The company would like to develop 3-D video that doesn’t require users to wear special glasses, so it’s looking for new ways to design camera systems and new algorithms to handle the images. Digital printing, obviously, is a big area for HP, so it’s seeking ideas to help computers figure out the meaning of text, photos, and video, then print customized newspapers. Another topic area involves the behavior of inks made of nanometer-sized bits of metal and polymers, which could find applications in pharmaceutical manufacturing as well as printing.
The idea, Friedrich explains, is neither to come up with a slightly improved version of an existing product nor to do completely blue-sky research with no obvious practical value. Rather, the office is trying to identify some long-term goals and figure out what it takes to reach them.
Along the way, HP researchers and grant recipients have coauthored about 200 journal papers. At least 21 invention disclosures, the first step toward securing a patent, have been filed. HP has all grant winners sign an agreement detailing how they’ll share any intellectual property that comes out of the research. “At some point I do expect some of these to have influence and impact on our products,” Friedrich says. “But we’re really engaged in things that go beyond the product road map.”
Of course, some of these projects might hit dead ends. “The goal is for us to push the envelope enough that we uncover the boundaries of what’s possible,” he says. “Some people might consider that a failure. I consider it the edge of knowledge.”
One grant recipient, Alan Willner, an electrical engineer at the University of Southern California, has had his grant renewed twice. He’s working on better ways to handle signal processing in optical interconnects on computer chips.
These interconnects use multiple wavelengths of light to shunt data between chips at higher speeds than is possible with wires. By using one beam of light to transmit many signals simultaneously, they’ll be able to handle the massive amounts of data involved in cloud computing, while drastically reducing energy consumption at the same time. HP aims to double the performance of such interconnects in 2012 and increase it 20-fold by 2017.
Neil Savage (www.neilsavage.com) is a freelance writer based in Lowell, Massachusetts. He has written for IEEE Spectrum, Discover, and Nature Photonics.