HP announces updated Sprout Pro

HP has announced an updated version of the Sprout, its pioneering all-in-one PC. Now aimed at business and education customers, the Sprout Pro is unique as it has a built-in 3D scanner as well as a projector which creates a second touch-sensitive control surface.

The Sprout Pro is little changed aesthetically from its predecessor and has received the usual boost in specifications that you'd expect from a 2016 PC Skylake Core i7 6700 processors, Windows 10, 8GB DDR4 memory and a TPM chip.

Much more interesting are several new apps and use cases which make the Sprout more than just a passing curiosity. Using Sprout Companion for Skype for Business, you can share whatever the 3D scanner sees with your chat participants as an attachment. You can also scan prosaic items, such as documents, and annotate them on the projected screen using the included stylus. More lighthearted use cases include the ability to make a stop motion animation with the 3D scanner tracking your objects' movements across your table top.

One of the most intriguing third-party uses of the Sprout is a program for training assembly line workers from LGS Light Guide Systems. The camera tracks workers hand movements as they practise assembling items, with helpful animated annotations appearing onscreen over a live view of their hands pointing out where they've gone wrong. It's a niche but remarkably useful application of the Sprout's cameras and augmented reality capabilities.

Alive Studios produces educational programs for the Sprout including Letters Alive and Math Alive for very young children who've started learning the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy. Placing special cards under the Sprout's camera, such as 'H for Horse', will show an onscreen animation, corresponding to that letter, layered on top of a live video feed of the card.

The camera can detect finger presses on specific 'buttons' on the cards, so, for example, pressing one button will present the child with an onscreen audio prompt on how to pronounce the letter. Children can line up a series of cards under the camera to create a basic sentence the software can detect incorrectly constructed sentences and prompt the child to change it by swapping out word cards. The software doesn't come cheap though a bundle of both Word Alive and Math Alive costs US$1300.

The Sprout Pro itself will require a significant amount of investment compared to other non-workstation PCs, although this is admittedly due to its unique and specialised hardware and software. The Sprout Pro will cost 1899 and will be available from March, but only to professional and education customers in the UK, France, Germany and Spain. It's likely the Sprout Pro will become available to general consumers if it's a hit with business and education users. In the meantime, everyday punters will have to be content with the previous-generation Sprout which remains on sale.