HP opens UK Cooltown for digital nomads

The UK Cooltown project in Wokingham is a vision of the future, says Hewlett-Packard, with mirrors that dissolve into to-do lists, and democratic desks

Following success in Palo Alto, HP opened its UK Cooltown project in Wokingham yesterday. The site, designed to demonstrate technologies for a 'digital lifestyle', combines numerous technologies into a practical, working environment for the next generation of retail e-commerce, travel and office practices. Opened by Patricia Hewitt MP, secretary of state for trade and industry, the £7m centre is designed to show off research from HP's labs around the world, including its Bristol research and development facility.

The Cooltown experience is divided into zones, intended to simulate a day in the life of a wirelessly connected urban professional. "It's built to show a vision of the very near future." said Paul Burwood, operations director for the site. "Everything here actually works, and it's here to show how wireless networking, advanced user interfaces and existing systems can be linked together."

The assembled journalists shuddered as HP's Internet Angel -- a video-quality talking head of an extremely wide-eyed woman with a Californian accent -- announced that it was 5 a.m., she was waking us up half an hour early because of traffic congestion, and here was the soft rock music we requested. The simulated day continued with similar delights: a mirror in a baroque gilt frame dissolved into a list of things to do and urgent video mail; a hire car announced it was overheating and guided us to the garage where a replacement was waiting; a shop attempted to coordinate a tie purchase -- Rainbow Lizard pattern -- to a shirt colour, and a workplace environment changed desk height when the worker logged on and made decisions based on democratic voting from overseas offices.

Although Cooltown contains no breakthrough technologies, the essence of the place is that all the systems shown are based on open protocols, interoperate seamlessly, and are practical. With the intended audience -- UK heads of industry and senior planners in large corporates -- often behind their peers in America and continental Europe in practical adoption of advanced technologies, HP says, Cooltown is expected to make them aware of the possibilities and practicalities of adopting new ideas.

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