What is a digital pen?
A digital pen or smartpen is an input device which captures the handwriting or brush strokes of a user and converts handwritten analogue information created using “pen and paper” into digital data, enabling the data to be utilized in various applications.
Has there ever been a more amazing invention than the pen—an incredibly convenient way of recording information that dates back thousands of years?
The only trouble is, pens and paper are not very compatible with the digital technology that surrounds us in the modern world. It’s all very well scribbling little notes to yourself as you sit on the train, but what if you need to put that information into your computer when you get home?
Until recently, your only option would have been to read back your notes and type in the information (that is, write it out all over again)—but now there’s a better solution: the digital pen.
Digital pens look like fatter versions of ordinary pens. Packed with electronic circuits, optical devices, and Bluetooth® gizmos, they can record the things you write as you write them and transmit them automatically to your computer using wireless technology.
Sounds amazing doesn’t it, so how exactly does it all work?
What’s different about a digital pen?
If you look inside a digital pen, you’ll find most of the same components that are in an optical mouse. The difference is that they’re stacked vertically rather than horizontally: a digital pen is to an optical mouse what a skyscraper is to a parking lot.
Where an optical mouse tracks your hand movements by reflecting light off your desktop, a digital pen does the same thing much more precisely by following an almost invisible pattern of lines or pinpoints (depending on which system you use) on special paper.
A mouse doesn’t keep a track of what you do, but a digital pen does: it tracks its progress across the paper as you move it around and, in this way, captures what you write.
So that you can see exactly what you’re doing, a digital pen also has a conventional refill that leaves an ink trail, just like a normal pen. The ink trail is purely for your convenience: the computer doesn’t “see” it or use it in any way.
Every so often, you need to upload your writing to your computer. Some digital pens upload when you plug them into a computer with a USB cable, others upload through a docking station that also charges the battery in the pen, while the most sophisticated ones can also transmit words as you write them using a wireless technology such as infrared or Bluetooth
What can you use digital pens for?
Digital pens aren’t all the same. There are three quite different kinds and they do three quite different jobs:
1. Some are like thin, handheld scanners. They’re designed to turn printed text into editable text on your computer using OCR (optical character recognition). IRISPen is a popular example.
2. Some are designed to “import” ordinary handwriting into a computer as editable text. Pens like this come with a PC software package that imports the data the pen has stored and decodes it, turning your scribbled handwriting into an editable text as good as you could have typed from the keyboard.
3. Some work by reading or tracking complex printed patterns from the paper and are mainly used for filling in order forms (though they can also do things like handwriting recognition).
More sophisticated digital pens are designed to capture your handwriting. Now, if you’re a fan of old-style technology, particularly classic technology like the pen and paper, digital pens might seem completely frivolous—but just consider for a moment how useful they could be in certain situations.
If you’re a student taking notes in classes or lectures, imagine how brilliant it would be to get back to your room, immediately upload all your notes to your computer and instantly print them out in neat, typed form. Or, if you’re a physician (doctor), wouldn’t it be handy if all the notes you scribbled about a patient during an examination could be instantly uploaded onto their records as soon as they left your consulting room?
“This will also be useful for banks, where account opening forms are being filled on a daily basis, banks can get real-time information and instant feedbacks on accounts opened. The field marketing officers that work with financial institutions will also find this technology uself in transmitting field information to the back office easily”.
Digital pens have some pretty cunning new uses as well. The company that devised much of the technology behind the latest generation of pens, Anoto, envisages them as a super-convenient way of ordering information from websites.
Their brainwave was not to produce better digital pens but to reinvent paper so that it’s overlaid with an extraordinarily complex, almost invisible pattern that’s easy to vary for different purposes. So, for example, an election voting paper would have a different pattern from a mail-order catalogue ordering form, and a mail-order form printed by Sears would be different to one printed by Macy’s.