E73: Will Allen, HP Fellow and VP at HP Labs – Interview

November 10, 2016


This interview with Will Allen is about the future of robotics and his experiences in his grand career at HP. Will is an HP Fellow and VP at HP Labs, where he works in the Emerging Compute Lab.

Will has pretty much been with HP since 1983, working in a variety of technical roles on projects like inkjet printing and digital protection displays. Now his current focus is on robotics and innovation in the work place. It often seems we’re at the tipping point with robotics and now that truly feels like the case.

Here are some other things we talk about:

-Learn what Will created on a main frame while still in middle school.
-What types of robots will emerge first for the home (not counting vacuum robots)?
-What’s still needed to advance robotic development and use in the home?
-What type of robot is Will especially excited for?


David Kruse: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of Flyover Labs, and today we are lucky enough to have Will Allen with us and Will us a HP Fellow and Vice President of HP Labs which is also called Emerging Compute Lab, so that sounds like a pretty awesome role which I guess we’ll find out and so Will had pretty much been with HP since 1983 working in a verity of technical roles and projects like Ink Jet Printers and Digital Projection Displays and now his current role is on robotics and innovation in the work place. So I’m really excited to hear about Will vision for robotics and it often seems we are at the tipping point with robotics and now it kind of feels like that the case again. So guess we’ll see what Will saying. I also invited Will on the show just to learn more about his experience and what he has learnt and I think he can teach us all a lot. So well thanks for coming on the show today.

Will Allen: Oh Dave it’s a great pleasure. Thanks, I want to make one thing clear, I’m a VP at HP Labs but I am not the VP of HP Labs it’s headed by Shane Wall who is the Chief Technology Officer for HP and I don’t think I got his job.

David Kruse: I appreciate that.

Will Allen: Yeah and then the rest of the housekeeping, I need to let everyone know that views and opinions that I’m going to express in this interview, they are solely mine in my private capacity and do not necessarily reflects the views or position strategies or opinions of HP Inc. So with that I am happy to talk about robotics, I did a, I was delivered a keynote at RoboBusiness last week at San Jose and talked about kind of the I guess an impending explosion of I think of becoming certainly like home and businesses where we will see more robotics solutions coming into play. So that’s we can talk about that and more.

David Kruse: Yes, I’m pumped to hear more about that. I guess I kind of want to jump into that, but let’s first people get to know you a little bit, a little background. So maybe, yeah I know you have been at HP for while, can you give us a little bit background, like some projects.

Will Allen: Yeah, the 50,000 foot flyover is…

David Kruse: Some projects you worked on – yeah, exactly.

Will Allen: The first things I worked on was instrumentation, logic analyzers. In fact this is the part of HP that eventually split off, became Agilent and that was really fun. We did our first product that had a color touch graphical interface. We launched in the ’85 or ’86, so way ahead of consumer electronics, before Google existed. And so that was – I mean in its own little way it was a grand slam home run and that maybe in single like baseball. And then I did a brief startup company on more instrumentation that didn’t get very exciting and came back to HP and started working at printing and I was lucky enough to be working at Vancouver, Washington when we launched the first consumer Inkjet Printer the DeskJet in 1988 and then worked with HP Labs, getting a bunch of color imaging technology into the inkjet product line and that really blew the doors open on consumer imaging and that color imaging and businesses in the 90’s.

David Kruse: Okay, what was your role during like…?

Will Allen: In that I was the primary recipient of the technology transfer, the color imaging technology from labs and I put that into the basically color photographic capability into our first three generations of consumer color inkjet printers in the 90’s and then did similar work assisting with basically better color imaging transferring into our large format. I worked for HP in Barcelona, Spain at the end of the 90’s. Our large format devices, they are like print D and E size architectural drawings, posters and stuff like that. So I worked a lot. One way or another I was working on putting dots on paper.

David Kruse: Okay, that’s right.

Will Allen: Making pretty pictures out of it.

David Kruse: Good way to describe it. All right, so then after the inkjet days…

Will Allen: I did a swing. We did projector business, basing [inaudible] again and I was there mid-parts of the 2000 – first part of the decade of the century and I invented a Resolution Enhancement Technology coagulation and we doubled the resolution of our projected images and we had some pretty darn nice real projection display products like kind of televisions. In the end we exited that and decided the projection business wasn’t main stream for HP and I worked some on the projects which you see we’ve got now. It’s got like this kind of – I’m not sure how familiar you are with the – we did like a Sprout on HP.com or Google Play. It’s a computing platform that’s an interaction. It’s like a three dimensional interaction area. There is a projected light that shines down and depth sensors and visible cameras that look at the surface that you interact on, the press multi touch pressure sensitive surface there and a lot of software that integrates it. So it’s sort of like trying to make a little miniature holodeck.

David Kruse: Yeah, you worked on that, that’s cool.

Will Allen: I worked on that. I was at main stream. I got like a – there is a small core of people that you find on the net that will show up as the core of the people who like made that vision real; Brad Short probably leading the list.

David Kruse: What was your role in that project?

Will Allen: I worked on some of the imaging systems, the overall kind of sensor package and integration of how we put the sensing into the head and where it would be and this is a very early generation of the project and then I took a different role and worked on cloud services and connecting millions of printers through the cloud to the internet and other printing on ramps and that’s really when the – I’ll joke, after I left is when everybody really did everything on spot. I mean it was – there was something that I should have been doing, had a piece of right, but it’s not my project and I don’t deserve the – I know I did the glory and I’m glad that, but I am proud to say I was involved in it for a little bit and got to touch it when it was young and getting itself up off the ground.

David Kruse: Interesting, okay.

Will Allen: And then more recently I’ve been at HP Labs. I’ve been working a lot of collaboration and we talk about a concept called Ambing Compute, which is kind of trying to make the environment responsive and something you operate within rather than log onto and recently I have been exploring robotics a little bit.

David Kruse: Interesting, okay. And you know, I should tell everyone, we say on your – according to LinkedIn you have over 70 patens, is that right?

Will Allen: Yeah, yeah.

David Kruse: So you are pretty prolific. And so I’m curious…

Will Allen: But I got to say, I need to tip my hat to Purdue University where I went to college and studied Computer Science. I spent a lot of time in the doubling math departments as well, so yeah for the Midwest and the big 10.

David Kruse: That’s right, that’s right. We are in Madison so we don’t like Purdue always, but as a kind of brother academic institution, they are great.

Will Allen: Exactly.

David Kruse: So I’m curious how you were, you know how would you describe yourself growing up. I always like asking this question, especially when people invented a lot of stuff over their lives. What did you do growing up and yeah can you describe yourself?

Will Allen: Yeah, I was pretty fortunate. Professors kid; my mom was an art teacher; my dad was a professor at Medical Illustration at Purdue. So I kind of grew up in an art studio, which was you think of that crazy professor at the edge of town, their door never locked and students just kind of wonder if there is a house or whether or not they were home, that’s where I grew up, which is – It was pretty highly creative and unlimited and I think that really helped. I mean if you think of like somebody to me, some of the greatest investors have to the pioneers that were settling in the U.S. east to west and going off into the true wild lands, right and trying to stake out a homestead and things that go wrong and you only have what you brought with you and its be resourceful or maybe not make it. And so this wasn’t an environment that was stressed like that with the pressures, but it was open and we also just put stuff and made things all the time.
So it’s been – like I think of some people that are maybe good with music and their parents were into music and they were brought up around and you know had instruments, and were playing all since they were little. So making things, creating things, doing it yourself, inventing things whether or not it’s an invention that someone else had made, but solving problems and you know what to you is original manner is pretty much something that I was lucky to grow up with. So it kind of left an imprint on me for sure.

David Kruse: Can you remember one thing in particular you made? It’s fine if you can’t.

Will Allen: Oh! Gosh. I remember when I learned to program computers, I thought myself and this is when I was in middle school, I was lucky to have a friend of mine’s dad kind of secretly illegally gave us access to the main frame computers as a preview; professor Razik. Now he is retired, long gone now, so that’s okay. You know he won’t get in trouble for it, so thanks professor Razik and so I wanted to created a simulation and of something. So I decided to simulate a monopoly game and the pieces going around and you know the different cards that would come over and redirect you on the board and try to see where you would tend to land in the most. And I even put in a strategy for a kind of it in the beginning, wanted to stay out of jail and acquire properties and once they have all being assigned to people its like better to stay in jail, and that because it changes your path around the board. In the end with that said is the orange ones, you know in New York and St. James, they get hit a lot right and many years later I read an article, a scientific American where somebody had come to the same conclusion.

David Kruse: I read that.

Will Allen: That doesn’t actually validate that what I did was correct, because I could have accidently gotten the right answer. But I’ll be optimistic and think that maybe it actually came out right. So that was something I just did because it occurred to me to do it and I still remember it and I really enjoyed it.

David Kruse: Well, I have lots of questions about that. But we are here to talk about robotics, but that’s really interesting, especially that you did that in middle school, that’s crazy and especially back in those days with those…

Will Allen: Well that was – again, people do that all the time now. So what was lucky for me was to get that exposure you know in like 1975, 1974, yeah.

David Kruse: Yeah, yeah. And okay so before we get into robotics and kind of your current role, you gave us an overview of what you have done in the past. Is there anything in your past that you have really, whether you are proud of or like really helped you or like you learnt a ton or like you wish you could do it again; some experience in those.

Will Allen: I had, so let me answer almost that question if it’s okay Dave. I had a colleague Bob Hagus and once he said to me ‘hey, tell me something you like learned outside of work that’s been really helpful inside work.’ okay and so I thought for a little bit. I thought man that’s a really good question and the answer I came up with was playing music. So I mean I did play flute in middle school, a little in high school, but you know never anything serious. But about eight years ago I took up bass guitar and I play in a band now and something we play around town and bars and stuff and you know our farmers markets and that kind of things. And I would say that’s done a lot for my presentation skills, just in giving me comfort on stage and kind of understand how its, you know that a presentation in way is a performance and you are trying to communicate something out across to people and if I had it to do over again, I would have started that sooner in my life, yeah.

David Kruse: Interesting. That’s impressive you use to do that eight years ago.

Will Allen: And it’s also a great de-stressor if you come home from work and you know minds here, and your blah, blah, blah and if you really get into music, I can’t like – work always kind of runs in my head right, work and tech, like these little voices blah, blah, blah. Well, not really voices, but you know thoughts, ides, it scrambles forward.

David Kruse: We all hear voices.

Will Allen: Yeah, but there is, but there is moments where like if you are really into something that all that gets quite right, because you are totally in the zone, your immersed in something else, right, you are in that flow state and so I find music is a nice release for that as well.

David Kruse: That’s interesting. You know you talked about your presentation skills. When I had an interviewee, I don’t know six months ago, she is a opera singer and said the same thing, that like any opera singer could probably be a pretty good presenter/entrepreneur, just because they know how to deliver and like they know how to hold themselves and read the audience and yeah, that’s interesting. All right, well let’s talk a little bit about what you are doing now. Can you kind of tell us what your current role is and kind of what you are working on?

Will Allen: Well, I’ve been looking into robotics and so I can kind of talk about what I – some kind of stuff I found from a high level, you know looking down into and maybe to put a perspective on things; I’m not an expert in robotics. I study – I mean in it’s in the dark ages, like say computer science, electrical engineering and math. I’ve done a whole lot of stuff at imaging systems, but across the years I’ve got I think eight full product development cycles under my belt, which is a lot and a few more, because not everything makes it out the door through various stages and so I have a good grasp at tech and products and going on in scale, but not so much in the specific depths of robotics. So with that background I started just kind of looking at you know what’s out there, what do I see, what do I think is going on and one of the things that occurred to me is I don’t have any robots at home. And I looked around and most people don’t and there is some robotic vacuums and robotic gutter learners. I mean there is a few things out there, but in round terms they aren’t any robots at homes and if I look at around my office at work and I don’t see any robots there. And I guess you could call printers robots maybe, but let’s say that they are not, right, they are kind of very special purpose devices and they are not particularly autonomous. And I kind of go, ha! And we walked on the moon in 1969. So almost 50 years ago we got these – people say you got a super computer in your pocket, right, that’s your Smartphone and it is right like 10 years, 15 years ago standards it’s a super computer and there is almost no good robots you want to get in your house and I thought these things are missing. What’s the impact of it you know, what’s going on here right, and so I’ll stay on the impediment side and I’ll tell some stories to fill us in a second. There is – the tool set is kind of intermittent or spiky and not up at a high enough level of that traction yet and that’s just natural for a young industry and that will come along and take care of itself. And then on the tail side, scaling up to have a – if you look at something like a Smartphone or a printer where there is literally millions in the field that are web connected to some service, that’s a lot of security and connection to manage, it’s a lot of devices to manage. If they go in other counters, you have to – you know you are shipping physical stuff in there. You are not just downloading an app. So you know someone who is Mumbai, they can’t just download a robot or download a Smartphone right and so there is a scale difficulty on the detail and the like. I think that seems like the kind of the two main impediments. There is all the, I’ll say the ingredient technologies in the last five years, your artificial intelligent, lithium ion powers storage right, the ROS, there is open source operating systems that’s quite capable, you can build a lot of stuff on. It’s like all the parts are finally here and so you know why aren’t they in the home, although AI wasn’t there recently and energy storage was a headache until recently, but the last kind of couple of pieces have been filled in. So I think basically now we have a lot of pent up capability and kind of unreleased demand that people are having and I think it’s going to be exciting and as they pop in and the first solutions becomes a success, hopefully you will see a lot of people pile on and it will grow very quickly.

David Kruse: And so is this your.

Will Allen: And I’m talking specifically like where I said saw missing, right.

David Kruse: Yeah.

Will Allen: In my home and officer. So if you think of robots that put cars together in big industrial bests, those guys have been around a long time. There is a few big companies that account for most of the marketed consolidated, so I don’t – that will get better and better too, but I don’t think it’s going to go through a drastic change, because I think it’s going to just – its already established and it will continue to evolve.

David Kruse: You know that makes sense. And so as part of the HP Labs is this kind of your full time focus now, is it robotics or is this something that you just are interested in.

Will Allen: It’s what, me personally I spend more time on it than anything else, but I work a lot on – I work on the other things too, especially collaboration.

David Kruse: Got you, okay. All right, interesting.

Will Allen: Related activities.

David Kruse: Got you. And so yeah, you mentioned like the robots for the cars which makes you know – those are fairly well established. But the home, it’s such a – it seems like such a more accustomed difficult environment. What type of robots do you think would initially come to market that could be adopted by a mass amount of people?

Will Allen: Well, I mean – so there are already – the one that’s probably got the biggest head start is vacuumed robots and you need to look at the numbers and there is millions of them out there. I’m going to say there is a couple of classes. We kind of looked and talked to people and figured out what do folks want to do with robots and that makes some high level groupings. There is one set that comes right to mind; its direct task replacement, there is onerous task replacement.

David Kruse: Yeah.

Will Allen: So you might find like 40% of the people said, well if you could just wave your wand and have a robot that did one thing for you, what would that – what would it be and if it’s at home they probably go clean the toilet, take out the cat litter, empty the garbage, right, something that you don’t get any enjoyment out of. So that’s a class of things that would be interesting and there is a demand for. Another class is, not totally do something for me, but help me do it. So you don’t have to have a robot maybe that I mean if it cleaned the toilet, that would be great, people would love it, right. But if you are maybe a robot would just trundle into a bathroom and hand you cleaning supplies if you named them by voice command and then you would do the actually work. Okay, so it’s not taken all the load off of you. It’s actually doing tasks that are so complex as far as manipulation goes and it’s still might help you out and let you do something in 30 minutes versus 40 minutes and you would feel, well, that was a boost, right. And then when you say, oh okay, so the robot doesn’t, it could replace a task, it could assist with a task. Well if it assisted with a task you don’t like, that’s fine. If it could assist with a task that you do like and that might be cool too. So I don’t know, a couple of ways. Suppose you like gardening, but your knees are stiff and it’s hard for you to bend down, maybe a robot will – you point a laser point at the ground and a robot will take a little flower that you put in the pot and set on a tray on top of it, stick it on the ground where you point it, right. So maybe it’s not super sophisticated. You are doing a lot of the stuff, but its helping you do a task and it could help you with a task where you didn’t have a particular you know ability challenge and it could still make it better for you. So there is three, so I’m – I’m circling around your question, right, what can the robots do? Well they can replace things you don’t like to do, help you with things that you don’t like to do and help you with things and you like to do. Now for sure it’s really complex and kind of non specified in advance manipulation of things, it is pretty hard; like fold my shirts, right, load the dishwasher. At some point in the future for sure all this will be overcome. But if you think of the how the way the technology will come in, it seems like it will start with things that require obviously less sophisticated manipulations in the environment and progress forward and we already see that. We see vacuuming robots, right, they have a certain interface with the environment, but there is a bunch of stuff they don’t know do. You see some social robots that can be really interesting and I think it will be very important for people. But they don’t necessarily have to have a lot of physical interaction with the environment. You see robots that are doing some security patrols right, and you see robots that if you look on the internet it will guide you form – your starting to see hotels, it will guide you from the hotel up to your room or they will bring you toothpaste if you need a toothpaste right and if you forgot it. To bring you toothpaste, yes it has to get there, and that’s a lot of technology, but it doesn’t even have to manipulate anything. It could just have to tray on top of the robot and the human loads it and says go to room 602 and then if it can get there, which is a pretty good deal and avoid folks and not get lost or stuck in the elevator or anything else. It doesn’t even have to you know manipulate these items to hand them to the person, it just has to basically wait at the door until it believes its, that somebody picked them up and go back and get some more. So I think you will see them, so then it gives us three classes of use and I think you will see them bleed in first from some places where the amount of physical manipulation is less sophisticated and more constrained and then they’ve obviously just progress forward over time. The kind of – the physical capabilities that can be delivered for cost, you know what amounts of money that people aren’t interested in paying.

David Kruse: No, that makes sense and well funny enough, I interviewed the CEO of Savioke which is – they have the robots for the hotels.

Will Allen: Yeah, right exactly.

David Kruse: A guy Steve, but he was a – so we talked a little bit about those challenges. The toughest part was the elevator, which makes – I didn’t think about it, but it makes sense after he said that because…

Will Allen: It does, and it depends on what you want to robot to do. So if the robot is delivering something, it may need to ride in the elevator. If I use telepresence robots frequently and we got some in Palo Alto and I live in [inaudible] and we have them on – in one build we have facilities, my team has facilities downstairs and upstairs and we have a telepresence robot upstairs. The one that’s downstairs, so there is no elevator problem right. I simply just switch to other one. But if I had to deliver something with it, that differ, you know its physical and so I can’t start the problem by just simply having a extra device. You could for example on vacuum robots just say oh! I have a two foot story house and I have a downstairs one and a upstairs one and that you know I would, except for the stairs not getting vacuumed, it would pretty much be able to solve it.

David Kruse: Yeah, that’s true, that’s true.

Will Allen: Right, to my expense I’m not saying it’s the right answer, but if it weren’t expensive you could do it.

David Kruse: So is HP looking into robots? I know some of this is on your personal time, but is HP thinking about building kind of a robotics platform, or tools or…

Will Allen: Well I can’t – I have to just like be a clam if it’s another about what we might or might not do in the future. I mean I can make general statements and say HP looks a lot of technologies in the future and we are always trying to find ways to you know – well I am speaking as me. They are always trying to find ways to bring great value to customers, so.

David Kruse: Fair enough.

Will Allen: I mean so well 3D printer is an example of something that HP did that was different, right from an existing business, so.

David Kruse: Yeah. Yeah, I think HP is coming out with a pretty fast 3D printer I read. I don’t know if its…

Will Allen: That’s the big differentiator is that it processes by area rather than by kind of a single point, so it’s much faster. So it’s really kind of low volume manufacturing equipment where like an extrusion style fuse deposition modeling you know FDN machine, right hot glue gun on a stick. That’s – they are just – well they are faster than carving metal or sending it to the machine shop, but they are actually not that fast as far as the parts per hour. If you needed to print something the size of a standard coffee cup on I’ll just say a typical extruding single nozzle 3D printer, that might take six or eight hours.

David Kruse: Oh! Wow.

Will Allen: And in the end our second daughter had this like commercial design work in 3D print as a custom, right, as business and can I say the business’s name, is that are okay?

David Kruse: Oh! Yeah, that’s great.

Will Allen: Dreadaforge.com and what – she has got like a background in art and a background in engineering. One of the things that we were talking about it and in the end you can think of, there is so many grams per second of plastic that come out of the nozzle in the printer and if you print an object that weighs 7 grams you can – there is an instant equation and that’s the quickest possible print time you could have, right, because you have to push all the grams of the object through the hole. And then there is moments when it’s not printing, when its moving the head from one area to another, repositioning between layers and such. So there is actually a little bit of – you know it’s never as good as that theoretical perfection and so you can just work out the machines. They just don’t put a lot of grams per second of materials down, so they are slow. And HP’s process works on an area, not a volume at once, but it does in the whole plan at a time, so it’s pretty quick.

David Kruse: Interesting, okay. And so with the robotics, if you could – well, maybe I don’t know if you could disclose this or not, but if you could focus on you know one particular area, whether it’s – maybe it’s just the whole package. You know I was thinking like well, AI is the most important or the battery. It’s like…

Will Allen: Well, let me focus. There is something that’s really important and I think you said it, you said the whole package. I mentioned that I thought the tools upfront were kind of choppy and I’ll go straight with the story and then elaborate. So a couple of years ago my wife says to me, ‘hey Will.’ I said to her, ‘what do you want for Christmas? And she says, ‘I want a blog.’ And this is true okay. And I said, ‘what do you mean a blog. I mean where do I get it?’ I was like, ‘is it a drug store, or is it a grocery store?’ and she says, ‘No, I don’t want to like to buy to blog, I want to do blogging, right.’ And she set up so I can do blogging. And so I did some research and like there is numerous you know tools out there and I think I got her hooked up with the Google’s tool and said, ‘look, so here is your Christmas present’ and I gave her a single URL, right. And so she logs on and you know sets herself up and its drag and drop and like in 30 minutes she has a blog page up with a calendar on it and a little picture in the background and da, da, da 15 minutes after that she’s done some rearranging and then about 15 minutes after that, an hour after she started she had rearranged it like a third time and that third time is a charm she kind of left it and you know blogged for months, right and was quite happy at it, because it took her an hour to get to wherever she was doing was writing and publishing basically and that was what she wanted to do. And everything the computer part was just the work required to get it set up. Well, let’s wind the clock back and say it’s 1995. Well, what do you want for Christmas? I want like a blog. Okay, and I pull out a HTML programming book and I go, ‘well honey, how about it will probably be ready for Christmas 1996.’ Tell me what you want and I’m not going to be able to change it after we make it, because this is a lot of work.’ I’m not saying drag and drop robotic development platforms are right around the corner, but what I’m saying is that I mean there is tools that do the vision system, there is tools for the AI and there is tools for network connectivity, tools for data security, all the pieces are there, but there are – the developers still work with a lot of discussion between people in different disciplines. So this is something that I – the way I could kind of be sort of a metric I think of maturity in an industry is the person doing the motion planning, the person doing power management, the person doing industrial design, somebody doing if it’s a vacuum you know suction and storage of the little bag. If those different technical experts have to talk to each other a lot to get their system running, that means it’s kind of immature and as we come up the level of abstraction and the overall technology kind of platform that we operate on gets more mature, those different disciples can do their work and they don’t have to talk to each other as much. I’ll give an example; like in the ‘60s in the U.S. all the divisions that General Motors made their own motors, right. Pontiac made engines; Chevy made engines, [inaudible] then they made engines and today I got a Ford truck with a Mitsubishi transmission, which means the folks at Ford didn’t have to like know a lot about what was inside the transmission; they just had to know how to speck the existing one if they were getting a good price for it. So I think on the front side, the everything or robotics together as you said, as the tools mature and the creative people making robotics solutions are able to be worry less about the other disciplines and more about what they are instantiating and pushing forward, that’s the real last sort of missing piece and it’s not an individual technology component that’s more how we manage and work across them.

David Kruse: Got you. And I know you have experience kind of putting together technologies like that. How would you start designing a system to bring that all together?

Will Allen: Well, really you can look at – like I say, you can look at other technologies. What you are trying to do is move up the stint. What I say is you want to move up the stack. So I would almost work it backwards from the end application and the user and the way you wanted them in an ideal case to either interact with the device/service or the device/service to interact with its environment and try to think of what’s required to describe that interaction and that’s like an interface, that’s almost like an AVI right. And then you are going, as close as you can get try to get your tool set to support the conversation of the layer one – one layer below that where you want to be doing most of your immigration. So at robo business, Onki gave a nice presentation about cosmo and there is a good clip on the web about it, right. It’s a low robot. It’s like the size of a hamster and it looks kind of like a little bulldozer and it’s got a personality. So it’s – they’ve embodied a cartoon. And they had to pull together people of lots of different disciplines. There is musicians and animators to give it a personality and mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, sensors, computer vision, but the thing isn’t real. It’s not their vision until it’s up to this more of how a cartoon works, and a cartoon gets animated. So it’s almost like in there if they could wave a wand, they want that animation and interaction layer. They’d say that’s the space I want to design in and everybody else go make it work underneath and hide it from me.

David Kruse: Interesting.

Will Allen: So I’m saying it would actually depend on what the application and the interaction was kind of the ideal tool layer that I would want to have there.

David Kruse: It’s like you are almost creating the application layer in software, but for robotics you just care about the top; yeah it makes sense.

Will Allen: Well, I mentioned that the logic analyzer years ago where did the touch screens, so what happened was we took a work station that had a color monitor on it and you programmed it, passed on it and had a nice sort of graphics library. So it’s a real flexible and easy and simple, boom, to put dots on the screen and make stuff. And we took a touch screen from an HP 150 computer and literally ripped it off, resorted the components on Vacto Board with a bigger hole in it, tapped it with duct tape, honest and good old American ingenuity right. We duct taped that onto my work station and we had color touch work station. And from there we made all – we made all the screens and interaction that we thought the final product should have without any product hardware that could actually acquire data right like a real logic analyzer and that kind of set the platform. It was a definition and then we – it took three years to build – to actually build the instrument behind it. But we worked it down from the interaction and the way we wanted it to work in an unconstraint environment. So this is kind of what they tell you do to in user design experience design and Agile right. And this thing in the work station we could change it every day and try another vision. It was basically like a low resolution prototype and we iterated on it, which is kind of like agile stuff. But we weren’t constrained with what, physical would happen, right and we weren’t involving an old design. We were working back with some of the user and kind of just pretending it was like la la land and we are making the movie of what we wanted and it’s like okay, we got the move right. All right, now we just have to build the stuff behind it, so it’s not smoking there. Obviously you are thinking of the whole stack and there is like no – you don’t want to put a scene in the movie you can’t like really make, but it’s that same mentality. That’s what I think will happen here as well.

David Kruse: Yeah, yeah. Well, that will be exciting. And so we are almost done with the podcast. I had couple more questions and this one I don’t know if it’s a long or short but – a long or short answer, but you mentioned that one of the things you are doing is working on like the work place of the future. Is that around robotics or is that a whole different…

Will Allen: I would say well, it’s mostly around the interaction of people and we’ll call it ambient computing. So just imagine you are walked into a room and there were a couple of screens on the wall and they kind of lit up and started interacting with you, with either what you expected to happen next or an experience that was going along, like you walked in a room and you were talking to someone on a phone, because you were connected to a teleconference, and when you get into this room, the conversation might just jump onto the screen and video would pop-up and it would just shift over right. So that’s, I’m just using that as a little app to illustrate, but in lots of ways there is a whole lot of opportunities of how people interact with computers and compute really more within how they interact with computing and less about how they interact with computers or any particular piece of hardware that’s in front of them.

David Kruse: Interesting. Well that’s another whole podcast.

Will Allen: Well, I mean that makes sense, because we have a large, because we have a large business selling computers and computing actually as an experience and so…

David Kruse: No, that makes a lot of sense, but yeah, because right now there is no fluent experience like that, especially the one you just described. I know you are probably working on other areas too, but that’s…

Will Allen: Well here is something interesting. The other day I was on an airplane flight and so I decided to watched 2001, the old movie right. But it was a view of the future from science fiction, so just like it was not encumbered with the reality of when Arthur C Clark wrote the story. And I was watching Dave, and how Dave doesn’t log on at all. There is no password okay. There are these little red eyes that Hal looks out and can interact with Dave at various stations or key access points right through the ship. He has a single conscious interaction in relationship with Hall; it doesn’t start again right. It’s just like it was a person. It builds from what they did yesterday and what’s happening now. And that’s actually a pretty nice vision of how certain parts of computing should work, right, where you have an experience that’s contiguous to you and so you don’t have to get in and get out of it, because it’s the things that’s kind of where you left it from before or where you expected it to be. That’s like the way you interact with people.

David Kruse: It remembers kind of the last day of somewhere…

Will Allen: Yeah. So hopefully we want to have a happier ending where the computer doesn’t go insane and has to get a lobotomy and all of that stuff, right.

David Kruse: Let’s hope, that will probably be good. You know I like that vision. All right, I got one more question for you. I’m curious, this is a more personal. What robot are you especially excited for in the home or work place when that robot comes?

Will Allen: So I’ll state a general class is I think social robotics is going to be really interesting. We got globally a population demographic that’s shifting and the number of people that have retired as a ratio to the number of people working is going to grow a lot; the whole parts of the – the lesser parts of the world. And just to have interaction, social robots can pull people together over distance and they can also make people happier in a local environment and help them change their habits and I think that’s a pretty interesting area, because people often think of robots doing you know direct physical things, but maybe the thing that robot does is entertain you or make you happier or help connect you with someone that you love and that I just think holds a great wonderful promise for society. I’m optimistic about it.

David Kruse: I like that. That’s a good way to end of the podcast. Kind of sad to end the podcast, but at least that’s a good way to end it.

Will Allen: Well Dave, it’s been a real pleasure talking with you. Thank you.

David Kruse: Definitely. I really appreciate your time and your thoughts Will and sharing your experience and what the future holds. It’s definitely exciting and yeah, thanks everyone for listening to another episode of Flyover Labs. As always I appreciate it and thanks Will again for coming on the show.

Will Allen: My Pleasure.

David Kruse: All right, Bye everyone. We’ll see you next time.