Inside HP Labs: 8 cool projects

On tap: A color thesaurus, photonics, and book and magazine publishing

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In the future, photonics could be used to connect not only the server blades in a rack, but the interconnects inside the computer or even the connections inside a CPU. Photonics is an important advancement because, as supercomputer design moves from petascale computing to exascale speeds, a new kind of interconnect will be required to move those massive amounts of data.

HP is the first company to develop a working photonics prototype, and has developed working models in the lab for how optics will be used inside the server rack.

HP Labs' photonics project

HP's Stan Williams shows a photonic bus with optical input and output signals at 10 GHz.

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"We are replacing a copper wire with effectively nothing. We are able to communicate from one blade to other blades, and share that information to all of the rack," says Stan Williams, the HP researcher who developed the photonics prototype. "This is all part of the issue of how we bring the costs down. We only need to send information a couple of feet, so we don't need an expensive telecom laser but the one present in a house today," such as the one in a DVD player.

Photonics can carry 10,000 times the amount of data while using the same amount of power as a traditional computer interconnect. Programming paradigms would likely change, because it will be possible to share multiple components at the same time, moving data between chips and in concurrent operation. And the computer itself could change, because it would no longer require today's motherboard design and copper interconnects.

BookPrep

A stark departure from data center research and photonics innovations, BookPrep is an interesting project that allows anyone to submit an out-of-print book and turn it into a printed book. Andrew Bolwell, an HP Labs director, says there are currently at least 90 million books out of print today.

HP's BookPrep project

The BookPrep project at HP allows publishers to re-issue books that went out of print long ago.

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Books are scanned in a non-destructive way, removing any artifacts and yellowing, and then are printed and bound in a professional way. Google is involved from a scanning perspective and books are printed in any quantity -- from one to hundreds. The entire process is automated and takes just 24 hours for a book instead of the usual three to six months.

"Books are photographed and digitized as part of the Open Content Alliance," says Bolwell, describing the effort to preserve books for the library system in the U.S. for online reading. "We have a service that converts from online quality to print quality. We automatically generate the cover, subtitles and copyright. We work with print-on-demand company Lightening Source to print the books."

BookPrep is aimed at book publishers that work with HP to re-issue out-of-print materials. Interestingly, there is no cost for the publishing process itself, but payment is based on royalties for each printing. For consumers, the books cost about $20 each, similar to hardcover book prices.

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