Newly installed at the Bit Space laboratory, the team takes a first look at the new HP all-in-one Windows-based Sprout “creativity system.” The computer for the Sprout is housed in the monitor, a touch-screen with a computer in the back that shoulders an armature with a projector and a camera in the base. This camera projects an image that bounces off a mirror in the top and then, using technology called Image Tracking, takes multiple pictures and monitors how the images change from one shot to the next. “It’s able to do what’s called blob detection,” explains co-founder and IIT professor Thomas Kearns, “to essentially say ‘oh, here’s fingers and a hand,’ and it knows where things are moving in that space. So that’s what enables the projection on the work surface beneath to serve as a touch screen.”
With a capacitive touch screen built into the monitor much like any iPhone, and an image tracking system built into the projection surface beneath to simulate the effects of a capacitive screen, the two systems work together to create an easy-to-use, simple touch-interactive system.
“That’s not unique, of course. Microsoft has had the Surface table out for a long, long time,” Kearns explains. “The Museum of Science and Industry uses the same thing to do interactive videos.” Similarly functioning as a multi-input device, users need not utilize anything other than the system’s cameras to operate it; there’s also a workspace software that lets them take advantage of the dual interactive systems, swiping image-objects seamlessly from one screen to the other, and vice-versa.
The Sprout provides a really simple, intuitive compositional tool for kids, families and beginners to quickly be able to interact with media—and not just media they find, but also media they acquire—so that they can stick something in the camera, take a picture of it, then grab and start composing with it. Largely what the system software is doing is 2-dimensional, much like using Photoshop, except for how you interact with it.
“I’m not sure what the long-range possibilities are, for advanced software, for instance.” says Kearns. “What I’ve seen so far, it’s akin to going to JoAnn fabrics and buying patterns, or clip art, for instance. It’s a more sophisticated environment for manipulating and creating clip art.” In addition, the system creates 3D models using its projection scanner. Place an object on the table-top surface, and the scanner projects a series of vertical and horizontal lines that serve as the three-dimensional grid structure that maps an object’s surface to create a wrapped series of photographic images.
These images render, in spots, with an uncannily high degree of textural value, much like users see these days, for instance, in video game design. However, the scanner can’t completely capture the full three dimensions of scanned objects as a stand-alone device; inputting the whole object requires an additional add-on. At a cost of a few hundred dollars above the Sprout’s roughly $2,000 purchase price, the 3D Capture Stage allows users to produce full, 360-degree image scans.
As a tool in the Bit Space teaching laboratory, the Sprout provides a fun, intuitive interactive tool for young learners to master some astounding, critically advanced applied computer sciences. “Where it’s going, it makes a lot of sense,” says Kearns. “Eventually, you’ll just place a coffee cup on there, scan it and print out an exact duplicate.”