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Back to March 2002 CRN Table of Contents

[Published originally in the March 2002 edition of Computing Research News, pp. 1, 15]

Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) Redefines Itself

By Tracy Kugelman

This is the ninth in a series of CRN articles describing the activities of CRA's industry laboratory members.

The Palo Alto Research Center is nestled in the hills of Palo Alto, California overlooking Stanford University. Founded in 1970, the Center fosters the collaborative efforts of more than 225 researchers from diverse fields ranging from physics to ethnography.

PARC has an illustrious history as one of Xerox Corporation's research and development labs. Xerox established PARC with the mission of designing the office of the future. The scientists lived up to this challenge by inventing personal distributed computing, graphical user interfaces, bit-mapped displays, Smalltalk, Ethernet, client/server architecture, object-oriented programming, laser printing, releasing the first commercial mouse, and creating many of the basic protocols of the Internet. PARC technologies have changed the world. PARC researchers led the way in early usability studies, and PARC was one of the first labs to bring in ethnographers and social scientists to integrate perspectives on how new technologies influence people and workspaces.

While often cited for its early work, PARC's research over the past three decades has continued to have far-reaching impact. In 1988, Dr. Mark Weiser, then lab manager of PARC's Computational Science Lab, coined the term 'Ubiquitous Computing' to refer to his vision of a time when computers would disappear into the fabric of daily life. The term has now become industry-standard to refer to the pervasiveness of portable, connected computational tools. PARC's research in this area spawned several commercialization efforts that resulted in MobileDoc (a Xerox business division), LiveWorks (a spin-off company), and Uppercase (spun off from PARC and later purchased by Microsoft Corp.).

PARC's research has had an impact on nearly every Xerox product in the market today. The research has also resulted in numerous new spin-off companies, such as:

  • Inxight Software, Inc. (1996) information visualization and content analysis software,
  • dpiX (1996) digital x-ray imaging and ultra-high-resolution flat-panel displays based on amorphous silicon thin-film transistor arrays,
  • ContentGuard (2000) digital rights management software, and
  • Gyricon Media Inc. (2000) sign systems based on electronic reusable paper.
  • More details on these developments can be found at: and

In December 2001, it was announced that Xerox PARC would become a spin-off company called the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). This new, stand-alone company is redefining itself as a private company doing fundamental research in a variety of areas. Current PARC projects are focused on a broad spectrum of topics-MEMS, optics, software, collaborative sensing, robotics, systems architecture, linguistics, user interface design, human document interaction, security and encryption, with new research projects in exciting new areas under way.

The research staff is organized into six labs, each with a unique focus. But what has kept PARC in the forefront of research for so many years has been the cross-disciplinary nature of many of our research projects. For example, the Collaborative Sensing project, which combines computational theory, electrical engineering, MEMS and wireless networking, shows how thousands of sensors in an environment can be used in multiple applications.

Descriptions of current PARC research can be found at:

The transition from a corporate lab to an independent company will not happen overnight, but we will not lose sight of the research goals that created the world-changing reputation of PARC. We will continue to pursue research in areas that show far reaching potential in a variety of fields.

Other information about PARC can be found at

Tracy Kugelman is the PR Manager at PARC.

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