Sixty years after the humble biro was invented, a breakthrough technology looks set to extend its working life for decades perhaps centuries to come. Swedish based Anoto has developed a natural writing interface for the computer.
Merging the convenience of ordinary handwriting with the power bluetooth, Anoto's s concept transforms pen and paper into a digital interface which can be used by anyone.
Designed with the same look and feel as the ballpoint pen and with a simple on-off function controlled simply removing and replacing the cap, the Anoto concept consists of a digital camera, an advanced image-processor and a radio transceiver that transmits data wirelessly to PC. The digital pen can be used on any piece of ordinary paper that has been printed with a special proprietary pattern visible to the naked eye only as a slightly off-white colour. When writing, the pen's camera takes infrared snapshots of this tiny grid more than every 1/50 second and the image processor converts this information into 'writing' in real-time. The pen also contains real ink that is invisible to the camera so that you can see what you've written or drawn, plus the in-built memory can store several pages of handwritten text.
In effect when writing on the Anoto patterned paper you are writing on a tiny part of one very large sheet that has been broken into a series of domains which are either set aside for specific uses, such as digital notepad, or licensed to companies for certain applications. Each domain can be configured for different functionality and the pen can recognise where you are on the grid and react accordingly. And if you are worried that you might run out of 'paper' - don't - the full pattern covers an area exceeding 60 million square km, that's roughly equivalent to the area of Asia and Europe combined.
The Anoto concept has now become a reality with the release of the world's first digital pen - the Sony Ericsson Chatpen. The stylish Chatpen looks like a slightly chubby version of a normal ballpoint, bringing to life Anoto's vision while offering little hint of the cutting-edge technology hidden inside. It was announced in April that in conjunction other Anoto partners - Vodafone (which supplies the GPRS network), 3M and Esselte (paper products) - the Chatpen is fully functional in the home of Anoto: Sweden. In an effort to ensure that this infrastructure becomes the standard for digital paper, Anoto has also entered into alliances with Logitech, MeadWestvacod and Microsoft - which is incorporating the digital pen functionality into its .NET Platform.
The scope of potential applications for the Anoto digital pen and paper concept (Anoto is derived from the Latin annoto, meaning "I scribble") are mind-boggling - imagine scribbling a quick note on your pad and then sending it via fax or email simply by ticking a 'send' box that's printed in the corner of a page - all without going near a computer.