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September 2005

The 21st century research lab: HP Labs Director offers a peek at some work in progress

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The most valuable technologies are increasingly emerging within networks and across disciplines, and in geographies with deep, real-world problems to solve.

by Jamie Beckett

Computers as small as grains of sand. Inexpensive electronic posters and billboards as sharp and clear as today’s glossy magazines. A worldwide auction for compute power for businesses of all sizes.

These are just a few of the projects in the works inside HP Labs, the HP central research facility.

Dick Lampman, senior vice president for research and director of HP Labs, offered a behind-the-scenes look into the lab to thousands of worldwide HP partners this week at an HP Global Partner Conference in Las Vegas.

"Our job is to invent for the company's future," Lampman said. Increasingly, that involves working "research networks" – a web of research partners around the world with whom researchers co-create technologies and solutions that provide HP customers a competitive advantage.

The power of partners

These partners include digital animation powerhouse DreamWorks and global research institutions like CERN, the world's largest particle physics lab. HP Labs also teams with major universities, government bodies and research organizations like the Gelato Federation, a group co-founded by HP to advance the Linux Itanium platform."

"The most valuable technologies are increasingly emerging within networks and across disciplines, and in geographies with deep, real-world problems to solve," said Lampman, noting the lab's global research presence. "Research networks – or the knowledge supply chain – are the prime ingredient for a successful 21st century research lab."

Work in progress

Lampman, who has been at the helm of HP Labs since 1999, also provided a glimpse at some of the lab's current projects in areas like utility computing, plastic electronics, nanotechnology and streaming media. These include:

• Auctions for compute power - A sort of eBay for computing power, this is software aimed at allocating and pricing storage and processing resources on demand. A business experiencing an unexpected surge in sales or Web traffic would be able to purchase more resources as needed at a price set by the market. The technology is being tested by CERN for grid-computing research and in HP Labs, where a financial services prototype is being developed.
• Smart cooling design - a proposition that drives the need-based provisioning of power and cooling from chip core to the cooling tower, dynamically allocating cooling resources where and when they're needed most. Smart cooling cuts energy consumption in half when compared with conventional design approaches.
• Short-run customized commercial printing – efforts to expand the capabilities of HP's Indigo digital press, which provides the look and feel of high-end offset printing, allows page-by-page customization and offers better image quality, faster speeds, greater media flexibility and lower cost per page than competing digital presses. HP Labs researchers in color science, image science, computer science, image processing, human vision, psychophysics, physics, chemistry and mathematics – another successful research network, Lampman noted – are driving improvements in digital color-management systems that will transform the commercial and industrial printing industries.

The "what ifs"

Along with those projects, the lab "continues to dream about tomorrow's possibilities – the 'what if' world," Lampman said.

In one of those projects, researchers are working to devise a method of making plastic displays that are lighter and more robust than today's LCD displays – but about one-fifth the cost. Just as impressive, these displays are bistable, meaning that they retain an image even without a power source.

"This will allow us to build displays with many more pixels than today – say 100 megapixels instead of one megapixel ---thus enabling print-quality pages to be displayed electronically," Lampman said.

Reinveinting computers

Perhaps the biggest "what if" project at HP Labs is research that could lead to computers as small as grains of sand.

Although scientists haven't achieved this yet, they are developing molecular-scale alternatives to conventional transistors that offer the potential for computers to be smaller, more powerful and less expensive. Research work in this area could make it possible to produce nearly perfect manufacturing yields with equipment a thousand times less expensive than today's methods.

"This is research at its best, offering HP a new approach that will enable low-cost, high-yield fabrication in a way never before considered," Lampman said.

In a recent survey, HP’s patent portfolio for micro and nanoelectronics was named the strongest in the world, he noted.

"We have to be ahead of the game," Lampman said. "We are there now and that’s where we intend to stay. And our partners will move with us."

Jamie Beckett is managing editor of the HP Labs Web site. Before joining HP, she was a reporter and editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. She is also a published fiction writer.

Related links

» Dick Lampman biography

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Richard H. (Dick) Lampman Senior Vice President, Research, HP Director, HP Labs
Richard H. (Dick) Lampman
Senior Vice President, Research, HP
Director, HP Labs


Learn more about the technologies:

» Auctions for compute power
» Smart cooling design
» Indigo customized commercial printing
» Plastic displays
» Nanotechnology

Learn more about the partnerships:

» Dreamworks

plastic electonics LCD displays 

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