February 22, 2006 4:00 AM PST

HP Labs marks 40th with high-tech coffee table

PALO ALTO, Calif.--The researchers at HP Labs are a serious bunch working on ways to create the data centers and transistors of the future--but the company sees no harm in going after the gaming-table market on the side.

During an open house here Tuesday celebrating its 40th anniversary, HP Labs showed off Misto, the hybrid of coffee table and tablet PC that promises to either entertain or rile up family members next Thanksgiving.

HP Labs

HP Labs, the central research arm of Hewlett-Packard, is responsible for several game-changing inventions--such as the thermal inkjet printer--which the company has turned into profitable businesses over its 40-year history, said Dick Lampman, senior vice president of research at HP and director of HP Labs. The key is not just working on an interesting project then "tossing it over the wall," but working closely with HP's product groups on its research projects, he said.

"We've always had a more pragmatic view of our business. You can describe our mission in two words: technology transfer," Lampman said.

HP Labs operates on a budget of about 5 percent of the entire company's research and development spending, which was approximately $3.5 billion last year, Lampman said. With 600 employees, HP Labs must divide its time between practical projects that further HP's existing businesses and purely scientific endeavors that might not pay dividends for a decade, such as its work on future transistors.

Right now, HP is most involved in creating new ways to automate and virtualize data centers with heavy investments in software, Lampman said. The company is also trying to make it easier for its customers to work with unstructured types of data, like e-mail or video content, that must now be archived and searchable in line with new government regulations, he said.

But it's more fun to play games than to virtualize processing resources, at least for most people. With that in mind, HP has been working on Misto as a slightly different take on the home entertainment PC. Misto is a coffee table with a large touch-screen display built into the top of the table. The idea is to allow a group to congregate around the table and share pictures, play board games, or peruse a map, said Pere Obrador, project manager in HP's imaging technology department.

Misto uses a standard desktop PC as its engine, but comes with some specialized HP software for managing the interface, Obrador said. Pricing, availability and style of coffee table are all undetermined, but Misto gives people some idea of how HP wants to develop products that expand on its existing businesses.

HP also showed off two other consumer-oriented projects it has had in the lab stage for several years, including an e-book and a pair of sunglasses with a digital camera between the eyes. Many of the same problems that were holding back those devices in 2003 are still present today, such as the need for lower-power displays to improve the battery life of e-books, and the impracticality of dragging a bulky image-processing unit along with a somewhat outdated style of sunglasses.

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8 comments

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They stole my idea!
Of course, in my original proposal, it was a
gaming table rather than a coffee table (for
board games and RPGs), but there it is... Oh
well...
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Your Idea?
I had this idea 4 years ago when I built this:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.computerrepairofnashville.com/coffeetable.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.computerrepairofnashville.com/coffeetable.html</a>

Though, I never thought to have the entire tabletop a screen. Oh well...
Posted by happy62780 (3 comments )
Link Flag
Time to break out, HP!
I've always liked HP products, including my new Pavilion slimline pc and my fax/printer, but you could tell by their appearance and software configurations that they were being brought to market by some fairly straight-laced folks who need a little more style-consciousness. Could this coffee-table idea be a sign that the creative straightjacket is loosening? Convergence between the living room and the desktop is going to come when some company really puts some thought into how people use hardware for the various purposes (tv watching, gaming, email, web surfing, phone calls) and makes the computer side fit in as seamlessly as a dvd player hooked up to a tv with cable. HP could be that company if they stay open to these ideas...
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Right-headed idea
that could lead to other practical, marketable design inovations.
How about an executive desk with a pop-up (ala laptop or slide-up) monitor at the far edge
(paperwork might block the in-the-top screen) and a touch sensitive film keyboard/slide pad interface that can be turned on/off with a touch under the near edge of the desktop.
Miniaturization and wireless conectivity have reached the point where the entire computer could fit in the space that used to be occupied by the pull out writing board either side of the leg well.
Go, HP! Make a deal with O'Sullivan and it will happen. I'll buy it when it does.
Posted by El Kabong (100 comments )
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Philips presented one earlier...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.research.philips.com/newscenter/archive/2006/060104-entertaible.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.research.philips.com/newscenter/archive/2006/060104-entertaible.html</a>
Posted by johuta (1 comment )
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A hobbyist project
Frankly, this looks like a 15 years old hobbyist's term project. The prototype is apparently assembled from strictly off-the-shelf components (it runs XP... for God's sake) with no attempt of smart design whatsoever. Philips' concept looks more promising... and more classy too.

The *real* breakthrough for a risk-averse company such as HP would be to actually put something like this on the market, which we can safely assume will never happen unless enough competitors do it first.

Phil
Posted by malossin (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better execution
I found an extremely cool product at www.tabletronics.com
When will this be available?

DZ
Posted by Davez53 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Commercialisation could lower cost
Very, very good idea! I've actually seen that kind of thing in the movie The Island. (kept repeating and repeating to see the look of it!) I'm obsessed with the idea and would be ready to pay a LOT of money for that kind of thing. Here's a couple specs i would await from such a product:

For the paperwork embarassment problem, i suggest that the OS recognizes automatically and dynamically portions of the work-areak as input-disactivated (for a glass of water, for example, or a layed-down pen...)

Pointing devices would be critical, too. I suggest something like a magnetic pen.

For the computer's electronic part, i suggets spreading it all over the surface, under the surface of the table.

The OS should be able to show its windows in any rotation angle, but it would be acceptable for 0, 90, 180 and 270 degrees (for a start ;).

The OS would necessitate a lot of animation-work, to keep the interfaces looking material. An application showing a picture, to be shown to other simulataneous users, should be able to be rotated and displaced like if it would have been "pitched".

Multiuser handling over a single screen will be a nice challenge to the OS achitects, too! Don't forget handwritting recognition on any angle! (woooo!) It could begin by a keyboard shown, with simple touch-recognition...

Any other ideas for specs? This is inspiring!
:)
Eric
Posted by StainlessInoxx (1 comment )
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