From sustained engagement comes sustained innovation

HP Labs announces its 2010 Innovation Research Program Awards

By Simon Firth

Palo Alto, 6 July, 2010 -- Demonstrating a continued commitment to Open Innovation, HP Labs this week announced the recipients of its third annual Innovation Research Program (IRP) awards.

The program creates opportunities for faculty and students at leading colleges, universities and research institutes around the world to conduct breakthrough collaborative research with HP. This year a total of 65 projects received funding, of which 40 were receiving funding for a second or third year.

“HP Labs is proud to continue our close association with these first rate researchers who have committed to work alongside us to address the challenges and opportunities facing our customers and society in the next decade,” said Prith Banerjee, senior vice president of research at HP and director of HP Labs, in announcing the awards.

“The Innovation Research Program demonstrates HP Labs’ sustained commitment to partnership with some of the best universities in the world, and to investing in the next generation of scientists and technologists,” he added.

The 2010 IRP call for proposals attracted 375 submissions from 323 researchers in 202 universities in 36 countries.

Among repeat winners were projects from the University of Michigan, Imperial College, London, the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and Technische Universität in Berlin. Newly funded proposals came from Duke University, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada and eighteen other institutions.

The benefits of collaboration

Applicants for the 2010 awards were invited to submit proposals in response to a number of published topics, all aligned to HP Labs’ key research themes:

  • Analytics
  • Cloud
  • Content transformation
  • Digital commercial print
  • Immersive interaction
  • Information management
  • Intelligent infrastructure
  • Sustainability

Many successful projects have multiple points of intersection with these themes.

Professor Alan Willner, University of Southern California

Professor Alan Willner,
University of Southern

Professor Alan Willner’s research into multi-wavelength optical interconnects at the University of Southern California, for example, is aimed at developing novel components capable of transferring the massive data loads handled by modern data centers. As such, it addresses both information management and cloud computing. When deployed, those components will also dramatically reduce energy consumption in the data center, addressing a third key theme of sustainability.

Willner’s project, which is being renewed for a second time, has already generated more than two dozen joint publications, notes HP Fellow Ray Beausoleil of HP’s Information and Quantum Systems Lab.

“The guiding principles for signal processing at the scale of the chip were not well understood before we started this collaboration,” Beausoleil says, “but as a result of our joint work they are now understood much better.”

“Ray’s been very good about helping us understand the value of the things we’ve researched,” adds Willner. The USC professor also appreciates how working with what he describes as a ‘dynamic,’ world class industrial lab has enriched his teaching. Having access to HP Labs, he says, “represents an opportunity for students to get to know people and a mode of thinking that is part of their education.”

Addressing the challenges of cloud computing

Other 2010 IRP proposals address a single key theme.

In the area of cloud computing, HP Labs has been focusing on delivering on HP’s vision of Everything-as-a-Service: where billions of users access millions of different services, via thousands of service providers, over millions of servers, processing exabytes of data, all delivered through terabytes of network traffic.

IRP projects are helping to address many of the challenges that need to be overcome to create that massive infrastructure–from building and managing storage capabilities, to resolving issues around interconnection and processing, to ensuring the availability, reliability and security of the information and services being delivered.

Professor Karsten Schwan, Georgia Tech

Professor Karsten
Schwan, Georgia Tech

A team led by Professor Karsten Schwan at Georgia Tech, for example, is exploring the technologies required to give data center operators better visibility into application behaviors along with better information about resource consumption so that they can cope with dynamic application needs at scale.

“Imagine a sudden surge in Internet usage during the soccer world cup,” explains Schwan, “or a critical need for additional compute capacity in emergency situations. Unless data center operators can understand and characterize such surges in usage and the IT needs that accompany them, and unless application providers understand the accompanying resource needs, reliable service delivery will not be possible.”

Like the USC project, Schwan’s research is receiving a repeat award. That’s had several important advantages, suggests Partha Ranganathan of HP’s Exascale Computing Lab.

“Research of this kind by definition has a large learning curve,” Ranganathan says. “Many times it takes several months to get our vocabularies consistent and to just formulate the problem. And often the field changes so rapidly that a longer-term collaboration helps in dynamically responding to other developments as they occur.”

Solutions for developing economies

As well as furthering basic research that could lead to new HP products and services, the IRP process aims to extend the boundaries of HP Labs impact on the world.

That’s the goal of several proposals that received IRP support for the first time this year.

A project led by Professor Venu Govindaraju at SUNY Buffalo in partnership with HP Labs India, is aimed at separating handwritten annotations from printed content in document images. This could help provide authentication and reduce fraud in countries that currently rely heavily on paper transactions and is one of several projects targeted towards creating solutions for developing economies.

Eventually, says HP India researcher Sitaram Ramachandrula, “insights from the project could enable a novel feature on HP imaging and printing devices using the algorithms developed as part of this collaboration.”

Another new collaboration, led by Professor Bastien Chopard at University of Geneva ,will use HP Gloe, an experimental geo-locational social networking platform developed at HP Labs, to make maps of vast, remote regions of Africa.

As a result, says Chopard, “we will be able to annotate those maps with useful information for humanitarian and development workers from the UN and NGOs – for example, the positions and equipment available in rural hospitals. The novelty of the project is that we will use public participation to achieve these results.”

At the same time, HP Labs will be able to test how well HP Gloe functions, says HP Senior Fellow and director of HP’s Social Computing Laboratory Bernardo Huberman. “The ability to annotate maps easily, spontaneously and with automatic geolocation is what Gloe offers,” he says, “and we’re keen to see how it functions at such a large scale. Beyond that, the philanthropic nature of the project is very interesting to us.”

A track record of success

While newly funded IRP projects will begin work soon, those either refunded or completed in the past year have already racked up an impressive record of discovery.

In the last twelve months, a total of 118 papers detailing IRP-funded research were either published or accepted for publication and 21 invention disclosures were filed.

"The annual HP Labs Innovation Research Program is an ideal platform for HP to initiate highly innovative projects with leading researchers in universities worldwide," affirms Rich Friedrich, HP director of Strategy and Innovation.

"The collaborative effort between HP and these universities has delivered breakthroughs in areas such as cloud computing, optical computing and nano-materials -fundamental enablers of the next generation of products and services for communities around the globe."

Partha Ranganathan, HP Exascale Computing Lab

Partha Ranganathan, HP Exascale
Computing Lab

“We have had a lot of positive benefits from our university collaborations,” adds researcher Partha Ranganathan, “but the two I’m most excited about are the opportunity to work with talented, excited graduate students and the diversity of perspectives that our academic colleagues bring to the table.”

“The benefits work both ways,” says USC’s Willner. Being able to collaborate with HP researchers, he says, “has made me a better professor and a better researcher. And my students get a better education, no question about it.”