HP Reveals Sprout Pro, 3-D Scanning Computer for Schools

The computers provide a way to introduce kids to a technology that combines a cutting-edge look with something they can play with.

by Benny Evangelista, San Francisco Chronicle / January 21, 2016 0
A student watches a 3-D printer working its magic. Photo via National Science Foundation

(TNS) -- HP on Wednesday unveiled an upgraded Sprout desktop PC that keeps the nifty features of its predecessor — namely, overhead cameras that can convert real objects into 2-D and 3-D digital images — and adds a few more, like a 20-point touch pad that doesn’t require a keyboard or mouse.

The company calls the Sprout Pro a “blended reality” computer for its combination of physical, digital and augmented reality functions. Digital images, for example, can be redesigned into products that can then be converted into real objects using a 3-D printer. The company will market the Sprout Pro to educators and creative professionals.

But with a price tag of $2,199 when it becomes available in February — about $300 more than the previous model — the PC may remain a niche product “until 3-D printers mature and go mainstream,” said tech analyst Rob Enderle in an e-mail.

“Schools like them because they provide ways to introduce kids to a technology that combines a cutting-edge look with something kids can play with,” said Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group of Bend, Ore. “But industry will require the 3-D printing technology to mature more, though it is getting close. Think of this as a stepping-stone.”

Hewlett-Packard introduced the Sprout in 2014, marketing it to a niche do-it-yourself maker community. When half the company split away to focus on enterprise products, the Sprout remained with HP Inc., the consumer products company.

During a recent press preview, HP representatives demonstrated how the Sprout Pro could be used in a variety of industries, including health care, travel, primary education and electronics assembly.

In one example, the Sprout recognized a picture of a human heart from a paper medical brochure and created an animated 3-D heart on the screen. A doctor could then rotate the heart to show a patient more about his or her condition.

In another example from educational technology company Alive Studios, augmented reality cards about a seal were placed on the touch mat, which is below the 2-D and 3-D cameras. When one card with the picture of a seal was placed on the touch mat, the monitor displayed a video of the mammal.

A teacher could then use the Sprout as a projector, showing the seal, her notes annotated while using the touch pad and other background materials on a digital whiteboard for the entire class to view.

Analyst Tom Mainelli of research firm IDC agrees that the Sprout Pro will be a niche product, but was “heartened to see HP continuing to put resources into a project like this when so many are keen to say the PC is dead.”

“We’re moving into a new era of computing, with augmented reality and virtual reality set to play a role in how we interact with computers and data,” Mainelli said. “The immersive experience that Sprout Pro brings to the table is an interesting bridge between the digital and real worlds.”

He said he could see a school buying a Sprout Pro not for every child, but for one lab or a classroom.

“Kids could create some very cool things with this type of technology, and I think that’s likely more the point for HP than selling millions of units,” he said.

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