Since the birth of the computer, our work has been split into two varieties: the physical and the digital. The sketches in your notepad rarely appear on your computer, and even if they do, it’s only after considerable effort. This divide has frustrated all of us from time to time, sometimes to the point of avoiding it altogether.
Of course, one of the main benefits of working with a computer is the ease with which you can manipulate digital content. Since bits are inherently easier to change than atoms, we can let our creativity run wild, and we are free to make as many mistakes as we need to. Thanks to the almighty “Edit – Undo,” we aren’t punished for our mistakes like we are with a pen on paper. The holy grail, then, is to make it easy to seamlessly merge the two worlds, to bring the physical world into the digital workspace.
HP’s Blended Reality
We’ve been using the clunky mouse and keyboard in front of a display for more than 30 years. Despite this fact, most computer manufacturers are content to focus on making computers faster and smaller, rather than addressing the elephant in the room. The desktop computer is long overdue for a redesign, one that enables us to rethink the way we do work. We need to bring the ease of interacting with people and objects in the physical world into the digital world. This is the heart of the vision HP calls “Blended Reality.”
HP’s Blended Reality is an innovative approach to the way we interact with computers. It’s a way to merge the physical world that we live in with the digital world that we work in. With new ways to bring physical objects into the digital workspace, HP’s Sprout is poised to change the way that we interact with computers and each other.
The HP Sprout is far from your average desktop PC. Sitting atop the 23-inch LCD touchscreen is a device HP calls the “Illuminator,” containing a 3D scanner, a DLP projector, and several high-resolution cameras to capture images, depth, and more. The image of a digital workspace is projected from the Illuminator down onto an integrated Touch Mat. This turns the Touch Mat into a second display that is touch-sensitive and able to track up to 20 independent points at once. This unique combination of integrated hardware sets the Sprout apart from other desktop PCs and gives us a glimpse into HP’s vision for a new, immersive computing platform.
- A three-camera system including a high-resolution 14.6 megapixel camera, an Intel RealSense 3D camera, and an RGB camera. The cameras can be used to capture small objects placed on the Touch Mat in both 2D and 3D.
- An integrated desk lamp with three levels of touch-controlled brightness for illuminating those late-night build sessions.
- A 1024 x 768 DLP projector shines from the rear column behind the LCD screen and projects down onto the Touch Mat.
The LCD Screen
- Dual digital MEMS microphones and a front-facing web cam hidden behind the bezel are perfectly positioned for video sessions when remotely collaborating on projects.
- A 23″ diagonal 1920 x 1080 LCD touchscreen is used as the primary vertical display.
- Four front-firing speakers and a 10-watt subwoofer provide ample sound for blasting your favorite music while you work.
The Touch Mat
- A capacitive touch mat works as a second display that can track up to 20 individual points, meaning two people can work on a project together on the same surface. The ultra-resistant top coating deflects spills, cuts, glue, and even ink.
- Three touch controls enable and disable the digital keyboard, Workspace app, and projector.
- The Touch Mat attaches to the base of the Sprout with a magnetic USB connector. This makes it easy to remove and replace it whenever necessary.
Of course, hardware is only as good as its software, and the Sprout doesn’t disappoint. The Sprout runs on Windows 8.1, making it every bit as powerful as your average desktop computer, but the included Workspace software platform is the environment where HP’s vision of Blended Reality begins. From here, you can launch apps to scan documents, take photos, capture 3D objects, and collaborate on projects with remote friends or co-workers.
The Capture app lets you take pictures of multiple objects on the Touch Mat in seconds. The app will even remove the background automatically, and saves the images in the Workspace for use in other projects later. Whether you’re inputting pen and paper sketches, project idea notes, or snapping pictures of physical objects, the app makes the process simple and easy. It’s a great way to document progress on a project, or to take beautiful step-by-step shots for creating instructions.
Using the 3D Snapshot app, you can quickly create a 3D OBJ file of any small object that fits onto the Touch Mat. The 3D scanner built into the Illuminator uses Intel’s RealSense depth-sensing technology and, combined with its DLP projector, uses structured light 3D scanning techniques to create a 3D snapshot of an object. Having a 3D model to work from makes creating custom enclosures, component mounts, or duplicating existing objects much easier.
The Create app is so much fun that it’s likely where you’ll spend the most time interacting with the Sprout. Acting as part photo editor and part design tool, you can create digital collages of images from the Workspace or the web with the swipe of a finger. With the included stylus, you can sketch or write notes on the page. Each image pasted or drawn is placed on its own layer, so you can easily edit and manipulate them individually.
Collaborate in Real Time
For many people, creation is not a solitary activity, and collaboration is an important part of the creative process. The Collaborate app leverages HP’s MyRoom virtual room technology to deliver true remote collaboration, streaming video and sound from the front-facing camera while you work with others to manipulate a single piece of content in real time. You can also stream from the camera in the Illuminator above the mat. This is perfect for sharing projects you’re working on, or for getting help troubleshooting tricky breadboard circuits from your techie friends.
As the first step into Blended Reality, the Sprout is still very much in its infancy, but it is already a powerful tool being used by designers and tinkerers. In addition to the apps already included in the Workspace, the Sprout Marketplace features applications that unlock even more uses for the Sprout’s hardware. Here you’ll find apps for composing music, designing 3D characters, playing games, and more. For developers who would like to create new apps for the Sprout, HP has even made the Sprout Software Development Kit available on their website, and hopes to see new and creative applications developed for the Sprout.