Q&A: HP Labs’ Prith Banerjee

The director of HP Labs is looking to sharpen the focus of his researchers in the hopes of creating products, not just papers.

People were worried that business centre people would only support product development - not at all! And technologists you'd think would only care about research but we went through our first round of proposals and we were able to select projects with that mix and this is amazing. This is HP Labs running its own experiment and the initial results are very exciting.

What kind of basic, blue-sky research will HP be working on?

We're doing really fundamental things in chemistry that, if we can solve it, will revolutionises the ink industry but it's not tied to particular ink product. We're doing fundamental research in chemistry and processes. We're doing fundamental things in quantum sciences and photonics. We're trying to develop technologies that will allow us integrate large computers with photonic interfaces.

And generally, what are the main areas of research?

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Information explosion every five months, information doubles so how do you access information in this massive haystack of information? Our researchers are working on technologies allows users and customers to analyse info and deliver it at the right time and in the right place.

Face Bubble facial recognition technology that allows you to search for that picture of your son's fifth birthday party where he's wearing a hat.

Dynamic cloud services cloud computing services that will anticipate your needs based on who you are where you are and what your preferences are. The Adaptive Infrastructure Lab in Bristol is working on really creative way of composing services dynamically from the cloud. A wine merchant in Italy wishing to market wine could come to the HP site and dynamically compose and create services to get the business up and running in matter of days.

There's content transformation. Firstly creating digital information from analogue, then transforming content from various devices. We all own multiple devices, TVs, laptops how do you transfer information between the different devices you own? And content transformation also about transforming digital content into physical; one way is by printing. We want to reduce the cost per page and the speed of printing to enable digital printing to be a lot more cost effective than world of analogue.

Intelligent infrastructure is about creating smarter devices, networks and architectures that are more scalable with Internet speeds. Our vision for the next-generation data centre is tens of thousands of processors with hundreds of cores connected through photonics and parallel distribution grid computing environments.

And then sustainability what is HP's future vision of the carbon footprint, which is so important I put it as a project. It's not just things like dynamic smart cooling putting sensors in large data centres so we can keep the environment at a much higher temperature and have severs work perfectly. The data centre is an energy hog.

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If we take copper out, we can improve efficiency by 100 per cent using lasers. And we are talking about developments in sustainability that will reduce the cradle to cradle cost starting from production for servers, laptops, printers, supplies and so on. The currency will no longer be dollars but joules and everything will have a carbon footprint and an energy footprint. So this product, from inception to recycling, consumes 300 joules; this other product consumes 900 joules.

What about the process of turning the research results into actual products? HP has had some really interesting projects that have never gone anywhere...

The experience I have had in my combined worlds of academia and in the startup world is that tech transfer best happens when the people transfer along with the technology. I have seen so many cases where the researcher does the work and says I don't want to get my hands dirty, I'm not interested in building a product, it's somebody else's problem here, I'll just shove it over the wall' and the person in the business unit has to catch it and try to figure out what's going on. If you look at all the startups that have succeeded, it's the people who created the technology and were actually involved in building the product.

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