What It's Like To Use HP's Crazy New Computer That Can Scan 3D Objects In Seconds

We’ve been hearing about the death of PCs for years now.

The tech world hasn’t stopped talking about how devices like smartphones and tablets are cutting into the PC industry’s profits, and how mobile is the future.

While some of that may be true, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to improve the desktop computer as we know it.

HP’s Sprout is a new type of desktop computer. It was announced in October, but I finally had the chance to see how it works at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

I was a bit sceptical at first. I didn’t understand why anyone would need a projector and a giant touchpad with their computer more than a keyboard and mouse. After seeing a demo at Intel’s booth, I’m still reluctant to believe we’ll start seeing Sprout computers pop up in households around the world.

But there’s no denying that the technology is impressive, and I could easily see how it could eventually become a game changer for graphic designers, teachers, and students. 

The Sprout has two components that make it much different than your traditional PC: a 3D scanner/projector, and a touch-enabled mat. You can use a mouse and keyboard with the Sprout at any time; the scanner and touch mat are simply meant to add more to what you can already do with a desktop computer.

Based on the short demo I saw at CES, it seems like the technology works incredibly fast. When an Intel representative put a plastic banana on the touch mat, a 3-D rendering of the fruit appeared almost immediately on the screen. Once you scan an object, you can edit it and manipulate it using the touch mat.

For example, you can trace over images, layer one image over another, and rotate 3-D images to view scanned objects from different angles. The projector displays content from the computer screen on the touch mat so that you can interact with objects without having to reach out and touch the display.

One of the most practical applications seems to be 3D modelling, but I could also see how it could be used for quickly uploading and editing sketches, documents, and photos. 

It may not sound very exciting, but seeing the technology firsthand was truly intriguing. 3D scanning isn’t new; what impresses me the most about HP’s Sprout is the idea that it may be more easily accessible to the everyday computer user.

Imagine being able to place any object in front of your computer and have it appear on screen — it seems futuristic when you experience it. 

If you can’t see yourself immediately making use of the Sprout’s uncommon features, it’s an expensive commitment ($US1,900).

And it’s not perfect yet — Yahoo Tech’s David Pogue said some apps that make the best use of the Sprout’s scanner and touch mat are slow to open and crash often.

At this year’s CES, which is supposed to set the stage for the year ahead in tech, Intel emphasised the idea that the traditional keyboard and mouse are getting tired and old.

The HP Sprout may be one of the best examples of this mouse-less future Intel envisions, even if it’s not quite ready for the mainstream yet. 

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