Thursday, February 11, 2016

HP's Cooltown: 2000 looks at the future, and predicts the Internet of Things

Infrics is going to be a little more conversational these days, so this post starts with a short story.

I became Wrigley IT's advanced technology analyst on the first work day of 2001.  In the first few years of my time there, we were deeply involved in a global single-instance deployment of SAP--at that time, the largest use of one instance of the ERP platform anywhere.  We were doing so much business with Hewlett Packard that we had a dedicated enterprise sales rep, Pete McGeehan.

Pete opened doors for me at HP to leverage the strategic relationship between the tech giant and Wrigley.  We shared information about our strategic intent, they shared information about research and product development.  I started the first of many visits to the HP Corporate Briefing center on Wolfe Road in Cupertino (the facility was torn down recently, it is the site of the new Apple spaceship building.)

It was there, probably in late 2001 or early 2002, that they showed me the Cooltown video, their look ahead at a world where "everybody and everything is connected wirelessly through the World Wide Web."  Sound familiar? It's the Internet of Things (IoT,) and here is the way they envisioned it 15 years ago:

A physical web beacon
Part of what triggered my look-back-to-a-look-forward was today's announcement from Google that Chrome for Android will now support recognition of such "web beacons."  Google calls it the "physical web." 

HP's briefing center had another feature that's come to pass.  The projectors in the conference rooms were connected to a central server, so a presenter could save a Powerpoint presentation to the server, show it from any of the conference rooms, and control it with their laptop.  It didn't have to be stored on a device that was physically plugged in to the projector, and seemed both revolutionary and sensible.

Today, I can use a Chromecast to access a presentation from my phone--either stored locally or streamed from the cloud--and display it on any monitor with an HDMI port via WiFi.  It's almost identical to the woman in Cooltown giving her sales presentation.

More of the video is now real: heads up display in cars, real-time translation of languages, personal medical monitors.  Thankfully, vending machines don't (yet) offer encouraging messages from our employers.

Finally, one more personal note.  I can't leave this post without thanking Susie Tse, who ran guest services at the HP briefing center, has become a friend on Facebook, and now works at VMWare.  And a sad note to the demolition of the center itself; it was a gorgeous modern building of white and glass, with furniture and fabrics throughout by Charles and Ray Eames, the great midcentury modern designers.  I hope Apple's new monument to itself does half as well as a beacon of style.

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