Writing in pen, ink, and pixels
Technology-packed pens send your doodles straight to a computer screen
At first, Seiko's new InkLink pen doesn't seem much different from an average Bic or Pilot. It does a respectable job of putting ink to paper, although at $100, the price is up there with chic fountain pens. But this one does more than add style to thank-you notes. It's one of the first in a series of pens designed to link paper and PC by recording pen strokes and sending them to your screen.
Capturing simple handwriting takes complex technology. Seiko's system triangulates the pen's position using pulses of ultrasound. Other pens due out soon use lasers to track their motion or have tiny scanners that register the pen's movement across special paper with thousands of finely printed dots. All this wizardry, with the accompanying manuals, cables, and software, disturbs the elegant simplicity of pen and paper. And it yields only a graphic file--a sort of page photo. Granted, it can be displayed on the PC, stored, and attached to E-mail. But the words themselves can't be searched or easily changed, because the systems don't convert jottings into computer text.
PC users in the United States, where typing is widely taught, may think the keyboard remains the best way to get text into a computer. Still, an intelligent pen could appeal to the artist in you wanting to capture a sketch. It could also be a handy way to get data into portable devices too small for a keyboard.
Silent beeps. That's a role Seiko sees for its pen. Entering addresses or notes into hand-held computers can be slow, with their awkward handwriting-recognition systems. Palm users, for example, must learn to write special characters, and only, one, at, a, time. With the InkLink, a Palm user can capture a thought more quickly, albeit in graphic form. Just attach a special clip to a pad of paper and start writing. The clip's two ultrasonic receivers trace inaudible beeps emitted by the pen, much as the brain senses a sound's direction from the different times that it arrives at each ear. The clip itself attaches by a cable to a PC or hand-held, where accompanying software helps manage the notepad files. At least one other pen, a more expensive version from Casio, also relies on sonic tracking.
This fall, a pen that could revive the handwritten document is due out from peripherals maker Logitech. Developed by Anoto of Lund, Sweden, the hefty pen, about the size of a small cigar, houses a tiny optical scanner. It tracks tiny dots on special paper, printed so finely they appear only as an off-white tint. The $300 version of the pen now available in Sweden transmits the dot pattern wirelessly to a cellphone, which sends the data to an Anoto server. The server in turn re-creates the writing based on the scanned dots and transmits the file to a user-chosen destination. Anoto customers can order paper with special dot patterns that tell the server which company the document comes from and even which letterhead or form the writer is using. For that bit of magic, Anoto developed a dot pat-tern that can be printed in a huge number of variations--enough, it says, for an array of forms that would cover an area greater than Asia and Europe combined if laid edge to edge.