Xerox PARC turns 40: Marking four decades of tech innovations

On its 40th anniversary, PARC researchers provide a behind-the-scenes peek into the company's culture and projects, past and present.

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Steve Cousins
Steve Cousins

Steve Cousins

Cousins worked at PARC from 1996 to 2004 as the leader of a group within the Advanced Systems Development Laboratory. He later worked for the IBM Almaden Research Center from 2004 to 2007, where he was the senior manager of the User-Focused Systems Research Group. Today he's the CEO of Willow Garage.

The biggest thing that I took from working at PARC is the culture of innovation that is there. It's filled with very, very smart people.

Just the discussions over lunch were interesting. People would see if you have this capability that they sought, and then you'd go and have lunch with them and realize, "Ooh, maybe we should be working together."

It was also mind-opening in other ways. Some discussions got really heated. I don't remember any food fights, though.

Every week, there's a lab meeting and each person takes turns leading it. Anyone could go if they had an interest. That's when a lot of that informal interaction happened.

The architecture of the pods where you had offices around open spaces worked well, too. That let people participate in the conversations.

The first 25 years of PARC were surrounded by magic. The Xerox Alto computer was developed there and came out three years after PARC began. For the next 10 years, hardware evolved and software was built on it. Ten years later, the Xerox Star came out, followed by others.

Now, here I am at Willow Garage and we're three years old. PARC had a huge influence on my work here. There are interesting parallels as I look back and see them. PARC created the first personal computer, and Willow Garage is creating the first personal robot. At Willow Garage, our main work area is surrounded by offices, just like at PARC. You look around and wonder how much of that was consciously or unconsciously taken with me.

Next: A peek into some of PARC's current projects

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