering new things together."
For his part, Huberman says he's eager to begin a close collaboration with Brynjolfsson and Thomas W. Malone, also a professor at MIT's Sloan School. In the past, his interactions with the two consisted mainly of informal email exchanges and discussions at conferences.
"We'll now be able to co-generate knowledge, exchange students and research results and write papers together," he says. "We're committed to conducting research together on these projects."