Xerox’s PARC Gets A New CEO: Tolga Kurtoglu

Xerox, which is taking its traditional printing business into the digital age with new products such as smart labels, is also re-configuring its business units and drawing on in-house talent to fill some top spots.

In a promotion shuffle that began in late December, one plum Bay Area job opened up—the chief executive officer’s post at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, an independent subsidiary known familiarly as PARC. The R&D center was established in 1970 to help Xerox create the “office of the future,” and over the decades that mission led to contributions in the development of the Ethernet, graphical user interfaces, personal computers, natural language processing, fiber optics, and encryption.

Today Xerox announced that it’s moving one of PARC’s research lab overseers into the CEO slot: Tolga Kurtoglu, director of the System Sciences Lab. That lab was founded because “the world was changing at a fast pace as the digital and physical worlds were coming together,” Kurtoglu told me.

Since mid-2014, Kurtoglu has been supervising the lab’s research on combinations of hardware with artificial intelligence and machine learning that can lead to next-generation technologies with applications including transportation, interconnected machines, energy, and the Internet of Things. A former NASA Ames scientist, Kurtoglu (pictured above) joined PARC in 2010 as a research scientist and area manager focused on automation for engineered systems. He then served as director of PARC’s design and digital manufacturing unit before heading the System Sciences Lab.

As the new CEO of PARC, Kurtoglu won’t be losing the boss he has worked with closely on “strategic initiatives in various fields,” he says. He’s replacing PARC’s former CEO, Steve Hoover, who was tapped in December to become Xerox’s new chief technology officer as longtime CTO Sophie Vandebroek retired. (Read Vandebroek’s “exit interview” with Xconomy founder Bob Buderi here.) As part of his new job, Hoover will oversee Xerox research centers including PARC, which conducts R&D for Xerox as well as for outside commercial companies and government agencies such as DARPA, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

Kurtoglu, in turn, will supervise the new head of PARC’s System Sciences Lab. His old lab will now be led by Ersin Uzun, who was director of PARC’s Computing Science Laboratory.

Kurtoglu says he and Hoover make a great team. They share a passion to “own the forefront of technology” by shepherding innovations through their transformation into products that address the needs of the marketplace, he says. Their other shared passion is PARC’s multi-disciplinary team.

“They’re great people,” Kurtoglu says. “It’s a privilege to work with them.”

PARC scientists work on basic research—most often with government agencies—as well as applied research, under contract with other companies, Kurtoglu says. Those outside entities account for about half of PARC’s work, he says. The other half comes from projects for Xerox.

The personnel changes at Norwalk, CT-based Xerox (NYSE: XRX) coincide with a corporate re-organization. Early this month, Xerox completed a division of the company into two separate publicly traded corporations. The first carries the Xerox name forward, and will focus on an array of products related to printing, from digital book publishing to the creation of smart packages with features such as printed electronics to track the movement of individual boxes. Conduent (NYSE: CNDT) is the second entity created from the split. It provides customers with business process services such as electronic payment systems and accounting operations.

As he moves into his new post, Kurtoglu will continue to explore the hybrid world he calls “cyberphysical.” The task is to build intelligence into machines, systems, and tools. Some applications of this idea that seemed futuristic only a few years ago are starting to become almost commonplace: drones, virtual reality, augmented reality, voice-activated smart assistants, and cars that are connected or autonomous.

One technology that has the potential for an almost universal application across all industries, Kurtoglu says, is sensors. PARC has been building on a strong history in printed electronics and printed memory to create sensors that can collect data on temperature, movement, and other factors. Cheap, widespread, customized sensors paired with low-cost electronics can be combined with data analytics and machine learning to create smart, integrated systems, he says.

“That’s a common theme across a variety of industries,” Kurtoglu says.

One of PARC’s strengths, Kurtoglu says, is that its scientists approach problems from both the software and the hardware sides. As a PARC team started to plan the creation of a new battery health management system, it was suggested that new software was the answer. The team proposed a hardware solution instead: new sensing technology embedded in the battery’s cells that would … Next Page »

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