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Pen's Microdisplay Is the Write Stuff

Photonics Spectra
May 1999
Daniel C. McCarthy, News Editor

The notion that e-mail would supplant pens and paper is appearing increasingly misguided. British Telecom hopes to combine the best of both worlds with its SmartQuill pen, which will enable users to peek at their e-mail while in conference or on the road. The prototype pen maintains its ergonomic design with the aid of a thumbnail-size liquid crystal microdisplay from Kopin Corp.

An optical system renders a virtual image of Kopin's thumbnail-size display that is equivalent to a 20-in.-diagonal monitor screen from a distance of 5 feet. The display is incorporated into British Telecom's SmartQuill pen. Courtesy of Kopin Corp.

"All we did is take electronics out of a personal organizer and put it into the pen. The chip doesn't take up that much space; it's the keyboard and the screen," explained John Collins, project manager at British Telecom Labs.

Enhanced pagers incorporating Kopin's display were what caught the attention of the SmartQuill's designers. "Kopin's display is nice and clear. We weren't frightened by how much power it was going to draw," said Collins. "We hoped to have 15 hours of use, which we found was not significantly affected when we switched to the Kopin display." The display's 20-mW requirement yields 10 to 12 hours of continuous use from a AAA battery.

Earlier prototypes of the SmartQuill incorporated displays that showed only four lines of text. "That's fine for viewing an address or your diary, but it's difficult for reading e-mail," Collins observed. Kopin's transmissive active-matrix liquid crystal display is magnified by an optical system incorporating a 16° field-of-view lens that allows viewing of the display with both eyes. The virtual image is comparable to viewing a 20-in.-diagonal monitor from a distance of 5 feet and displays the equivalent of 1600 characters at 9-point type or 12 to 15 lines of text.

British Telecom may incorporate a color version of Kopin's display in future versions of the SmartQuill.

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