Is it a bird? Is it a scanner? It's the Sprout Pro!

The HP Sprout Pro

The HP Sprout Pro is a strange beast: it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, or perhaps we haven’t figured out what to do with it yet. It’s an all-in-one PC workstation with two touch screen displays. The main screen is beautifully responsive, and can handle 10-point touch. Perched on top of the screen is a full HD projector that projects another touch screen downwards onto a nice big plastic touch mat. This clips into the base of the screen. There’s a special pen for the touch mat, and a wireless keyboard and mouse. But the mat can theoretically replace the keyboard. The projector can also scan in 2D and 3D.

According to Rodger Green, an area category manager at HP South Africa, it’s an ‘immersive computing product’. He says it’s ‘not designed for an individual’, but rather with a specific use case in mind.

What that use case is however, is up for debate.

He reckons the device will come into its own in a school, but at R70 000, the ‘price is a big hindrance’.

They’ve also lent machines to some of their larger corporate clients, among them Capitec and Old Mutual, in the hope they’ll find it useful in their businesses.

“For Capitec we know there is a use-case because we’ve seen it happen around the world,” says Green, adding the machine is being used in a bank in Italy. In this case, the customer deals with a remote bank teller on the screen, who guides them through filling out of forms projected onto the mat. The customer can also sign the form, and scan their bank cards.

The 2D scanning works very well. Green lays a bottle of strawberry yoghurt on the touch mat, and captures the image. He then removes the bottle, leaving behind a full HD scan.

“It’s great for school projects, or in the banking industry if you need to take snapshot of a credit card, as an example, or if you’re applying for a home loan through a third-party bank,” adds his colleague Siyanda Mvimbeli.

3D scanning proves to a little more tricky, especially if the object is glossy, or dark in colour.

State of image capture

I ask him to scan my asthma pump.

The pump is first placed, by itself, on the mat, and then Green picks it up and, very slowly, begins rotating it with his fingers under the scanner. Half way through the scan fails, and he has to begin again, this time with the more regular shaped yoghurt bottle. It gets a bit further this time - about half the container was scanned - but now the scan has eerily recorded his dismembered fingers holding the bottle.

The scan can then be printed in 3D, but HP’s 3D printing solutions are mainly for industrial applications, and Green recommends a Dremel 3D printer for use at home. Green says he believes the 3D scanning function is also not really suited for consumers, and was more business driven.

A ‘capture stage’ can also be bought - a miniature turntable - that rotates the object slowly so that a proper scan can be captured.  

With the Sprout, Green believes we’re taking the first steps towards the future of the workstation, with the end of the keyboard, mouse, and even pen and paper.

“The long-term view with Sprout is that if you’ve got the scanning solution in your room, any surface becomes an interactive screen, rather than a 24-inch screen fixed to a desk,” he says, adding this would be particularly effective for presenting patient records in a hospital.

“Everyone references Minority Report and the way they use computers; that’s essentially where we want to take immersive computing.”

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