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New Technology: Pen on Paper

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2000
Aaron J. Hand

Let's face it. No matter how much technology advances in the computer world, many users still feel more comfortable with good old-fashioned pen and paper. Although a new pen technology developed by Anoto AB might not be the old-fashioned variety, users may still feel more at home with it.

The pen -- with its standard ballpoint nib -- combines a CMOS infrared camera with advanced image processing and wireless technology to enable users to communicate with their own computers or via the Internet simply by writing on a special piece of paper.

The paper has on it a proprietary pattern of small dots, slightly displaced from a grid arrangement. The dots, printed with carbon-based black ink, are imperceptible to the writer. But they absorb the infrared light from an LED close to the point of the pen, enabling a small IR camera to perceive them. During the writing process, the camera takes digital snapshots of the grid every 10 ms, tracking the pen's motion in relation to the dots. Image processing also takes into consideration the angle at which the user is holding the pen, any turning of the pen and force used (measured by a pressure sensor in the pen).

The Anoto pen combines an infrared video camera, an image processor and wireless communication technology to allow users to communicate with computers simply by writing on paper.

Anoto has developed the pen in cooperation with Ericsson Mobile Communications AB, whose Bluetooth radio transceiver can transmit the information to a computer or mobile phone. Users can store their scribbles as written, or their notes can be converted to standard text. The dot pattern could also be incorporated into order forms, for example, to allow consumers to check a box with the special pen, transmitting their order directly to a service center.

Anoto, founded last year as a subsidiary of C Technologies, plans to release its first products by the middle of next year. The company hopes to create an open standard for digital paper and has invited other companies to develop applications around the technology.

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