About six months ago, Dell announced that it was launching its first ever R&D department.
As a newly private company, Dell didn’t reveal how big this unit would be in dollar amount or number of employees. But we recently talked with Jai Menon, the head of the new R&D unit, who spent most of his career working for IBM’s famous research group.
And he outlined some of the cool new tech Dell is trying to invent. Menon joined Dell about a year ago.
To be sure, a lot of the tech the research group is working on is less-than-exciting to the average Joe (such as new low-cost servers for telecommunications companies). The focus of Dell’s R&D labs is to find new tech and turn it into products as quickly as feasible.
But there were two projects the company is working to invent that amazed us:
1. Mood-sensing computers that can read and respond to your thoughts.
2. A new mind-blowing way to secure your data so that you can share stuff with others, and they can work with it, even though they can’t see it.
To be sure, Dell is not the only research group working on these concepts. Microsoft is doing a lot of work with gesture control and mood sensing computers. IBM is doing a lot of work with that new form of security.
But Menon says that Dell’s efforts are different because its not doing research for research’s sake. Everything it does, it wants to turn into a product that will one day be in your hands.
Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:
Business Insider: Tell us more about thought-controlled computer interfaces. What would something like that be used for?
Jai Menon: Thought-controlled input is a project we started 6 months ago. The notion here is that through some sort of device that you put on, by measuring alpha [brain] waves and so forth, you can actually be able to tell your mood for example: whether your happy or sad. That can then drive the device to, for instance, play music. If you’re sad, it can choose music to cheer you up, for example.
If the research proves successful, the product may end up being something physical [a device] or maybe someone else builds the sensor headband and we partner on the software side.
BI: What other kinds of technologies are you working on that could really change the way the average person uses computers either as consumers or at work?
JM: Think about cloud security. What if you want some service done on the cloud, but you don’t want the service to provider to see your data. For instance, a tax computing service. Can they compute your tax without seeing your salary? Well, no. You can encrypt it as you send it on the wire [over the Internet], but the tax provider must see your salary.
What if I could encrypt the data in a way they don’t get to see your salary but all of their tax computations still work? I send them encrypted [salary numbers] and they do the addition and send back to you, and you decrypt, only you can. And magically you see [the tax number that you owe.]
That’s a form of encryption called “homomorphic” and it will enable this kind of cloud, where truly nobody but you sees data, not even the [cloud computing] service provider.
We see that as part of the vision of where the world’s going to go. It’s not very practical today. It takes up too much horsepower [requires computers to work too hard], it is slow. But everyday we see new advances happening in this area.