by December 6, 2001 0 comments

Deep Blue, the computer that defeated Garry Kasparov at chess, carbon nano tubes, that will shrink transistors to atomic sizes, TransNote, a handwriting device used in ThinkPads, have common origins–IBM’s research laboratories. One of the most prestigious corporate research labs in the world, IBM’s labs are also the most successful, contributing significantly to IBM’s bottom line. In 2000 alone, they won the largest number of US patents for the eighth successive year, one third of which have been commercialized in some form. These labs also have to their credit five Nobel prizes and many more scientific awards.

IBM’s research labs are located in eight cities worldwide: New York, San Jose, Austin (in the US), Beijing (China), Haifa (Israel), Tokyo (Japan), Zurich (Switzerland), and Delhi (India).

I visited IRL (India Research Lab) in Delhi, and walked in half expecting to find research going on mice and guinea pigs. And that’s exactly what was happening, except that their guinea pigs were pieces of programs and codes.

But what sort of research do they do? They anticipate what the IT industry will be like in the future, and take the lead to be ready with technology when the market requires it. So they could do research on speech-recognition systems for Indian languages, predicting the weather conditions in the Bay of Bengal, e-governance, or e-coupons, and when the market is ready, IBM will be ready. IRL’s focus is on e-commerce, Web interfaces, intelligent infrastructure and knowledge

Come, let’s take a closer look at what IRL does.



Inside outside. From the outside, IRL looks like any other university department. And why not? It’s located at the calm and beauteous IIT Delhi campus. On entering the labs’ building, though, the dimension changes. The feeling is now that of at any large MNC’s office–quiet, swipe cards to enter the working area, surveillance cameras, people carrying ThinkPads, cappuccino coffee! This picture is an aerial view of the reception area 

People power. It is people power that makes IBM’s labs what they are. Researchers at IRL, and at other IBM’s labs, have a PhD or Masters degree with thesis from a reputed university in India or abroad. Most of them at IRL are (of course!)



And party hard. These pictures are of Dr Manoj Kumar, Director of IRL, working out at a gym–located in the building (wow!)–which has some serious equipment. Staff can also use IIT’s other sports facilities like squash and tennis courts and swimming pool

Work hard. Research work begins with an idea–this could be an individual’s idea or a result of collective thinking–which is weighed for knowledge, social or commercial benefits. Then funding is sought from IBM’s R&D budget (which for all labs was $ 6.4 billion in 2000). Two to ten member teams are formed, members of which could all be at IRL or spread across other IBM labs. The end products of research could be all or any of: an idea being applied to develop a product, an idea being published, or a patent being sought. Of course, as with any research, research on an idea is discontinued if it is thought to be unproductive.IBM’s labs are in fact, consciously located near intellectual centers, to stimulate the flow of ideas. IRL and IIT sometimes jointly work on projects and publish papers. IRL also offers summer training and employment to students, and supervises their research, giving them an industrial perspective.Work expectations from them are equally high. Their job is one of responsibility and leadership because IBM looks to them for the best advice and future direction. At the same time, the work environment gives them the freedom to work in their chosen area

Juhi Bhambal

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