Of the major PC vendors, HP is arguably the most aggressive on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), largely because of its investment in backpack PCs and workstations. It has also been working on its own industrial-grade headset and is the only firm that has worked scanning technology aggressively into the mix with the Sprout PC. In the AR space, it is the only vendor that has a strong alternative to the Microsoft HoloLens, not by coming up with a different headset, but by rethinking the problem and coming up with a solution that works where HoloLens doesn’t.
Let’s talk about two of the interesting and unique HP implementations this week, given that I’m in Barcelona and just got briefed on them.
Sprout for Remote Banking
I’ve been a tad skeptical of the HP Sprout platform as it kind of looked like a kluge to me when it first was announced. But like all early products, you shouldn’t judge an idea by its first iteration. This platform has matured nicely. The Sprout is an all-in-one PC that has a built-in 3D scanner and integrated projector. At the event I’m attending, they announced a separate scanner/projector that could be added to any monitor, effectively turning any PC with a monitor into a Sprout. This significantly lowers the entry cost and allows you to customize your solution.
However, the interesting implementation was for a French bank that has remote offices that have minimal or no staffing. Using the Sprout as a kind of super ATM, the user can immediately connect to a remote specialist, say for a loan, and the integrated scanner projector can display the forms while the specialist walks the user through them. Physical documents are automatically scanned into the system, the user videoconferences with the remote specialist who walks them through the process, and the bank can use a blend of physical documents and virtual documents to their heart’s content. This allows them to keep their staffing costs low while still creating a face-to-face-like experience, capturing all of the information needed to validate the transaction.
This was pretty interesting and could have broader implications. You could use this to more rapidly get through a passport process, handle purchase documents for a home or car remotely, potentially even remotely post a bail bond, or execute a contract with the help of a remote law firm. It certainly could solve a lot of the problems that occur when people either try to do things with contracts by themselves (forgetting to sign or annotating improperly), and it could reduce dramatically the need for remote resources or having to drive distances at inconvenient times.
The potential labor, time and legal cost savings (for mistakes and lawyer travel) could easily justify the cost of one of these for the right folks. And I’m thinking I likely could use one of these things, which is a big change from where I thought this platform was. Once again, this may have been a solution looking for a problem, but darned if it didn’t find several big ones. Go figure.
Assembly Line AR
Microsoft’s HoloLens largely stands alone as the only fully capable industrial-grade AR solution, but it doesn’t work well everyplace. For instance, it sucks on the assembly line, largely because workers look down all day and the weight of the thing means they can’t tolerate it for a full shift. Yet the requirement for an AR solution that shows assembly line workers, particularly those who aren’t doing highly repetitive work, where to put things is very high. In fact, a solution that monitors what the worker does to assure quality while helping them put the right part in the right place remains critical. What HP showcased was a projection solution that doesn’t require a headset. Somewhat similar to the Sprout but without the PC, this solution projects down on the workspace what needs to be done and can also capture progress with a camera for oversight and/or quality control.
This removes the weight from the assembly line worker’s head and allows them to work full shifts without the physical neck stress that the weight of a headset would require, and with far less chance of breakage because the projector/camera is placed securely above the station and remains untouched by the user once it is set up and properly adjusted.
Wrapping Up: Two Ways of Problem Solving
I’m rather impressed with HP because these two solutions showcase two methods of problem solving. The first is to take an existing idea and successfully find unique places where it could do what nothing else could. The second is to step back, fully understand the problem, and then rather than copy something else that doesn’t work, like the HoloLens, come up with something unique and different that does work. This avoids unnecessary competition with a partner and creates a vastly better targeted solution at the same time.
Beyond the creation of these unique offerings, this approach to problem solving showcases another best practice that is far better than the more typical one of throwing products into the market and hoping someone buys them. As time goes on, I’m becoming more and more impressed with HP, definitely a company to watch once again.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+