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Published: May 19, 2016


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A select group of leading academic researchers gathered recently at HP Lab’s Palo Alto headquarters to discuss the future of human computer interaction and learn more about HP’s current research in the field.

The invitation-only workshop brought together professors and students from MIT, Stanford University, Lancaster University, the University of Minnesota, the Hasso Plattner Institute, and the Rochester Institute of Technology with researchers based in HP’s Immersive Experiences Lab. Members of other HP Labs and the HP Sprout team also joined in the workshop and the discussions it provoked around blended reality, 3D printing, and future user experiences.

Mirjana Spasojevic, Head of Immersive Experiences Lab, introducing Gurdave Ahluwalia who talked about HP Sprout.Mirjana Spasojevic, Head of Immersive Experiences Lab, introducing Gurdave Ahluwalia who talked about HP Sprout.

“The Sprout workshop was very interesting and informative. It was especially valuable to expose my new PhD student to a combination of corporate and academic research, as well as to see what new capabilities HP is working on,” said Professor Daniel Ashbrook, who founded and directs the Future Everyday Technology Lab (FETLab) at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

All the participants had spent the first part of the week in San Jose at CHI2016, the ACM Conference on Human Computer Interaction, where HP was a champion sponsor and showcased a number of innovations including new applications for the HP Sprout, the world’s first immersive technology product and the device for which the term “blended reality” was coined.

The HP Labs booth at CHI2016 in San Jose.The HP Labs booth at CHI2016 in San Jose.

“Because the conference is so big and there’s always so much going on, we wanted to invite a small group of thought leaders in the areas of blended reality, tangible interfaces, 3D printing, and personal fabrication to come and spend a little bit more time with us and really talk through their work,” said Head of HP Immersive Experiences Lab Mirjana Spasojevic before opening the event.

A number of workshop attendees already collaborate with HP, Spasojevic noted, adding that the gathering offered the chance to explore opportunities for new collaborations.

In addition to sharing their own research, the visitors received updates on HP’s current interaction research programs, toured HP’s Customer Welcome Center, and took part in a roundtable on the future of 3D printing and personal fabrication.

Workshop attendees trying out the demo of ShareTable app for Sprout.Workshop attendees trying out the demo of ShareTable app for Sprout.


    HP Labs
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.”





Published: March 02, 2017

Molecular biologist Caitlin DeJongMolecular biologist Caitlin DeJong

Dr. Caitlin DeJong is the first molecular biologist to be hired at HP Labs. She joined the Life Sciences Research Group in HP’s Print Adjacencies and 3D Lab last May on a three year post-doctoral research position. DeJong completed her Ph.D. in molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where she investigated the impact of a specific protein in regulating gene expression in early vertebrate development.  We caught up with her recently to learn how a molecular biologist fits HP’s research needs and a little about what she’s been investigating.


HP: So how does a molecular biologist fit into HP’s research agenda?

Well, HP Labs was looking to apply its SERS sensor technology to the life sciences and better understand which of the company’s technological strengths could be leveraged with biomedical research to create new products/devices and services. They needed someone with experience in the life sciences to help do that – and that’s where I came in.


HP: And what was attractive to you about joining HP Labs as a molecular biologist?

Firstly, it seemed like a really neat opportunity to get exposure to industry. And then this was a chance to get in at the start of something – by coming in at the founding of the Life Science Research Group I could help influence the direction of things. Our investigations are pretty open ended at this point, so there’s a lot of scope for creativity. I’m also working with scientists from other disciplines that I would never have the opportunity to work with if I’d stayed working with other molecular biologists – that was appealing to me, too.


HP: How’s it been going?

I’ve been here ten months and the learning curve has been steep, but that’s good. One of the reasons I decided to come here was when I came to give a talk I got really good scientific questions from people who weren’t molecular biologists. That suggested people here were really good thinkers who do solid work, which has proven to be true.


HP: Can you tell us a little about your research?

Sure. Our research into SERS technology is all about looking for molecular signatures. What I’m doing is exploring how the SERS testing and diagnosis chip that we’re developing responds when we expose it to different biological fluids – where molecular signatures of different diseases will lie. These are things like blood, urine, saliva, and even breath. What are the molecular signatures you get from these? In these early studies, part of what I do is prepare different versions of these biofluids, eliminating certain molecular components from them, for example, and then comparing the molecular fingerprints of the results we get.


HP: What’s the long term goal here?

Eventually we want to be able to understand how the signatures differ when you compare a sample from someone healthy versus one that comes from someone with a specific disease. Then we’ll explore how we could use that information as a diagnostic or screening tool. 


HP: What have you liked about working at HP Labs?

One thing I’ve liked has been that our projects have a clear, directed research agenda. Because the year is broken up into quarters, the work is also broken up into smaller, more bite-size increments with more decision points for making changes when compared with academic research, and I like that, too. It seems a little more efficient. People here also treat each other with a lot of respect.

HP: Has the post doc changed your idea of what you might do with your career?

It’s given me really good exposure to what research and development is like in industry, which is something I wanted. The motivation for our research is different from when I was in an academic lab; our efforts are focused on trying to create something that will actually become a product that will hopefully be used to make a difference in people’s lives so I feel like my scientific efforts are one step closer to having an impact. I like thinking about research from this angle because it’s expanding the way I address scientific questions, and because of that, this is a very good place to be.


Published: February 07, 2017

HP researcher Rongliang Zhou and HP Fellow Bruce FlemingHP researcher Rongliang Zhou and HP Fellow Bruce Fleming

Commercial and residential buildings together account for 40 percent of all US energy consumption. (1) That alone is a major incentive to make both more energy efficient, suggests HP Labs researcher Rongliang Zhou.

“If we can better match the air conditioning, lighting, and power provided in buildings to their actual energy needs, we can save money for building owners of all kinds,” he says.

A member of HP’s Emerging Compute Lab, Zhou has been leading an effort to explore doing this – looking first at large commercial office buildings like the one he works in – through the integration of new sensors and improved building management software in a program called HP Smart Building Analytics.

Currently, most office buildings are recommissioned only every two to five years. But many system elements, such as sensors or actuators in variable air volume (VAV) boxes, air handling units (AHUs), and thermostats can malfunction long before then. In addition, most building spaces will get repurposed during that time, leading to mismatches between the utilities supplied and what the building’s users actually need.

Today, says Zhou, “very little of this is tracked and so it’s very inefficient.”  

The HP Labs team quickly realized that much of the core hardware they needed to tackle these inefficiencies already sits in most commercial buildings – a fair amount of it made by HP. Not only do existing lighting and building management systems offer opportunities for data collection and analysis, but IT equipment like printers and desktop computers contain multiple sensors that can be tapped to monitor the environment.

It’s also relatively cost effective to add more sensors to these devices. To understand which would be most useful, Zhou and HP Fellow Bruce Fleming created a small Windows device about the size of a cell phone they called SEED, pre-loaded with temperature, humidity, pressure, light, human presence and motion-related sensors.

“We can place SEED in a room and it will detect both the current environmental conditions and also whether the room is occupied or not,” says Zhou. “Connect it to a building’s existing management system and already you can begin to improve how you match energy supply with demand.”

A series of field trials demonstrated the impact this could have. When they placed SEED in several HP conference rooms, the researchers discovered that simply by matching lighting and air conditioning with actual demand, they could reduce energy costs by 13%.

“If every conference room owned by HP worldwide had a similar size and use pattern as the ones we studied,” Zhou reports, “that would translate into substantial savings to the company on an annual basis.”

The team also found that the rooms they measured remained unused for roughly 35% of the normal work week, suggesting that the company could make much better use of its existing real estate. 

Smart Building Analytics DashboardSmart Building Analytics Dashboard

Another analysis, meanwhile, looked at how more than 60 air handling units were scheduled across HP’s Palo Alto campus. The researchers found multiple cases where the equipment was running when it wasn’t required or where malfunctioning sensors impacted the units’ operational efficiency.

“This cost us almost nothing to figure out, but it instantly brought us significant annual savings, demonstrating the financial benefits that can accrue from enabling your buildings to be “smart”” observes Zhou.

Most businesses pay for efficiency upgrades when they refurbish their buildings and then hope to recoup the upgrade cost from lower energy bills in future years. But the HP research suggested the viability of an alternative model: “continuous re-commissioning,” where data from disparate sources, including the existing management system, are constantly synthesized and analyzed for actionable insights, utilizing machine learning techniques and an enterprise-grade Internet of Things .  This servicing offers similar efficiency improvements to an all-in remodel, but without the often substantial upfront cost.

HP’s vision for Smart Building Analytics goes beyond continuous re-commissioning, however. The Labs team has been investigating how they can integrate existing HP technology that locates people inside buildings, for example, asking how increased sensing granularity and mobility might offer deeper insights that make buildings smarter by increasing their energy efficiency, making them more comfortable to work in, and enhancing the workflows that take place within them.

On the software side, they have been developing new data collection, analysis, and integration methodologies for variously-sourced data from within buildings, with a particular focus on better matching building services to occupant needs.

“A wider goal here is to make buildings context aware,” says Zhou. “They should only consume energy when needed, but they can also do things like direct people to the rooms they are set to meet in, or inform them where the nearest printer that suits their needs is located.”

HP’s Smart Building Analytics research could find its way into multiple existing HP products, and corporate customers may want new sensor and analytics capabilities built into their HP laptops, tablets, and other devices so they can be tapped to make office environments more energy smart. The work might also lead to new, more efficient building services solutions from the campus-scale down to that of an individual domestic home.

The entire building industry could do more to match energy supply to the changing conditions demanded by the people, materials, and machines that they house, impacting not only energy use but also productivity, Zhou believes.

“Building services technologies haven’t advanced that much over the last few decades,” he notes. “We’re definitely at a point where we can expect some exciting changes, and I think HP is poised to make a strong contribution.” 


(1) Energy Consumption by Sector, U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Independent Statistics and Analysis, Retrieved from:

Published: January 12, 2017

The Project Jetty team from left to right:: Hiroshi Horii, Alex Thayer, Ji Won Jun,  Jishang Wei and  Kevin  SmathersThe Project Jetty team from left to right:: Hiroshi Horii, Alex Thayer, Ji Won Jun, Jishang Wei and Kevin Smathers

 A design project that connects family members via a 3D display indicating when relatives are ‘home’ – and what weather they are experiencing – is helping HP Labs better understand how technology can bring people together.

The concept, called Project Jetty, is elegantly simple: place a 3D-printed, realistic representation of your home in the home of an adult relative and keep a representation of their home in yours. Each printed house glows when its owner is home and sits in a photo frame illuminated by a tablet device, enabling the display of real time weather data.

Thanks in large part to that simplicity, the devices can have a powerful impact says Alex Thayer, PhD, project director and senior manager in HP’s Immersive Experiences Lab.

“You might think you could foster even stronger connections through something like a live video feed, but while pictures are highly emotional, their power can also inhibit people from wanting to initiate contact,” Thayer says. “In this project we’ve found that knowing whether someone is home, or what the weather is like at the relative’s house, is actually a great point of entry into a conversation, which is one of the things we were hoping to encourage.”

The idea for Project Jetty sprang from an HP Labs design workshop where Thayer’s colleague, Ji Won Jun asked, “How can we help people feel connected without actually being connected?” In response, Thayer recalled a comment from his young daughter: “I wish I could be at Grandma’s house even when I’m not there.”

That inspired team member Hiroshi Horii to create a mocked-up prototype on the spot, featuring a small, 3D house with real-time weather information projected onto it. They hit on the name Project Jetty because a jetty is anchored in one place (the land) but extends out into another (a lake or ocean), and acts as a launching or landing point for travel between the two.

The idea was promising enough for the lab to quickly launch a “design probe” – a working instantiation of the concept that could be tested in the field.The Project Jetty deviceThe Project Jetty device“In an eight week sprint our small team of engineers moved from brainstorming the idea to having the devices in use by five pairs of families,” Thayer recalls. Each pair lived within driving distance of each other but had expressed a desire to be in contact more often. They used the devices for just over a week and noted how the connection changed their behavior.

All the family pairings reported having more conversations via phone or text with each other than before, says Thayer. They also felt more connected and even used the device to see when family members had left their houses to come over to visit. One aging user noted that seeing her adult child’s house lit up helped remind her she was due to babysit, keeping her “mind organized” and making her feel better able to help care for her grandchildren.

“Everyone wanted to keep their devices at the end of the field test,” Thayer adds. “That gave us a pretty clear sense that the experience was one people really valued.”

Lab researchers aren’t necessarily looking to develop a new HP product as a result of the experiment. Instead, says Thayer, their intention was to extend their understanding of how technology can help us live better and feel more resilient in our lives.

In particular, the project has helped elucidate how technology can help people form more successful emotional connections. Using a glowing house to signal presence, for example, turned out to have more evocative power than something that was more “high tech” but also more abstract.

“We can use those insights in a wide variety of future projects,” Thayer notes.

Published: January 05, 2017


Master Technologist Ning Ge and Distinguished Technologist Helen HolderMaster Technologist Ning Ge and Distinguished Technologist Helen HolderA paper published today in Nature: Scientific Reports details the demonstration at HP Labs of a new kind of computing system: a type of “physical computer” that inputs, manipulates, and stores information without the original analog data being converted into the digital ones and zeros that are at the heart of conventional computing.

The research is the result of a collaboration between HP Labs, Hewlett Packard Labs, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMASS) and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and holds out the promise of a new generation of highly energy efficient, low cost electronic devices that could enable the vast sensor networks imagined as the basis for “ambient” computing – a future ‘megatrend’ being investigated in HP’s Emerging Compute Lab.

“While the idea of a physical computer is not new, we’ve been able show that memristor technology developed at HP Labs can be used to move physical computing in a new direction,” says Ning Ge, an HP Labs Master Technologist and co-lead author of the paper. “It’s a pretty encouraging result.”

“Ambient computing demands computational capability anywhere, anytime,” adds Helen Holder, who leads Emerging Compute Lab nano-scale research. “This paper suggests a route that might take us where we need to go.”

The task of converting an analog input (be it text, audio, video, or any kind of scientific measurement) into digital information before it can be manipulated is becoming a major issue for traditional computers. Specialized chips called accelerators typically do this work, but they are governed by the same physical laws that suggest all transistors are reaching the point where they cannot be made physically smaller without inducing unpredictable quantum effects.  

As a result, researchers have looked to develop other computing paradigms that could absorb ever more data ever faster, including quantum, neuromorphic, and biological computing. In the last decade, HP Labs has pioneered a fourth paradigm built around memristors – a non-volatile electrical component that ‘remembers’ the electrical resistance of the current that most recently flowed through it – often described as memory-driven computing.

A former member of HP Lab’s memristor team, Ge realized that memristors could also be used to tackle one of the main jobs in computing: noting the differences between any two sets of data.

“That’s essential for all kinds of tasks in modern computer and communication systems,” notes Ning. “We use it for something as simple as comparing temperatures from one minute to the next in small sensing devices , for password checking on your phone, or for establishing whether two sets of millions of lines of code are perfect copies of each other or not.”

Crucially, memristors can make these comparisons without needing to first convert an analog input into digital information. In their experiment, Ge and his colleagues showed that a memristor array designed at HP and built by Professor Joshua Yang’s research group at UMASS could receive two voltage readings from the physical world and record the difference between them in one step without their ever being converted into binary code. Moreover, the results of that comparison were stored in the non-volatile system without requiring energy to maintain them in memory.

“Our paper describes an architecture for doing these comparisons in a way that is both simple and elegant and is much more efficient than conventional comparators,” says Ge.

The work holds out hope of fast and power-thrifty memristor-based accelerators that could take over the comparative work we currently ask of conventional digital accelerators. That would help conventional digital CPUs keep up with higher demand even as they brush against their physical limits.

In comparing two inputs and establishing which most closely matches a pre-established reference point, these novel comparators are also performing one of the basic functions of computing, suggesting they could act as building blocks for more complex kinds of physical computers.

More immediately, this research offers a path toward the development of electronic devices that enable ambient computing, a successor to the concept of an Internet of Things and an area of research being pioneered at HP Labs.

“The future office, for example, will have many thousands of small, networked sensors that monitor temperature, light, and human presence to optimize the building’s energy use,” Ge explains. “Physical computing devices can make that vision much easier and cheaper to realize.”