I visited Bentley’s Applied Research Group pod on the exhibit hall floor to check out the details of the electronic pen and paper noted in the keynote. The company behind the technology is Anoto (get it?) and it dates back to about 2000. A few companies including Logitech make the pens and there’s been interest from wireless phone/bluetooth handset (think Nokia, Sony) players because, if the pen is bluetooth enabled it can send data via a cell phone!
So, back to the pen and paper. The paper it turns out is pretty ordinary; what’s special is that the printer knows how to draw the background data that “geolocates” where the pen writes. The printer itself need to use carbon in its toner (most due) and be 600 dpi, and further it needs to be “certified” to work with the app. Most likely special drivers we be developed that send it the information it needs to print.
Now, what about that background data? It’s bascially a bunch of dots that seem randomly spaced. They are not; in fact the pattern is unique such that it could cover Europe and Asia. It’s those dots that allow the pen to know not only what sheet its on, but where on that sheet.
The pen has a light and a camera on the tip. The pen knows when to “start paying attention” when you start writing. I spring in the tip acts as a sort of on/off switch. When writing begins the camera captures the dots to know where it is and the pen strokes to know what’s being drawn. These are dumb graphics that might make up words, lines, etc. That information gets stored in the pen and when its docked it can, if linked to an app like ProjectWise, find the right DGN and pop the redlining right on top.
Now, if the pen has bluetooth it can take the info, in real time, send it to a cell phone, on say the users hip and send the information on to a server. In fact, a delivery company in Europe uses the pen and paper, along with a bluetooth phone, to document delivery and receipt in near real time! Another user of the technology is in hospitals where they like a paper trail. Both of these uses, as you might expect, use custom apps built to take advantage of the technology. The paper trail made me wonder if it could be used for electronic voting.
[Disclosure: Bentley covered travel, hotel and meals.]