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HP Refocuses Labs On Winning Projects

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- HP is refocusing its Labs research arm, paring down the number of projects it has going while putting more effort into the ones it thinks will pay off, the company announced at an event here near its corporate headquarters.

HP Labs has produced many of the company's best-known products, from the first pocket-sized scientific calculator to thermal inkjets. But along the way, the computer giant's research efforts have got a little defocused. With 23 labs total in seven locations around the world, the company had more than 150 projects going on, some of which were going nowhere.

"This is a total team HP effort, not just an HP Labs effort. We expect HP Labs to be at the forefront and we will be a lot more transparent on the research we are working on and keeping you up to date on things we have coming," said Chairman and CEO Mark Hurd, who spoke only briefly at the event.

So the company is paring down and focusing on the winners, and bringing in the marketing department to help give the engineers and developers a better shot at making their inventions commercially viable. "By putting the entire focus of HP Labs onto 20 or 30 big bets, we hope to solve the most complicated problems facing our customers in the next decade and driving HP's growth," said Prith Banerjee, senior vice president of research at HP (NYSE:HPQ) and director of HP Labs.

To assist the researchers in making the right bets, HP has established an internal review board consisting of top technologists and researchers to transform these technologies into something deliverable to the marketplace.

There will be a readjustment of emphasis in the labs. Only about 10 percent was what Banerjee called "blue sky research," where researchers go into totally new territory. Now it will be an even three-way split between exploratory, blue sky research, applied research on something more solid, and research into improving existing products.

The top five

Banjeree said HP's 600 researchers in those 23 labs will focus on five areas: Information Explosion, Dynamic Cloud Services, Content Transformation, Intelligent Infrastructure and Sustainability.

He said the Information Explosion refers to the fact that more information will be created in the next 5 years than has been made in the history of the planet. "So the trick is finding the needle in this haystack," he said. That means better search and analysis of the vast amounts of data.

Cloud Services are about the next wave of services based on the Internet so that people will have access to their data regardless of location. Shane Robison, executive vice president and chief strategy and technology officer, went one further, stating that "device-centric computing is over as connection-centric computing takes over. The hard drive is just temporary storage as content sits in the cloud."

Content Transformation is built around transforming analog data to digital, device data to another device and digital data to physical. One proposed project is the scanning of books and then allowing individuals to add to them (like recipes to a cookbook). Then the updated book is republished with new content.

Intelligent Infrastructure is centered around new smart computing devices, networks and architectures that are secure and operate at Internet speeds and scale. HP Labs Sustainability effort is about green computing, recycling of old equipment and power reduction. One of HP Labs more recent efforts in this area was Dynamic Smart Cooling.

Open Innovation

Another element of this revamp of HP Labs is what the company calls open innovation, which means working with external partners. "We realize not all the smart people work for HP Labs. So let's figure out how we can form relationships to enhance this work," said Banjeree.

One part of this plan is an entrepreneur-in-residence program to partner with venture capitalists to learn market trends. In return, HP will share research expertise with VCs so they can use what HP Labs is cooking up to take to market. Banjeree said not everything developed in HP would be sold by the company and it would consider licensing research to other firms.

The final piece of the puzzle is HP IdeaLab (not to be confused with the once high-flying dotcom incubator that's still around). HP IdeaLab will make software under development available for others to download to augment. They never used the magic words - "open source" – however and it's not clear what kind of contractual or licensing plans HP has in mind.