A desktop for Dali: Meet HP’s wildly innovative Sprout

HP is attempting to disrupt the printing industry — which it helped create back in the 70s — with a new 3D-printing technology and a wildly innovative computer system that streamlines the entire creation process, from input to output.

Part of its “Blended Reality” ecosystem, the two new products — Sprout and Multi Jet Fusion printing technology — were unveiled Wednesday morning at an event in New York City. They’re designed to change how users create content, work on their computer, and 3D-print their creations. Even if you aren’t in the 3D-printing business, the Sprout computing system alone offers a glimpse into immersive, collaborative computing, and how it could change the way people use and interact with computers on a daily basis.

The $1,899 Sprout also showcases where HP sees itself heading in the future, as it moves beyond traditional computers and printers while leveraging existing technologies, such as next-gen Intel processors and thermal inkjet printing.

The Multi Jet Fusion technology isn’t for consumer use yet, instead targeting the commercial sector — areas like architecture, industrial design, urban planning, and so on. But artists, makers, and anyone with a vision will find the Sprout a fascinating concept.

What is Sprout?

The Sprout is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It’s easily the most unusual and creative PC we’ve glimpsed in years. The all-in-one machine runs off a fourth-generation Intel Core i7 CPU (Haswell), has a 1TB hard drive and Windows 8.1, and combines a dual-screen computer, 3D projector, depth sensor, and high-resolution camera into one system. It resembles a monitor strapped to an oversize bathroom water faucet; the arm hanging over the screen is a 3D scanner/projector, however, and a highly durable touchmat sits at its feet for input.

Using the Sprout Illuminator scanner, you can scan physical objects into the computer. It will then project an image of that object onto the 20-point capacitive touch mat, where you can manipulate the virtual object by hand. The system runs custom software designed to help users easily create 3D projects.

The best creations are often made by teams of people, but it’s not always practical to bring every team member into the same room. With Sprout, it’s possible to collaborate on projects remotely, HP says, providing an interface that shows every member of the project and what the object or device looks like in real-time as it’s being worked on. Each collaborator is able to manipulate and put his or her hands on the project to change it as they see fit.

“People have always created with their hands,” says Ron Coughlin, HP’s senior vice president of Consumer PC & Solution. “Concurrently, technology has progressed from the first transistors through calculators to today’s most sophisticated computing platforms. Until now, the physical and digital worlds have largely been separated and digital creation has remained in 2D. With Sprout by HP, we introduce the first immersive computing platform, seamlessly merging these two worlds together, enabling people to intuitively bring their creations, work, and projects to life in 3D.”

What software works with Sprout?

Though the Sprout runs on custom software, HP is also launching what it calls the Sprout Marketplace, which is home to applications that are tweaked and optimized to take full advantage of the Sprout’s power and capabilities.

As of now, the Sprout Marketplace includes the DreamWorks Animation Story Producer; HP’s Create, Collaborate, and Capture; Martha Stewart Craft Studio; GestureWorks Gameplay; and Crayola Draw & Sing.

HP says that new apps will be added to the Sprout Marketplace on a regular basis. On top of that, HP has made the Sprout Software Development Kit available, so developers can try their hand at creating something their own applications for the Sprout system.

Related: Hewlett-Packard to split into two, reborn as HP Inc and Hewlett Packard Enterprise

HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing creates things 10 times faster

Creating a virtual object is one thing, but it’s another to actually make it into reality. For output, HP has also developed a new 3D printing technology that the company says will allow users to create high-quality things faster while also decreasing production costs at significant rates. HP is calling the technology Multi Jet Fusion.

HP claims Multi Jet Fusion will build things 10 times faster than the average 3D printer by putting together whole surface areas as opposed to creating one part of a project at a time. Using HP’s thermal inkjet technology, Multi Jet Fusion employs a “multi-agent printing process” that applies a number of liquid materials at the same time. This approach should also creates things that are stronger, more durable, and uniform all over; that means the ability to 3D-print fully working parts and bits that contain finer finishes, more detail, and smoother surfaces than other we’ve seen in the past.

Multi Jet Fusion aims to simplify and integrate multiple steps of the 3D printing process to make it more streamlined and refined, which HP says translates into decreased costs and time for users. HP says it’s treating the technology as part of an open 3D platform that could become an industry standard, meaning that the technology could be licensed by other printer makers.

“We are on the cusp of a transformative era in computing and printing…”

“We are on the cusp of a transformative era in computing and printing,” says Dion Weisler, HP’s executive vice president of Printing & Personal Systems. “Our ability to deliver Blended Reality technologies will reduce the barriers between the digital and physical worlds, enabling us to express ourselves at the speed of thought — without filters, without limitations. This ecosystem opens up new market categories that can define the future, empowering people to create, interact and inspire like never before.”

The printer, a mammoth item resembling an old-school photocopier more than a desktop inkjet, is intended for commercial purposes at present, rather than small businesses. It likely won’t be a nice match for the Sprout and its artisanal user in other words, despite the simultaneous unveiling of the pair.

Availability and pricing

The Sprout system is available for pre-order starting today, and it can be purchased in “select retail locations,” as well as HP’s official site, beginning November 9. After that, HP will continue to launch the Sprout in other nations, but it doesn’t indicate when and where those launches will occur.

HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology is also available starting today, with a wider roll-out starting sometime in 2016. Obtaining the tech will require partners to abide by a certification process.

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