The Research Lab: in Real Life & in Fiction

(Last Updated On: August 14, 2018)

The Research Lab in Real Life:

New technology is created many places:  by lone inventors, by entrepreneurs who see a better way, by large and small companies of all kinds.  And somewhere along the way, scientists and engineers are involved.

The very newest technology, the stuff that is not at your local Apple store or on, is still in the Research and Development phase.  R&D often occurs in a dedicated research or R&D organization, which may be affiliated with or part of a company, university or government agency.

California is blessed with a number of R&D labs which are busily creating the technologies we will soon enjoy.  They include university, government and industrial organizations.  Similar high-tech work takes place within the engineering divisions of electronics, defense and aerospace companies.

There is no research lab in Pacific Palisades, a western district of the City of Los Angeles, so I have placed the Halsted Aeronautic Laboratory in that community.  HAL is totally fictitious, although its physical and human assets borrow heavily from its real-life cousins.

Halsted Aeronautic Laboratory in Fiction:

The venue for Death By Probability and other stories featuring Evan Olsson is Halsted Aeronautic Laboratory, or HAL.  The laboratory was founded in 1960 by Robbie Halsted by extracting the Los Angeles-based R&D Department of Halsted Machine Services, a San Diego company, then selling the balance of Machine Services to Ryan Aeronautical Company.

At the time of the stories (the near future) HAL is a self-sufficient R&D laboratory, performing research for private companies, the Department of Defense, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and US government intelligence agencies including the FBI.  HAL has approximately 150 scientists, mostly with PhD degrees in computer science, physics or chemistry, plus 100 technical support staff (lab technicians and Information Technology staff), plus 50 non-technical staff (administration, security, legal, human resources, finance).  Some of HAL’s technical work is classified Secret or higher by the US government.

Robbie Halsted died in 1991 and left the assets of HAL to the nonprofit Halsted Navy Foundation, which gives help to Navy retirees in need and their families.  Halsted required that HAL be retained intact by the Foundation.  In order to diversify the Foundation’s assets, the trustees arranged for the Foundation to borrow money from several corporations that were HAL’s principal customers, then use the money to buy preferred shares of the stock of those companies.  Because the Foundation benefits US Department of Defense retirees, the Foundation was able to secure IRS approval for this arrangement.

HAL is overseen by a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) with representatives from the partner companies.  In 2000, the trustees decided that HAL should exploit its technology commercially, and have expert participation from the venture capital world.  It invited competitive bids, and expanded the TAC with a representative from the (also fictitious) Kollwitz-Magruder venture capital firm, based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

HAL is managed by a President and CEO who is traditionally known as the Director.  The current Director, Dr. Pamela Barrett, has both a PhD in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from Stanford University.  She developed an improved electric vehicle drive train while in graduate school, which led to a job at Kollwitz-Magruder and eventually to the assignment at HAL.  She oversees the five HAL Departments, which are approximately equal in size:  Computer Science, Optics, Microelectronics, Life Sciences and Administration.

HAL is located on 4 acres of property just above Sunset Blvd near Pacific Coast Highway.  The building was over-engineered for its time, resting on caissons extending into bedrock;  this has allowed it to survive nearby landslides without damage.  The building wraps around the hillside with a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and Sunset Boulevard below.  It measures approximately 600 feet frontage by 75 feet deep in three floors plus a mechanical basement.  The building is divided into three sections, wings A, B and C.  The westernmost wing A runs west to east, the easternmost wing C runs east-north-east.

Within HAL experimental labs, a machine shop and certain support operations are set against the hillside;  most offices are away from the hillside, enjoying the view.  Coming up from the parking lot, one finds a reception lobby and auditorium in the center of the ground floor;  above them, the technical library; and on the top level, a dining center and executive offices.  The far right of the building houses the SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) where classified work is performed and where some of the events in the novels take place.

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