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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.


    HP Labs
Published: April 19, 2017

Research engineers Andrew Fitzhugh and Alex JuResearch engineers Andrew Fitzhugh and Alex Ju

“HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology has the potential to offer capabilities that haven’t existed before, especially through its ability to vary both color and material strength at the same time with unprecedented accuracy,” notes HP Labs research engineer Andrew Fitzhugh.  

“So every now and then,” he says, “we try to do projects that explore the limits of the printers and materials we’re developing, just to see what’s possible.”

A recent example is a collaborative effort between researchers in HP’s Print Adjacencies and 3D Lab, where Fitzhugh is based, and colleagues from the company’s Immersive Experiences Lab that explores the impact 3D printing could have on wearables, a product category that includes jewelry, clothing, and items like watches, badges, and fitness trackers that have elements of technology embedded in them.

HP’s Multi Jet Fusion approach to 3D printing leverages the company’s 30-plus years of experience in inks and jettable agents, precision low-cost mechanics, and material science, and offers a path to securing unprecedented levels of control over material properties such as color, elasticity, conductivity, and, potentially, translucency at an individual voxel (the 3D equivalent of a pixel) level.

In the case of wearables, HP’s technology could provide a way to print complex, colorful, and fine-detailed accessories that are currently impossible to create. 


“When I’m designing for conventional metals and gems, I have to assume that each component in the design has only one color,” explains researcher Alex Ju, who trained originally in jewelry and metalsmithing and worked with Immersive Experiences Lab colleague Ji Won Jun to design the wearable prototypes.

“But the kinds of pieces we’ve made in this project can have color anywhere. Where you put the color also has no impact on how hard they are to create, so you have access to a new range of aesthetic possibilities for these kinds of items,” Ju says.

In addition to offering designers a new creative pallet to work from, the HP print process allows for complete customization. In the future, it might cost no more to print a million individually unique wearables than a million that are exactly alike.

“Jewelry is very personal,” observes Ju.  “3D printing gives us the opportunity to offer that at a mass manufacturing scale.” 


The project has spurred other potentially valuable insights for vendors of wearable items. At present, for example, jewelry making is a laborious process, requiring assembly from multiple individual parts. But the HP team’s experiments are helping them understand how pieces that are multi-jointed, and that feature areas of both flexibility and strength, can be created in a single unit.

“It suggests we have the potential to reduce manufacturing steps and really streamline and reduce the cost of the wearable manufacturing process,” says Fitzhugh.

The project is helping HP refine its own 3D print technology at a foundational level too. “Efforts like this can tell us where strength, color, or finish is important or not,” he says. “That helps us understand how we can further develop the technology to better meet needs of users.”

It also points to additional potential applications and uses for the technology – for ID bands, sportswear, or household accessories, perhaps – that hardware researchers don’t typically have the opportunity to explore. With that in mind, many of the wearables created during the collaboration are both able to move kinetically and contain electronic elements. 

“Alex is designing things that we would never have the bandwidth to think about or design expertise to create,” Fitzhugh says.  

That’s likely to prove valuable when the next generation of HP 3D print technologies become commercially available.

“Designers in many fields, are not used to creating with the freedom that this technology can give them,” says Ju. “This work tells us a lot about what needs to happen to develop an ecosystem in which people can take full advantage of the capabilities we’re hoping to provide.” 



Published: April 05, 2017


CSCW 2017.jpg


Senior Manager Alex Thayer, PhDSenior Manager Alex Thayer, PhDHP Immersive Experiences Lab senior manager Alex Thayer, PhD recently represented HP Labs at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW) in Portland, Oregon. The meeting is one of the most significant annual gatherings of industry and academic researchers interested in how the design and use of technology impacts human communities. We checked in with Thayer on his return to find out what he had learned and how that could be relevant to HP’s research agenda.


HP: What’s the appeal of CSCW for you and your lab?

CSCW is not a huge conference but it's extremely high value because of who is there – and it’s why HP was a conference sponsor this year. CSCW attracts a lot of researchers, professors, and their students who are interested in creating technology prototypes and then seeing how people respond to them out in the world, which is what we do in our lab. So it’s a great way to see what other research teams are up to and to foster connections with them – it’s also proven to be a fertile source for future interns and early career hires.


HP: Can you share a session or talk that you found especially noteworthy?

One of the most interesting sessions for me was about parenting. Often technology and parenting gets reduced to a question of how much screen time kids should have. But there are far more profound things to talk about. There was a paper in that session, for example, about a project in Taiwan called WAKEY, which used a parentally-controlled animatronic rabbit to help young kids wake up more efficiently in the morning. It was able to do that. But just as significantly, the researchers found it helped dads in this specific culture relate to their kids. They have all these video clips of the dads playing on the floor, making silly voices, dancing with their children. The researchers told the audience that many of these dads in their study had never done those things with their kids before.


HP: What was your take away from that?

Part of why we do things in our lab is to find the unintended consequences of technology interventions – and this was a great example. The researchers thought they were going to help kids wake up better. What they found, though, was this little rabbit was also a great mediator between a three or four-year-old kid and their dad. There can be a heavy cultural weight to overcome when you try to just be a silly dad with your kid. This technology enabled a shift in the parent/child relationship that the dads seemed to be happy about. It made these dads' relationships with their kids more resilient, more fun. 


HP: Are you also interested in how technology can impact relationships?

Very much so. This research echoes efforts like Project Jetty, which connects family members who have expressed a desire to have a closer connection. That’s also about aspirational identity – about using technologies to help people feel better about themselves and their lives.


HP: Can you pick out another presentation you thought was notable?

Another one from the same session was interesting in terms of how we design our experiments. This was a case study of two romantic couples who essentially lived with an always-on Skype connection to one another over a period of many weeks. One of the couples ended up splitting up and it was very possible, although not proven, that the experiment had contributed to the demise of their relationship. So that was a good reminder of the care we need to take as we create design concepts and research prototypes, and then put them into peoples' lives


HP: Will that change how you run your investigations?

We don’t ever run experiments that are as risky to the participants as that study might have been, even though those participants were all volunteers. But what was striking here was that all the most interesting, most provocative questions raised by the study were around relationships, not technology. It’s a reminder that change doesn't just come from new electronics or software – it can come from how people use technologies that already exist. So it’s important for us to remember that rethinking how to apply technologies can have as much power as inventing them in the first place.


HP: Which other ideas were circulating this year that resonated for you?

There were a couple of sessions on how to understand people better through social media traffic flows that were very interesting. One paper tracked how the spread of the #blacklivesmatter hash tag on Twitter correlated with the speed at which reports about police-involved deaths of African Americans appeared on Wikipedia. Several years ago such pages would take months to appear, if they were written at all. Now it's a matter of weeks, if that, before a page is up. It’s a very concrete example of how people are using technology platforms to drive social and political information into public view – and of how you can use big data to draw out very human, and in this case socially significant, stories. That work by Marlon Twyman, Brian Keegan, and Aaron Shaw was particularly impactful as a way to understand how social movements evolve and shift.


HP: This conference has a social science emphasis whereas HP is known as a company that makes things. So is this all pretty remote from HP’s core interests?

Not at all. HP is all about invention, for sure, but our mission is to ”engineer experiences that amaze” and it’s people we are trying to amaze. In our lab especially, but really across the company, we put people first. One of our lab’s main focus areas is what we call “resilience technology,” or helping people have a stronger sense of purpose, connection, and control in their lives. What I took away from this conference is that we're right to look beyond purely technical solutions to people’s challenges. We need to look deeper than that. How do we support people emotionally? How do we make them more confident in themselves through technology? And I think those are questions that we’re in a very good position to help answer at 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: 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: