Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), the legendary Xerox institution that pioneered graphical user interfaces, Ethernet and laser printing, is set to announce on Tuesday a multiyear research and development agreement with Fujitsu.
The companies will develop technologies for "ubiquitous computing," the concept of having computing devices everywhere and providing easy, natural ways for people to interact with them, said Teresa Lunt, manager of the computer science lab at PARC. Initial work will involve networks of health care sensors that can gather information about a patient's condition at home and send it to a doctor, as well as other types of sensor networks, Lunt said.
The deal is PARC's first such commercialization agreement since Xerox spun off the centre as an independent subsidiary in 2002, Lunt said. The deal is a sponsored research arrangement, with an initial research plan for three years beginning in January 2005, she said.
"We're doing research for Fujitsu, but each company shares in the ownership of that research," Lunt said. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
"Because we're not a product company, we need a partner like Fujitsu who can deliver our products into the marketplace," Lunt said. PARC is teaming up with Fujitsu because the Tokyo-based IT and communications giant is in the early stages of working on ubiquitous computing technology, she said. Most of the research will be done at the Palo Alto, California, facility, with close coordination with Fujitsu to adapt the technologies to products.
PARC was founded in 1970 as an internal research lab of Xerox but developed many basic technologies that found their way into other companies' products, forming the foundations of modern computing. In 2002 Xerox spun it off as an independent subsidiary.
PARC and Fujitsu envision doctors giving their patients sensor devices to wear or place in their homes that will be able to link up to a home wireless communication network with little user involvement. One device worn by the patient might hold authentication credentials that other health care providers could use to get access to records when the patient visits them, Lunt said.
In developing these implementations, PARC expects to make use of new secure wireless technologies, advanced information visualization technologies that take users beyond LCD (liquid crystal display) screens and keyboards, and a software architecture called Obje for interoperability among consumer electronics devices. Obje can help devices work together without product developers having to build in interoperability with specific types of future products.
"It allows one device to teach another device how to interoperate with it," Lunt said.
Other problems that the project may try to solve include vehicle tracking, more personalized consumer services and better disaster response through adaptive networks, according to PARC.