DTI minister Patricia Hewitt today opened an exposition centre in Surrey for HP's CoolTown project, a £7m centre set up to let small businesses gain an insight into the benefits of the firm's R&D ideas.

CoolTown is a development platform for 'pervasive computing', linking all manner of devices together over the internet. The centre has been set up in Wokingham, Berkshire.

The new centre is far closer to the Thames and Lea valleys as well as Cambridge, where many hi-tech companies are based, than the Bristol HP Labs where CoolTown technologies are developed.

"This kind of development will help keep the UK as a world leader in new ways of working technology," said Hewitt.

In simple terms CoolTown, featured in Future Focus in last August's issue of PC Advisor, will provide us with a cyber-self capable of predicting our wants and needs.

Though some might brand this sort of technology intrusive, fearing it will take over our lives rather than improving them, HP's research people think otherwise.

"These sorts of fears are unfounded," said Paul Burwood, CoolTown's operations director. "Users can adopt their own level of customisation and turn devices off when they are not needed."

CoolTown technology uses standard barcodes, radio receivers, infrared and Bluetooth wireless technology to transmit IP (internet protocol) addresses to handhelds and mobile phones. So if you're walking past a poster you simply point your operating device at it -the information and internet address will automatically be downloaded to your device.

In the not-too-distant future barcoded labels could tell a washing machine how items of clothing should be washed.

In the US, HP is currently working on a 'radio' that receives stations via broadband internet connections. Ericsson has also developed this technology, announcing the Internet Radio last year. Other devices are in development and can be expected in the UK towards the end of this year.

"This is true interoperability, offering users the ability to create a real-time presence on the internet anywhere in the world," added Burwood.