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Published: March 24, 2017

 HP IonTouch technology. Imager (left) and Rewritable media (Right)HP IonTouch technology. Imager (left) and Rewritable media (Right)

This month HP Labs pilots a new writable, energy-free display technology that could impact a wide swathe of industries, including finance, hospitality, healthcare, security, retail, and transportation.

HP IonTouch is a secure, integrated system for placing and updating timely, personalized visual information onto digital displays embedded in plastic cards of the size, flexibility, and durability of a standard credit card.

“The IonTouch enables non-contact imaging, removing the electronics from conventional electronic paper displays, including the display backplane that requires electrodes, transistors, interconnects, a battery, and a processor” explains HP IonTouch project director Omer Gila. “This allows us to add a high resolution 2.5” display to each card with only an incremental cost of just a few tens of cents”.

The HP Labs effort is unusual for its technical ambition, requiring innovations in hardware, software, and networking as well as the chemistry and physics of a new kind of media – and for taking the company’s research division into the realm of new business creation.

“Developing it has been a huge but rewarding challenge for everyone involved.” notes Gila.

 

The IonTouch Team. From left to right: Bill Holland, David George, Henryk Birecki, Raj Kelekar, Omer Gila, Napoleon Leoni, Anthony McLennan, Chuangyu Zhou, Rares Vernica, Dekel Green, and Mark Huber. Other key contributors include Marc Ramsey and Michael Lee.The IonTouch Team. From left to right: Bill Holland, David George, Henryk Birecki, Raj Kelekar, Omer Gila, Napoleon Leoni, Anthony McLennan, Chuangyu Zhou, Rares Vernica, Dekel Green, and Mark Huber. Other key contributors include Marc Ramsey and Michael Lee.

A new kind of energy free display

The low-cost, energy free display was developed to work with newly-developed IonTouch imagers and creates an image similar to that produced by tablets like the Amazon Kindle, but without the electronics and that remains permanently present unless reimaged by an IonTouch device.

The display media is embedded into individually identifiable plastic IonTouch cards printed by an HP Indigo digital press, resulting in a unique and portable card-sized display that can be erased and rewritten thousands of times to reflect a balance, status, score, or individualized message tailored to the owner.

The current IonTouch technology offers 300 x 300 dpi resolution display in black and white with 16 levels of gray scale. The 2.5” writable area is large enough to feature a clear photo for ID or entertainment, a QR code, and text information together at the same time.

 

A novel, and affordable imaging ecosystem

To realize their vision, HP Labs researchers also had to create an entirely new imaging device to erase and write onto HP IonTouch cards.

When a card is placed in this imager, a simple bar code on the back of the card uniquely identifies it to the HP IonTouch system, allowing the imaging device to retrieve whatever new information needs to be placed on the card. The imager then erases the card’s current display before printing the new information onto its electronic paper via a floating, non-contact print head in much the same way an HP InkJet head prints ink onto conventional paper – but without the ink. The entire process takes less than four seconds.

“The image can be rewritten more than 10,000 times. Each image can stay as it is printed forever, or until you run the card through the imager again,” says HP IonTouch lead engineer Napoleon Leoni. He also notes that the cards are made to be flexible, durable, water-washable, and impact resistant – and can thus easily handle a pocket or wallet environment.

Crucially, they also cost little to produce. Where competing solutions with a comparable electronic screen size cost more than $50 per card to manufacture, HP IonTouch cards are projected to cost less than a couple of dollars to make.

“That really changes the game and opens up IonTouch cards for use in a wide variety of sectors,” Gila suggests. “Since almost every plastic card in the market can benefit from a writable display, we believe the number of potential applications is almost endless.”

Potential uses include gift cards that display personalized messages and are both refreshable and transferable, security badges that are reauthorized daily, smarter hotel door keys and medical cards, and public transport passes and loyalty cards that update their value with every ride or purchase and include fresh information about the service and discounts or offers that are personalized for the user. The technology also has potential application for other kinds of signage, such as durable, low-cost, rewritable shelf labels of the kind used by pharmacies, grocery stores, and other retailers.

 

A strong environmental and security message

 “Making cards rewriteable makes them reusable. This is good for business but also good for the environment as it eliminates millions of wasted cards every year” says Leoni. “Since the only way to change information on the IonTouch cards is via our IonTouch imagers, that also adds another layer of protection, making the cards very secure, too. Being able to update or rotate security codes boosts the security of credit cards and enables reuse of gift cards, replacing the scratchable or permanent security codes they use today.”

Another environmental benefit stems from the cards’ power consumption – they require just a few watts to be written and no power to retain their images, translating to an annual electric bill of a few cents per imager. This also enables new handheld applications where an HP IonTouch imager runs on single battery charge for a whole day.

Creating this novel ion jet imaging technology was just one of many technical challenges that the team of ten or so HP Labs engineers faced and resolved. 

They also added networking and cloud integration to the system, enabling the Linux-based IonTouch imager to link with customer-owned cloud databases. A retailer, for example, may recognize a customer’s gift card as it runs through the imager, immediately debit it for a purchase, and then print the new balance on the card along with a discount for a product relevant to the customer’s previous buying habits. 

 

A new business category

Recognizing their technology’s potential, the researchers from HP’s Print Adjacencies and 3D Lab teamed up with the company’s operations and supply chain teams and its Strategy and Incubation group to design an entirely new HP business concept around the HP IonTouch system.

That led them to develop imagers that are both extremely reliable and yet are “hot swappable”.  “If you have any problem with an imager, our cloud backup system ensures a fast replacement. Just swap in your spare imager, authorize it with your password or code, and off you go,” Gila explains. “Just send the problem unit back to HP for a replacement.”    

Gila believes that convenience and ease of use will keep card-based services in high demand for the next several decades and notes that despite a rise in new payment methods and technologies, the pre-paid card market is still growing, with more than 10 billion new cards issued each year.

“Almost all of them could be made better with our technology,” he says.

 

The pilot

The HP IonTouch pilot currently underway deploys the technology at HP’s own Palo Alto headquarters buildings, featuring an advanced automated digital badge entry system based on IonTouch technology. It includes a touch screen, an imager, a cloud monitoring system, and prints out unique IonTouch visitor badges. These badges display the visitor’s name, that of their host, the date, the name and logo of their company, and a small icon unique to that day, making it easy for security personnel to confirm whether people are present with permission. The system also links to the company’s calendar software, notifying hosts when their guests have arrived.

“The pilot will give us important visibility and valuable feedback on our business and technology, including the imagers, the cards, our software, the user experience, and ease of use” suggests Gila. “We’re very excited to be able to share it with the world.”

 

 

 

    HP Labs
Published: October 20, 2017

A speculative wearable device ‘Data Vaporizer’A speculative wearable device ‘Data Vaporizer’In a guest lecture to students, faculty, and interested members of the public on October 26th at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, HP Labs researcher Ji Won Jun will argue the case for “Design as a Speculative Inquiry.”HP Labs researcher Ji Won JunHP Labs researcher Ji Won Jun

“I’m going to be sharing some examples of my work to show how we can use design to think more creatively about the future and think about technology in a different way,” Jun says.

Too often, Jun believes, we view the likely impact of new technologies either in terms of solving problems with existing tools or through a fantastical lens more suited to science fiction.

“Speculative Design is about challenging our assumptions about why and how we should advance technology,” she notes. “Maybe our aim shouldn’t always be to do things faster or be more productive but instead be more about things like, say, protecting our privacy.”

One of Jun’s early projects – the Data Vaporizer – is a wearable device that does just that by offering protection from hackers. A more recent investigation for the Immersive Experiences Lab, Project Jetty, explores how we can foster stronger emotional connections between people without explicitly needing to make contact with each other.

“The point is to tweak the questions we ask ourselves and, in doing that, to provoke an alternative approach,” Jun suggests. “We’re creating prototype designs that we can share with people and, in measuring their responses to those designs, learn more about what might change as we get people to see technology in a new light.”

Jun’s lecture is part of the California College of the Arts’ annual open house for its MFA program in Design and will feature projects drawn from her own MFA studies at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and her work in HP’s Immersive Experiences Lab, which she joined in early 2016.

Previously, Jun has presented her work at the 2017 Research Through Design Conference in Edinburgh, UK, and seen it featured in media including Fast Company, Vice magazine’s Creators project and ACM Interactions magazine. She also won the 2016 SXSW Interactive Innovation Award for Student Innovation and received an Art Center Graduate Honors Fellowship.

Jun’s lecture is on Thursday, October 26th at 7:30 PM in the Boardroom at the California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco.

Published: October 20, 2017

HP Labs researcher Sarthak GhoshHP Labs researcher Sarthak Ghosh“In the future, people are going to spend a lot of time in virtual reality environments,” suggests HP Labs researcher Sarthak Ghosh. And they won’t just be using VR for entertainment. “VR will also become a key tool for employees working in fields as diverse as engineering, healthcare, media production, and space science,” Ghosh says.

That begs a question Ghosh first tackled while interning at HP Labs in 2016 as a masters student in Human Computer Interaction at Georgia Tech: how can we ensure that people working in VR environments keep track of what’s going on in the real world, of having a sense of passing time for example?

“If you are making a VR game, you don’t mind if your users are so engrossed in it that they lose track of time,” Ghosh observes. “But if you want people to use VR to do a job, they also need to attend meetings, write up reports, talk with colleagues and more.”

One solution would be to put a real time clock in the VR display that users see. But that takes up valuable visual real estate and taxes a human sense – vision – that is already being worked hard in such a visually immersive environment.

Instead, Ghosh decided to explore using haptic feedback – creating physical sensations with small motors – to offer clues about what’s going on outside the VR experience. Traditionally, haptic feedback has been deployed to make VR feel even more immersive. But could different types of haptic feedback also strengthen our feelings of connection to the outside world?

To find out, Ghosh built a series of five ‘haptic backpacks’ to be worn along with a VR headset. Inspired by HP’s own Omen VR Backpack, which makes it possible to create “untethered” VR experiences, each of these backpacks was augmented to deliver a different kind of physical nudge to users immersed in a virtual reality task. One backpack created the sensation of a shoulder tap at regular intervals to mark the passage of real world time, another buzzed at the shoulder, while a third buzzed the entire back. The fourth backpack created a “hugging” sensation and the final pack used small fans to blow air across the wearer’s neck.

Trials on colleagues in HP’s Immersive Experiences Lab quickly revealed that the hugging and blown air solutions didn’t give clear enough external signals. But the first three showed promise. Ghosh led efforts to test these other forms of haptic feedback on a larger group of participants as they undertook two different VR tasks.

“Perhaps our main finding was that people did notice the alerts they were getting and for the most part they were able to connect that with the real world, so it does seem possible to use your body’s surface area to create notifications about the real world,” says Ghosh.

The study also revealed a discrepancy between the intellectual calculations people make as they count buzzes or taps to measure time and their instinctual sense of how much time has passed. Many felt more inclined to believe their less reliable instincts over their more accurate counts, offering a useful window on the dominance of our instinctual sense of time in VR environments.

In addition, participants reported a strong inclination to believe that the physical sensations they were experiencing had a significance in the virtual world.Alex Thayer, Chief Experience Architect for the Immersive Experiences LabAlex Thayer, Chief Experience Architect for the Immersive Experiences Lab

“If we can get a better handle on all of these things, it could help make for a better VR experience itself as well as letting us send clearer signals from the outside,” notes Alex Thayer, Chief Experience Architect for the Immersive Experiences Lab. 

On the issue of external notifications, the study suggested multiple areas for further analysis, such as the best patterns to use for signaling and the degree to which priming participants with information about what to expect can impact outcomes.

After completing his initial research, Ghosh returned to Georgia Tech to finish his degree. The work on his thesis with adviser Gregory Abowd was inspired by the HP Labs study. On graduation, Ghosh was hired into HP Labs as a full time researcher in the Immersive Experiences Lab so he could continue his explorations.

“One of our next steps is to ask how we can apply what we’re learning in these studies to future iterations of VR interaction and design,” Ghosh says.

That will help HP’s Immersive Experiences Lab further its goal of helping people achieve “supernatural productivity” – productivity far beyond what’s currently possible.

“We see VR as one of the technologies most likely to both disrupt and enhance how professionals do their work in the next five or ten years,” adds Thayer. “Research like this helps us anticipate that moment by enriching our understanding of what it will take to have VR be a major part of our work lives.”

Addendum - The haptic backpack project was a collaborative effort with other members of the Immersive Experiences Lab, including Hiro Horii, Kevin Smathers, and Mithra Vankipuram.

Published: October 10, 2017

From left: HP Labs researchers Adrian Baldwin and Jonathan GriffinFrom left: HP Labs researchers Adrian Baldwin and Jonathan GriffinHP Connection Inspector, a new intelligent embedded security feature for enterprise printers developed at HP Labs, helps networked HP printers stay one step ahead of malware attacks by giving them advanced self-healing capabilities.

Announced at this month’s HP World Partner Forum in Chicago, HP Connection Inspector was developed specifically for enterprise printers, notes Adrian Baldwin, one of the Bristol, UK-based researchers behind the innovation.

“A lot of security technology that gets put into printers simply copies what is put into PCs,” he says. “HP Connection Inspector has been developed from the outset with the mechanics of how printers work – and the needs of printer users – in mind.”

Malicious actors are constantly looking for less-protected gateways into an enterprise’s larger IT network. To prevent networked printers becoming that conduit, the HP Security Lab team focused on developing a novel approach to network traffic monitoring designed to detect threats and enable immediate responses.

Where many malware detectors need to refer to libraries of known hostile programs or network addresses known to be associated with an attack, HP Connection Inspector focuses on detecting anomalous behaviors and then acts to secure the networked printer even before the malware is confirmed to be present.

It does this by keeping a continuous watch for moments when malware is attempting to make contact with its command and control server. In the process, HP Connection Inspector learns what “normal” network traffic looks like, meaning that it can detect suspicious outbound requests even when those requests aren’t sent to known “bad” web addresses. When it detects suspicious activity, the software can immediately go into a protected mode, stopping any further unfamiliar requests and sending a warning to IT administrators.

“One thing that’s hard about doing this is avoiding false alarms,” says Baldwin. “We do that by restricting what the printer is allowed to do if we get suspicious, but not stopping it completely until we know that we need to – that makes the solution much more reliable than usual.”

When HP Connection Inspector detects a specific, customer-determined level of malware-like behavior, the technology can also trigger a printer reboot. This initiates a self-healing procedure without IT needing to be involved. 

“Printers need to be on all the time,” adds project manager Jonathan Griffin. “By automatically rebooting the computer, printers aren’t idled while waiting for IT support; that also helps reduce down time, which is a high priority for all enterprise print users.”

In addition, these capabilities had to be developed as elegantly as possible, to ensure they would provide security without interfering with overall printing or networking performance.

“A lot of research went into creating this, but we’re quite pleased with how little space the final code actually takes up,” Baldwin notes.  

After developing the technology behind HP Connection Inspector, the HP Labs team worked extensively with colleagues from HP’s Office Printing Solutions group in Bangalore, India and Boise, Idaho to ready the solution for commercial use. It is now set to be included in all HP Enterprise LaserJet printers by the end of this year.

HP Connection Inspector is just the first of a number of printer-specific security analytics innovations the HP Labs team is developing to help detect and respond to malware attacks.

Published: September 28, 2017

Customer-3D-Lab_1.jpg

Customers visiting HP’s Customer Welcome Center (CWC) in Palo Alto can now also experience HP’s new state of the art 3D Customer Lab.

Based in HP Labs’ headquarters building adjacent to the CWC, the Multi Jet Fusion 3D Customer Lab is a place where customers and partners can both see and experience HP’s new 3D printers in action. This is also an active research facility, says Lihua Zhao, director of HP’s Advanced Material and Process Research team.

“We opened in late July and have seen over 200 customers, partners and alliance partners come through the lab,” Zhao notes. “They see what our latest printers can do and also witness HP research in action, as we run experiments to refine our 3D technology and print items that help other HP Labs teams conduct their research.”

The lab’s star attractions are a pair of brand new, industrial-grade HP Jet Fusion 4200 printers, each with its own HP 4200 Processing Station. Visitors get to learn how print trolleys the size of a domestic dishwasher are pre-loaded with powdered printing material before being slotted into the main printer body. The printer then goes layer by layer filling the trolley and creating the parts.

3D-printed part3D-printed partAfter printing, the just-built items have to cool down, which can often take as long as the printing process. To avoid keeping the printer out of service for that time, the trolley is removed, placed into a Processing Station and another trolley is wheeled into place, so that production never stops. At the processing station, the printed items are cooled, unpacked, and cleaned of any excess powder, which is recycled for use in the next print run, a huge milestone in 3DP. In traditional 3D technology like SLS only 50% of the powder can be reused. With HP MJF you can reuse all the powder.

“What this means is that you can keep an HP 3D printer going all the time, which is important to our customers as they like using these printers to manufacture customized parts,” says Zhao. “We like to point out that up to 50% of the printer components in each HP 4200 printing system are themselves printed on an HP 3D printer.”

Visitors range from manufacturers, who are already very familiar with 3D printing and want to see HP’s latest commercial offering, to customers that have yet to move into 3D printing but want a clear sense of the technology’s potential. In addition to learning about the print process, they get to see and handle final printed pieces and learn about the flexibility and economics of additive manufacturing.

Some come with very specific questions or manufacturing needs in mind and the HP Labs engineers they meet can often point them to teams within HP’s business units that can help meet their needs or overcome their challenges.  But these conversations also spark ideas for new research directions at HP Labs and potential new partnerships.

“That’s an important aspect of having the 3D Customer Lab in HP Labs,” Zhao says. “We are continually improving our technology and we can run research trials through these printers to better understand many practical challenges that we identify in these conversations and then try out potential solutions to them.”

In addition, the HP Labs 3D print research team is using the facility to test and refine many of its own ideas for 3D printing innovations – it can also draw on more advanced print test facilities that are the forerunners of future HP 3D printers – and to help other HP Labs groups conduct their research.

Researchers designing new software and storage solutions for end-to-end design/print/manufacturing processes, for example, can test their ideas in the near-commercial conditions of the 3D facility. And one off prototypes developed by teams in HP’s Immersive Experience Lab can now be easily printed on demand.

3D-printed part3D-printed part

Published: September 14, 2017

Sound-graph_Immersive-Audio.jpg

Audiophiles know that sound reproduction is improved by adding more speakers to a room and making them larger. But that won’t help make today’s increasingly slim and often tinny-sounding laptops, tablets, and phones sound good.

There is a way, however, to make small devices sound larger and better, enabling a high-quality, immersive audio experience, suggests HP Labs researcher Sunil Bharitkar a member of the Media team in HP’s Emerging Compute Lab.

“We can use software to process the audio signals on HP devices so that they approximate the spatial quality of sound that you hear in a room with a multi-loudspeaker audio system,” he says. “We call it immersive audio.”

While competing approaches offer similar processing techniques, the key to HP’s lies in applying specific audio filters and “transforms” that create natural sounding audio with a low compute complexity.

Bharitkar has been guiding an effort at HP Labs, in partnership with colleagues in HP’s Personal Systems and Print groups spearheaded by Personal Systems Chief Technologist Mike Nash, to use this research to upgrade the audio quality on HP’s mobile and desktop devices.

“Audio is an essential, and often underestimated, component of any technology experience, which is why we’re thrilled to be working in close collaboration with HP Labs to make our devices sounds second to none in the industry,” says Nash.

 

Immersive Audio Flow Chart.png

The team first needed to establish objective metrics against which to measure audio performance on HP devices. Based on the outcome of those measurements, they then started redesigning HP’s audio processing technology from the ground up, an effort that has included creating a novel signal topology and a unique set of audio filters.

Additionally, the researchers are applying machine learning in their audio processing topology to classify the sound content (whether it was a movie, for example, or a song). Furthermore, using machine learning it can be ensured that multiple layers of unnecessary processing are not applied where the content is identified as having already been processed, reducing the signal processing compute load and minimizing artifacts.

 

Head, Torso & Mouth Simulator used by HP Labs for extracting directional cues associated with sound localization, and for speech reproduction.Head, Torso & Mouth Simulator used by HP Labs for extracting directional cues associated with sound localization, and for speech reproduction.This is rapidly taking users towards an experience – delivered either through a device’s small speakers or a set of headphones – that faithfully reproduces the intent of its creator of any kind of audio, from a song recorded in a small studio to a Hollywood blockbuster, while consuming as little processing power as possible.

Thanks to commonalities between internationally standardized testing methodologies used for image and audio quality assessments, the HP team have been able to draw on the experience of HP’s Print Quality Evaluation group to test their improvements, assembling several panels of non-experts to evaluate their innovations..

In an effort led by HP Mobility’s Head of Software, Chris Kruger, the first iterations of HP’s new audio processing algorithms are now being packaged into the Qualcomm Snapdragon audio processing chips used in HP mobile devices. Next up: further refining the technology and adding it to HP’s consumer offerings, and towards that the Labs are working closely with Sound Research, an HP partner, for integration.