Last July 15, John E. Kelly III, director of IBM Research, conducted a daylong meeting of directors and department heads at lab headquarters in Yorktown Heights, New York. At one point, a presenter showed a map of the globe with dots over most of it indicating the locations of research collaboration projects. One glaring exception was Latin America. Kelly sat near the front of the room with his legs crossed and his chin resting on his hand. “Look, guys. South America. Nothing yet,” he said, gesturing at the map. “You’ve got to get started.”
Well, get started they did. Today, IBM announced its newest laboratory location, in Brazil–our ninth global research center. This is a rare occurrence. The last new lab was established 12 years ago, in India. (Other research facilities are in the United States, Switzerland, Israel, China, and Japan.) “A research lab is something special,” says Robert Morris, a vice-president at IBM Research. “We have about 400,000 employees worldwide, of which about 3000 are in research. This is the tip of the arrow.”
Kelly and his colleagues chose Brazil because of its large and high-caliber talent pool, its excellent universities, and the size and growth rate of the IT market. Brazil’s technology priorities also align closely with our Smarter Planet agenda. The lab will focus initially on three areas of research 1) Improving natural resource discovery, exploration, and logistics; 2) Developing smarter devices for use in sensor networks; and 3) Producing technologies for managing large-scale events–including huge gatherings of people such as the World Cup and Olympic Games, which Brazil will host in 2014 and 2016, respectively. Brazil’s central government is co-investing along with IBM.
The natural resource project is particularly intriguing–especially at a time when the world is watching closely the response to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “We’ll need massive amounts of sophisticated logistics and simulation technologies to help prevent the accidents of the future,” Morris said.
The new lab has people working in existing IBM offices in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro while we work with governments to choose a permanent location. Eventually we plan to have a staff of more than 100.