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August 2004

A decade of invention at HP Labs Israel

Small team has big impact on cameras, scanners, printers


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Employees gathered for the HP Labs Israel anniversary celebration Employees gathered for the HP Labs Israel anniversary celebration.

HP Labs Israel researchers Renato Keshet and Ron Maurer talk with HP Labs executives Howard Taub (foreground) and Dick Lampman (background).
HP Labs Israel researchers Renato Keshet and Ron Maurer talk with HP Labs executives Howard Taub (foreground) and Dick Lampman (background).
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We’re a small group. Each individual can make a difference.

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.

Top talent

"This 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 ."

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."

Building the lab

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 says. "He focused on bringing in the highest-level talent."

Teamwork essential

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. "There’s 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

Among recent achievements from the Israel lab: a demosaicing algorithm incorporated into HP's newest camera, the Photosmart R707.

The Robust Demosaicing algorithm, which gives pictures sharp, high-resolution detail and suppresses noise, was invented by a team that included Renato Keshet (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).
  • Adaptive 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.
  • Enhancements 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).
  • Technology 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 specifications (Carl Staelin, with seven granted patents and 15 pending applications).

Making a difference

"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 Research Center 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."

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HP Labs Israel researcher Hila Nachlieli chats with co-worker Doron Shaked and his wife at the anniversary celebration. HP Labs Israel researcher Hila Nachlieli chats with co-worker Doron Shaked and his wife at the anniversary celebration.

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