The mechanical structures of HP's printing division are actually close to those used in robotics. (If you think about it, a printer and a PC are essentially a robot that can replace a typist, secretary or stenographer.) HP combined its PC and printer divisions in March. Put its in-house designers to work and this could form the core of an integrated robotic system.
Given that robotics at this scale is new, having something near at hand should give HP a faster ramp to market than any other existing technology company-and a mitigating edge over the automotive companies that have been working on this problem. Personal robots would also give HP a product that could leverage its printer and PC units, further validating their merger.
The Second Wave: 3-D Printing
At the moment, 3-D printing is attracting more interest than personal robots. I find this ironic, because to me 3-D printing is both more complex and further from market than robots. However, 3-D printing has interim steps of viable products, and most fall within HP's capabilities, so I think it's a better option for the company.
The obvious first connection is that HP dominates the printing business, so anything related to printing would seem to be a natural extension of who HP is. That said, while 3-D printing happens today on a small scale, it hasn't yet reached the industrial scale of a company such as HP. Put another way, it's pretty much where PCs were before Apple came along.
Right now, the savings that 3-D printers demonstrate are in line with the savings that were associated initially with printers. For instance, fabricating a part can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000. Using a 3-D printer for the same task often costs under $200. The issue is that the fabricated part can be used in a full production test, while the printed part can only be used in a mockup.
Recently, though, there was a breakthrough in printing more complex parts. This video, for example, shows a working, usable crescent wrench coming from a 3-D printer that appears to have an HP print head for color. Think about that the next time you need an obscure tool or car part.