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Technology - The “Digital” Pen Revolution

Gulshan Kumar

We have all heard the saying “a pen is mightier than the sword” but who knew that one day this ordinary writing instrument will evolve into a serious technical device.  I am talking about the Digital pen which when combined with specialized electronic paper and software is revolutionizing the way we capture what we write.

Imagine being able to write free form notes or sketch the next blueprint while sitting on a commuter train on the ride home and being able to send it to colleagues anywhere in the world using standard, and soon to be ubiquitous, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technologies.  Even though we seem to be spending more and more time on a keyboard or pressing buttons on a Blackberry, one cannot deny the spontaneity of being able to capture a thought instantly using a pen and paper when other “technology devices” are not at hand.  The applications are as limitless as our imagination.  Next I will briefly describe one particular approach developed by Anoto, a Swedish company, and then provide a few examples where such a technology can be utilized.

The Digital pen looks like any ordinary ballpoint pen – maybe a little thicker - but that’s where the similarity ends.  Inside it is a digital camera, an advanced image processing system, and circuitry for communication using Bluetooth or USB.  The paper on which a user writes looks like ordinary paper to the naked eye; however there is an embedded pattern of dots that calculate the exact location of the pen as it writes on that page.  The movement of the pen is captured by the camera and registered as a series of map coordinates and this information is recorded into the built-in flash memory module inside the pen.  Unique patterns enable different parts of the paper to be assigned different functions to create custom forms.  The Digital pen itself is manufactured by companies whose names are familiar to us, such as Nokia, Maxell, and Logitech.  
The paper used is provided with a special dot pattern, invisible to the eye, that is either pre-printed at a printing press in case of a high volume application or printed as needed on an office printer from OKIDATA with the pattern.  The displacement of these micro dots which are 0.1mm in size, from the relative position enables them to be programmed to tell the pen the exact location on the page one is writing on.

This technology has been deployed successfully in several industries which require filling out forms of almost ANY kind, gathering data in far flung and remote locations where it is not practical to carry other portable devices such as laptops and tablet PCs, and many other situations where there is a need to capture and digitize free form notes and drawings.  Taking some examples from Anoto’s portfolio of projects, this technology has been used extensively in medical settings such as the emergency room at a hospital and at  doctors’ offices, writing accident reports and parking citations used by police in US and Belgium, Reading Assessment forms in the USA as part of the “No Child Left Behind” initiative, and many more.  

(Gulshan Kumar is an Information Technology leader with 20+ years experience in delivering IT services. Currently he is the President of Automated Data Systems, a Value Added Reseller and Systems Integration company providing innovative technology solutions in the area of Imaging and the Mobile platform. He can be contacted at gulshan@adsystems.com )

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