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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: 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: http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec2_3.pdf

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.”

 

 

 

Published: December 19, 2016

Marie_Cropped_web.jpg

For the last few years, HP Labs researcher Marie Vans has been back at school, studying for a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science at San Jose State University. She graduated this summer and is now putting her learning to use in shaking up the field of document classification.

An author of over 50 technical papers and holder of 20 U.S. patents, Vans started working at HP before college. The company supported her undergraduate studies and then hired her again after she received her PhD in computer science from Colorado State University. Vans first worked in software development in Fort Collins, Colorado, and then for HP Labs in Haifa, Israel where among other projects she developed an image inspection algorithm deployed in today’s Indigo commercial printing presses. Now back in Fort Collins, Vans works in HP’s Print Adjacencies and 3D Lab.

 

HP: Thanks for talking with us, Marie. Can you start out by describing the research you are focusing on these days?

Sure. I’m still doing some work on imaging processing, but I’m also researching progressive barcodes, which are bar codes you can place on objects that change over time as information about the object changes. Originally these were implemented using data matrix barcodes, but my intern this summer, Cody Carlton, moved them to a QR code format. We’re now creating a demo showing them used with a handheld phone.  

 HP: Is this related to your recent degree in Library and Information Science?

My library-related work is mostly something different – it’s about taking a document and trying to figure out what it is automatically. Traditionally, we’ve asked librarians and catalogers to do that. They’ll read a document at a very high level and pick out the keywords they think you might use if you were looking for that article. I'm trying figure out how to generate that set of keywords without anyone needing to actually read the article first.

HP: How do you do that?

I’m using a bunch of statistical and natural language processing approaches to classify documents as being about specific topics. More specifically, I’m using a set of 112 equations called Term Frequency Times Inverse Document Frequency equations that are used for natural language processing and trying them in different combinations to see which work best for different kinds of queries. It’s what we call meta-algorithmics.

 HP: How is it going?

Well, we’ve started to have some real breakthroughs. For example, the best of those 112 TFTIDF equations can accurately predict how an article in a sample set of CNN news articles was classified by a human cataloger just 44 percent of the time. But with this meta-algorithmic approach, I'm finding that I can get that up to 80 percent accuracy. So it's twice as good.

HP: Is the main point of automating this to do it faster?

That’s part of it. But the whole field of assigning keywords and terms is also very subjective. CNN tagged its articles into topics like “politics,” “opinion,” or “living,” and that’s what we can match 80 percent of the time. But these algorithms can also help us identify when an original classification was unjustified and suggest a better alternative. In addition, we use them to work retrospectively and find articles that hadn’t been marked with the “right” keywords because the topic didn’t seem very significant at the time they were cataloged. That’s expensive to do by hand, but not by machine. Plus I thought it would be fun to create tools that could be a lot more precise at classification than the way it's been done for hundreds of years.

HP: Why is Labs interested in this challenge?

Imagine you're scanning a bunch of printed materials. You don't want to have to read everything in order to file it. It would be great if instead you could automatically know whether you need to send it on to someone else, where to file it, and so on. Just the fact that you've recognized the document’s content opens up a whole bunch of different applications.

HP: How did you get interested in classification and library science?

It relates to the fact that I spent 10 years in Israel and had three kids while I was there. We didn't have free libraries and English language books were very expensive, so I spent a lot of time on the internet trying to find books for my kids. And I realized, hey, I really enjoy this stuff. So when I got back, I thought it might be nice to see what a library science degree was all about. And that led me to the idea that cataloging is something that computers ought to be able to do well.

HP: You also do a lot of work to promote STEM education, especially for young women. How did you get involved in that?

I have two girls and a boy, and I've been trying to get my now high school-aged girls interested in STEM forever, but my son seems to be the only one who wants to go into computer science. So I started a Junior First Lego League at my son’s elementary school – it’s for boys and girls from Kindergarten through 3rd grade – and have been a First Lego League coach, where students compete in robot games, for the last six years. Then recently I convinced the school’s tech librarian to give me an all girls' First Lego team and we came in 20th out of about 50 teams in the regional competition, which is really good because we were mostly 5th graders competing against high and junior high school kids. I also started a Minecraft afterschool club and we just started what we call the Fashion Tech Club. It's mostly made up of girls and the idea is to use technology like the HP Sprout and 3D printers to create fashion designs.  

HP: So is elementary school where your focus is?

Yes. There's a lot of stuff out there for junior high school and high school girls. But unless they can see that coding is something they can do, that they're good at it, and that they like it before middle school, I don't think any of the other outreach is going to help much at that point. But I have also been involved in a K-12 hackathon recently, and I have a more general presence promoting STEM in a couple of virtual worlds.

HP: What do you do there?

I’ve been very involved with the educational community in Second Life, but it’s gotten very expensive for educators to use. So I’m now building an island in Kitely, which is an open source virtual world, creating a space where I can bring in teachers to learn about issues around encouraging girls to consider STEM careers. We’re doing that with hands-on virtual activities like physics, math, coding and so on.  

HP: When you are articulating the value of encouraging women into STEM fields, what’s the main point that you like to make?

For one thing, it tempers the isolation than women currently face in the field. I’m very lucky in being part of team with a good proportion of women, but that’s highly atypical. Just as importantly, though, in the next few years the number of STEM jobs is projected to skyrocket. If we don't encourage girls to aspire to taking them, we're leaving out 50 percent of the population. I know from the passion and creativity that I see in my own girls and their friends what we would be missing out if we don’t inspire them to want to do that work. And with all of the issues that we have in the world, we just can’t afford not to have them onboard.