What looks rather like a flat screen TV set with a desk lamp grafted on top has the potential to change life for creative professionals – and anyone else with the imagination to figure out interesting things to do with a device that speaks both 2D and 3D.
The improbably named HP Sprout Pro, the freshly fledged sibling to HP’s 2014 consumer-oriented Sprout, is an all-in-one computer with a number of twists. That thing on top that looks like a desk lamp contains a camera that handles 2D and 3D scans, as well as a projector. The 20 inch mat sitting on the desk in front of it is touch-sensitive, doubling as an input device and a secondary display, thanks to the aforementioned projector (and yes, the Sprout Pro also supports a standard keyboard and mouse, if you want them).
While the original Sprout was squarely aimed at consumers, the Sprout Pro is designed for the business and education markets. The hardware has been kicked up to reflect the latest technology, with a 6th generation i7 processor, NVIDIA GeForce 945A graphics, a terabyte of storage, and 8 or 16 GB RAM. It runs Windows 10 Professional, so it’s enterprise-ready.
At HP Inc.'s formal launch of the Sprout Pro at the Saatchi Gallery in London, UK, a room full of Sprout Pros strutted their stuff for the media, and they did some interesting things. Probably the most interesting piece is that they’re doing it all with a system that will sell for $3,199 (Canadian) when it hits the shelves in February.
So what can you do with a Sprout Pro and its bundled software? Consider these tidbits, from HP Inc.’s announcement:
- The Sprout Companion for Skype for Business enables a new level of remote sharing and collaboration including the ability to share a Sprout 2D capture during a Skype meeting, as well as easily annotate on the Skype whiteboard using the Sprout pen and mat.
- HP External Display Mixer allows users to share what's on the Sprout dual screen, video from the webcam, or the downward facing camera – or all at the same time.
- HP Scan provides added professional-level document scanning and optical character recognition with features like custom resolution, exposures, color or grayscale and scan destinations for pro-level results.
- HP Magnifier replaces a document camera and allows users to share live physical objects or documents with an audience, including zooming and capture.
These features alone make the Sprout Pro an ideal collaboration tool for everyone from engineers discussing prototypes to marketing professionals. For example, the Magnifier can act as a microscope, blowing up small items so they can be examined in detail.
Software vendors are getting in on the fun as well; for example, Autodesk has developed several new 3D-oriented applications that deliver professional-grade tools tuned for Sprout. Tinkercad is a powerful, easy-to-use tool for creating digital designs. Sculpt+ users can create or sculpt anything – creatures, spaceships, vehicles, props and more – directly on their devices in full 3D before using the 3D print environment of Print Studio to build physical representations of the designs. And the new Light Guide Systems Pro modernizes manual assembly processes in commercial and education applications.
That one sentence doesn’t fully describe what Light Guide Systems Pro is good for. The demo, on the other hand, spoke volumes. It used both the PC display and the mat to walk a user through an assembly process. Here’s how it worked for a circuit board assembly.
On the mat, several small bins of parts sat to the side. A circuit board was in the middle. As instructions displayed on the monitor, the appropriate part was illuminated on the mat, and its location lit up on the circuit board. Once the part was placed, the system’s camera verified whether the task had been completed correctly, and if not, it coached the user on rework. It would not allow its student to proceed until each component was in its proper spot.
Given the mat is only 20 inches, this obviously only works for small assemblies right now, but consider the potential as a training tool. A mega-Sprout could teach assembly of anything from a toaster to a jet engine.
Sprout also dabbles in augmented reality. The application on demo teaches reading and comprehension. The student placed four flash cards on the mat, forming a brief sentence. OK, dull. But then the computer display provided a bit of fun. For example, if the four cards were “the cow can fly”, the words would be spoken, and then said cow appeared on the display, shaking its head sadly, indicating that no, cows can’t fly. However, if the cards read “the toucan can fly”, the bird put on an aerial display that showed toucans can, indeed, fly. It’s silly fun that also teaches, and the same technology could be applied to more adult themes – say, language studies.
The big draw for Sprout Pro, though, is the computer’s 3D capabilities. HP Inc. has even partnered with 3D printer vendor Dremel to provide bundles including a printer. The demo application featured a Sprout accessory: the 3D Capture Stage, a turntable that automates the 3D capture process. All the user had to do was place the object to be scanned – in this case, a statuette of an elephant – on the turntable, activate the software, and follow the instructions. In a few minutes, the screen showed a 3D representation of the statuette, which could be edited, shared, or 3D printed.
Substitute a prototype part for the elephant, and engineers have a perfect vehicle for sharing their work. If they send the file to someone with a 3D printer, the recipient could easily produce a model to work with. And if 3D printers are in short supply, HP says its print service providers can fill the gap.
We haven’t yet touched on the creative possibilities. With the pen, the mat, and appropriate software, users can draw, edit existing drawings, and collaborate on artwork. In addition to its Skype functionality, Sprout Pro has an enhanced version of HP MyRoom collaboration software.
The biggest challenge for HP Inc. will be in marketing the Sprout Pro to people who’ve never seen anything like it. The only remotely similar system I’ve seen was in prototype, and has yet to hit the market. And it’ll be a tough sell. Something different always is. But the imaginations of students and creative professionals will go a long way towards turning the Sprout Pro from a novelty into a viable commercial system. We should look forward to some interesting use cases for this innovative system.