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[Published in the November 2000 issue of CRN as part of our series on member labs and centers]

Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories

By Richard (Dick) Waters
Dr. Waters is the President and CEO of MERL.


Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL) is the Corporate R&D arm of the Mitsubishi Electric Company (MELCO) in North America. MELCO is a diversified manufacturer of electrical products ranging from air conditioners, auto parts, elevators, and TVs to optical fiber networks, cell phones, semiconductors, and satellites. MELCO shares historical roots in 19th-century Japan with other Mitsubishi companies such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Motors, but has been a separate company since its founding in 1925.

MERL conducts application-motivated basic research and advanced development in computer and communications technology. We seek to contribute to the advancement of science and to meet human needs by creating fundamental new technology that expands the productive use of computers. Our vision is both long-term and market-driven. We seek to anticipate and then meet market needs and business opportunities. This means exploring entirely new possibilities as well as improving what is now possible. Because computer and communication technology affects nearly every aspect of modern life, and because MELCO is a broadly diversified company, there are many opportunities for our research results to contribute to MELCO's business success.

MERL focuses on three key technology sectors: human/computer interaction featuring advanced graphics and computer vision technologies; Internet computing and applications; and digital communication. Each of our labs focuses on specific segments of these technologies, while working collaboratively to achieve groundbreaking results. Our output ranges from papers and patents, through proof-of-concept hardware and software prototypes, to industry-first products.

MERL is small enough to be agile and flexible in the dynamic marketplace of ideas and innovations. In addition, we gain leverage from the size, recognition, and diversity of our strong global parent. We turn our technical achievements into business successes by partnering with MELCO's business units and with other labs in MELCO's global R&D network. With selected projects, we do early business development directly with customers, in collaboration with MELCO and/or other partners.

Technology Areas

MERL is headquartered in Cambridge, MA, adjacent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and consists of approximately 100 researchers in four laboratories-- one outside of Boston, two in Cambridge, and one in New Jersey-- founded between 1983 and 1998.

MERL Concord is a hardware- and software-development laboratory. It designed the first ASIC chip capable of real-time volume rendering on a PC plug-in board. The medical and geophysical industries are targeted as early users of volume graphics. A second-generation chip is under development. Since MERL Concord is now engaged in product development and sales, rather than research and advanced development, it is in the process of separating from MERL. It will soon be spun out from MELCO as a separate company.

MERL Cambridge Research is a basic computer science research laboratory, with diverse research specialties ranging from real-time distributed systems through computer graphics, and computer vision to human/computer interaction. Its 'Collagen' system for collaborative interface agents is being used by a number of research institutions and is being evaluated for use in MELCO products. The lab's work on digital audio is being incorporated into the evolving MPEG-7 standard. Graphics research at the lab created and continues to support MERL Concord's product-development activities.

MERL Cambridge Systems is an advanced development laboratory specializing in Internet software and home automation. Its 'Concordia' system supports mobile software agents in Java. Concordia is being used by several groups within MELCO and has been licensed to two companies in North America. A key future direction for MERL as a whole that is being led by Cambridge Systems is work on 'Interactive Surroundings,' which will utilize computer vision and audio processing to provide buildings and outdoor spaces that support their occupants in innovative ways.

MERL Murray Hill is an advanced development laboratory specializing in digital TV, digital communication, and the convergence of television, communications, and computer technologies. In partnership with Lucent Bell Labs and MELCO laboratories in Japan, MERL Murray Hill designed the world's first chip set capable of receiving US HDTV broadcasts. A key future direction for MERL Murray Hill is fourth-generation wireless communications and the delivery of multimedia content.

Within MERL, we emphasize collaboration among the four labs. The integration of the expertise of multiple labs and a partnership between research and advanced development provides a powerful basis for industry-first developments. Our work on volume graphics and our beginning work on Interactive Surroundings are prime examples of how this kind of collaboration can produce successful innovation.

Work Environment

MERL pursues application-motivated research in computer science. We develop new technologies looking three to six years into the future; however, our efforts are directed toward applications of practical significance. By connecting to our sister organizations in MELCO, we forge collaborations that carry our technologies into products.

Good communication is, we believe, the key to successful research. The best ideas are born, and mature most quickly, when critically examined and refined by many minds. To this end, MERL researchers are encouraged to work with each other and with researchers at other institutions. Further, MERL is an active member of the research community, publishing the work we do as quickly as possible.

We are strongly involved in standards activities and the R&D community, maintaining long-standing cooperative relationships with research universities such as Brown, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, MIT, the University of Michigan, Princeton, SUNY-Stony Brook, and the University of Massachusetts. We encourage our staff to be involved in their professional communities via conferences, papers, reviewing, and continuing professional development.

To allow rapid response to opportunities, MERL is organized as a flexible community of researchers. Our goal is to support a continually changing mix of individual explorations and group projects, where promising individual efforts can easily grow into projects and projects can easily disband at the end of their natural lives.

The expertise of the researchers ranges from mathematics and computer software to chip design and digital hardware. The permanent staff is enriched by an active program of student internships, which hosts approximately 50 students per year for an average of three to four months each.

Successful basic research requires a supportive environment, open communication, access to real-world problems, and a long-term perspective. We are committed to providing all of these elements in full measure at MERL.

We are continually on the lookout for key individuals at all levels, from summer students to senior staff members. Our goal is to hire the best and be the best. Please visit us in person or via our web site at:

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