HP’s immersive computing thinks beyond Sprout to business applications

The HP FitStation at work

The HP FitStation at work

When HP debuted its Sprout immersive computers almost four years ago, it came across largely as an intriguing but ultimately consumer gimmick. However, as the company showed off at its Innovation Summit in Barcelona recently, the technology behind Sprout has grown up and is now ready to put on a suit and tie and meet a number of business needs.

At the event, held at its facility near the Spanish city, it showed off a number of use cases for immersive computing that show the company is thinking of it as a business solution, from enabling banking — with an actual “branch” — pretty much anywhere you can put a kiosk, to custom running insoles and ultimately fully custom shoes.

“Sprout has moved from consumer, to commercial, to full vertical solutions with a focus on actually delivering on digital transformation,” said Tricia Duggan, vice president and head of global go-to-market for immersive computing at HP. 

The first station stayed closest to Sprout’s use — a videoconferencing “bank branch” that allows users to do “paperwork” “face-to-face” with a bank employee via video chat, including the ability to do touch-centric activities like signing “paperwork” to open an account using the touch mat screen projected onto a horizontal service. The system is testing with an Italian bank, the company said, to provide these kiosks for what would usually be in-branch services requiring multiple steps, signatures, and other things that make a mobile app-based banking experience impractical. The system is based on HP’s Sprout Pro systems.

The other station moved a little further from Sprout’s legacy, but showed perhaps how immersive computing has the ability to create new and interesting partnerships — channel and technology — for HP, with companies that historically wouldn’t have been anywhere near the realm of partnership with HP. The FitStation is a stack of HP hardware and software from HP, custom insole makes Superfeet, and others, that offers an in-store foot scanner, designed to capture data about a runner’s foot size, gait, footfall, and a variety of other details.

The kiosks are located today in a couple of dozen high-end running shops in the U.S., but are expanding their — pardon the pun — footprint in the near future. Today, the FitStation provides two services. It can recommend the best possible fit for shoes or insole available in the store currently, or it can send its data to Superfeet, which then makes custom insoles designed for the runner’s foot.

Eric Hayes, CMO of Superfeet

Eric Hayes, CMO of Superfeet

The HP/Superfeet partnership came about in an unlikely way. Eric Hayes, chief marketing officer at the insole company, say it all started with a phone call that did not initially bode well, because the call was to tel them the scanner they were using for custom insoles at the time might be going away due to HP’s acquisition of their manufacturer. Happily, what could have been a rather negative conversation turned positive after HP started asking what Superfeet was doing with the scanners, Hayes said, and put him in touch with the company’s immersive and 3D printing businesses.

That led tot he launch of the FitStation as available today, and will ultimately lead later this year to the debut of a third option at the FitStation — the ability to send foot data and user preferences to footwear vendor Brooks, which will then be able to produce one-off running shoes based on the data collected. 

Patrick Pons de Vier, senior vice president of global footwear for

Patrick Pons de Vier, senior vice president of global footwear for Brooks

The idea of “mass customization” — rejigging its supply chain to support a cost-effective system of producing one-off shoes designed for the user’s foot shape — is at once breaking ground and “everything old is new again” for Brooks. Patrick Pons de Vier, senior vice president of global footwear for the company, points out that in terms of the history of footwear, pre-defined sizes produced en masse are a relatively new development, and one meant for efficiency and supply chain reasons, not for the best possible experience for the wearer.

“We’re changing our marketplace to be human-centric, and runner-led,” Pons de Vier said.

While it’s too early to say either what pricing of custom shoes will look like, or how quickly the delta between custom and off-the-shelf will narrow, Pons de Vier made it clear it could be a major part of the company’s future.

“It’s an interesting possibility that half of the market could be driven by personalized solutions in the future,” he said. “And the mass production business will learn from the experience, so we can get to the point of not purely personalized, but certainly smarter.”

The biggest challenge for Brooks is that the company is not a data company, said Pete Humphrey, vice president of footwear research, but it suddenly has a lot of data it needs to figure out how to manage, move around, store, and be responsible for.

“We have the information, now how do we create these services for our users that are important and valuable fr them,” Humphrey said. “It’s a totally new division for us, and it’s stuff that we’ve never though of before. It’s been very interesting, and very transformative.”

Tricia Duggan, vice president and head of global go-to-market for immersive computing at HP.

Tricia Duggan, vice president and head of global go-to-market for immersive computing at HP.

FitStation has also proven somewhat transformative in its partnering model. To get the stations out there, insole manufacturer Superfeet has effectively become an HP reseller, a type of partnership we would have seen in the traditional IT market. This is not atypical of what happens in immersive computing, as Duggan said mane 3D and immersive applications ultimately come to HP from partners, both traditional and new. Because of the custom nature of the solution, it’s not something “to take it and jam it through the traditional channel where that doesn’t make sense,” Duggan said. But it is bringing new partners into the fold, and opening doors for HP partners to think of types of applications they may not have through of in the past.

“We’re bringing more people into the channel, and a lot of them are people who wouldn’t have been part of the family in the past,” Duggan said. “It’s great for us, and it’s great for our partners.”

Josh St. John, head of product for immersive computing at HP, said immersive is bringing new opportunities to existing partners. 

“Partnering to give the traditional resellers a full solution is really crucial,” St. John said. “Our products are in the futures category, and it gives resellers an opportunity to show innovation on top of our core and growth product offerings.”

He said that partners starting to think about new ways that endpoints can be used in the future will be crucial for resellers that sell endpoints, helping them to move from offering a simple system to offering a unique solution.

“It’s device-as-a-service, it’s shoes-as-a-service. It benefit the consumer, the manufacturer, and the reseller. It’s a nice synergy,” St. John said.