The Sprout, HP's innovative new PC, towered above my desk. An array of cameras and a projector (collectively called the Illuminator) loomed over its 23-inch touch display.
I put a toy on the Touch Mat, a work surface extending from the front of the Sprout like a huge mousepad. Lights flashed from the Illuminator.
Shortly thereafter, a vivid image of the toy appeared on the Touch Mat. Using my fingers, I slid it onto an existing image. I had just made a new picture, without ever touching a keyboard or a mouse.
With the Sprout, HP is inaugurating a new approach to computing called "blended reality." In plainer terms, it's a PC designed to work with imaging and touch technologies, paired with software that makes tasks more tactile and interactive. You can see how artists — and definitely kids — would enjoy working with their hands like this, even if the end results are still digital. Underneath it all lies a full-fledged computer that can run all the traditional programs with a keyboard and mouse.
Here's the most intriguing part: The Sprout can also create 3D images of scanned objects. You can rotate and move the object, just as you might in a professional program like AutoCAD. As HP continues to develop applications for the Sprout, you can see this capability figuring into, say augmented-reality applications, or even games.
I spent a few days with the Sprout before giving it over to our lab for a full review. It's a brand-new product and it definitely has some growing to do, but if HP is in this for the long haul — as I was assured when I previewed this PC last autumn — then it's got a big head start on its competitors, especially when it comes to 3D imaging.
The Touch Mat: A digital sketchpad
The Sprout's Touch Mat attaches to the main unit and acts like a second display. Its image is beamed from the overhead projector.
Think of it as a digital sketchpad. You control the Sprout's main imaging functions using the icons that appear along the top. Tools for specific activities appear along the left and right sides.
You can take the included Adonit Jot stylus and draw a picture using the pen tools. You can choose different pen tips — a fine line, a calligraphy pen, or a marker pen — and choose the ink color and line thickness.
It's somewhat like drawing on paper, except there's not much pressure sensitivity. Also, the overhead projector casts shadows underneath your hand, which could obscure the area where you're drawing.
Taking 2D and 3D images with the Illuminator
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.