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Magazine: Labz FXPAL---an interdisciplinary lab
Palo Alto, California

FXPAL---an interdisciplinary lab
Palo Alto, California

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On the west side of Silicon Valley, nestled in the base of the foothills and slightly to the south of Stanford University sits FXPAL, or FX Palo Alto Laboratory. Despite its small size, or perhaps because of it, this lab has been a nexus for interdisciplinary research, creativity, and technical innovation in the 15 years since its creation.

FXPAL was founded in 1995 as a way to foster innovation and build new business for Fuji Xerox, which is how it got its "FX." Xerox wanted to get a finger on the pulse of what was going on in the booming technology industry. What emerged was a software research lab with a friendly, tight-knit culture, a wide variety of interests, and a wealth of research.

"Research interns at FXPAL truly get the opportunity to be a part of the FXPAL family. The company culture is warm and inviting, and there is the distinct sense that people enjoy their work."

FXPAL is deliberately small, with a staff of only about 25 researchers. Areas of expertise span computer vision, human-computer interaction, information retrieval, mixed and augmented reality, data mining, computer security, and several other fields. This diversity enables a unique environment that few researchers ever have the opportunity to experience: a combination of varied expertise and a place where "everybody knows your name."

In fact, people who work at FXPAL can't help but know everyone else at the lab. It's so small, it only takes a few minutes to walk all the way around the entire building. As research tells us, collocation leads to informal (spontaneous) communication, which can feed creativity and collaboration. Suffice to say, opportunities to work across disciplines on new ideas are numerous.

Despite its tiny staff roster, FXPAL's collaborations aren't confined to what goes on in just one tiny building. The lab partners with multiple external organizations, such as TCHO, a chocolate company located in San Francisco that called upon FXPAL to help it explore ways to leverage technology in its factory, even when nobody is there. FXPAL maintains solid relationships around the San Francisco Bay area, and hosts visitors from both near and far.

back to top  The Intern Experience

Research interns at FXPAL truly get the opportunity to be a part of the FXPAL family. The company culture is warm and inviting, and there is the distinct sense that people enjoy their work. Researchers and interns will often throw around new ideas, work through challenging problems, or talk about the winning goal in a sports game from the previous night.

While internships are typically focused around a particular project, FXPAL gives interns the latitude to shape their projects in ways that they find compelling. Nobody is ever simply told what to do. Instead, interns are treated as worthy colleagues with valuable insights. This respect for coworkers of all kinds makes it a pleasure to intern at FXPAL, and leads to another key feature of the environment: look around the intern room and there's not a timecard in sight.

Interns will find very little bureaucratic red tape to deal with at FXPAL. At one point in my internship, I needed some serious equipment to run a mobile phone study. All I had to do was speak up. Before I knew it, I had enough phones to run the study, no questions asked.

The area surrounding FXPAL is home to several technology companies, both large and small, Stanford students, college-town hangouts, and enough open space for running, biking, and hiking. There are plenty of great day-trip destinations nearby, like San Francisco (the local commuter rail Caltrain will get you there in less than an hour), Lake Tahoe, Monterey Bay, and even Yosemite National Park.

back to top  Getting Involved

Last January, FXPAL posted descriptions of all the internships it would have the coming summer at http://palblog.fxpal.com (and perhaps we'll see the same for 2011). Internships are paid and usually last about 12 weeks. Be sure to keep an eye on the blog and apply early.
        —Jason Wiese

back to top  Footnotes

DOI: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1869086.1869105

back to top  Figures

UF1Figure. A collegial atmosphere is one of the hallmarks of FXPAL in California.

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FXPAL blog (with internship postings)