BT develops pen of the future
By Kristi Essick InfoWorld Electric
Posted at 8:51 AM PT, Oct 15, 1998
For those who have never progressed past the hunt-and-peck method of
typing, British Telecommunications' research laboratory has come up
with a prototype of an intelligent pen that records writing and
translates it into text on a computer screen.
Dubbed SmartQuill, the sleek and stylish prototype pen is different
from other electronic pens on the market today in that users don't
have to write on a special pad in order to record what they write.
Instead, SmartQuill contains sensors that record movement by using
the earth's gravity system, whether you write on paper or in the air.
SmartQuill isn't all space-age, though -- it contains an ink
cartridge so that users can see what they write down on paper.
"Why should people use a keyboard when they can use a pen?" said John
Collins, project manager for SmartQuill at BT Labs. Many people have
never learned to type quickly and accurately, but everyone knows how
to write, he pointed out.
People could use the pen in the office to replace a keyboard, but the
main attraction will be for users who usually take notes by hand on
the road and type them up when returning to the office, Collins said.
SmartQuill will let them skip the step of typing up their notes, he
The pen works in conjunction with a regular PC, onto which users
install special handwriting recognition software developed by BT
Labs, Collins said. The lab has several SmartQuill models in the
works, including one that communicates with the PC via a radio
transmitter, but the current prototype hooks up to a PC via a cable
and electronic docking station called an "inkwell." It can also be
connected to printer or modem.
Users write down notes in their regular handwriting and the movements
are stored within SmartQuill. Up to 10 pages of notes can be stored
locally on the pen, Collins said. Once the pen is hooked up to the
computer, the handwriting recognition software translates the
movements into text on-screen. Unlike many handwriting recognition
programs, the SmartQuill system analyzes movements instead of shapes,
Collins said. This allowed BT to get rid of the electronic notepad
associated with most computer pens.
SmartQuill contains a few local applications such as an address book,
daily planner, and calculator. Users can enter information into these
applications by pushing a button on the pen and writing down what
they would like to enter, Collins said. There is also a small
three-line screen to read the information stored in the pen; users
can scroll down the screen by tilting the pen slightly, he said.
Future models could receive e-mails and pager messages via a wireless
messaging system and could use digital signature recognition for
BT is hoping to license the SmartQuill concept to interested hardware
manufacturers, and believes a product will be on shelves within two
years, Collins said. The price tag could hover around 200 pounds
sterling -- $340 or more -- but no pricing has been set as of yet, he
At the moment, SmartQuill works best when users write in capital
letters, but BT Labs is working on improving the handwriting
recognition software and expects it to understand cursive by next
year. In the future, Collins predicts there will be a whole range of
SmartQuill pens -- everything from a high-end model for executives to
a basic one for kids to use in school.
More information on SmartQuill can be found at www.labs.bt.com.
British Telecommunications PLC, in London, is at www.bt.com.
Kristi Essick is a correspondent in the Paris bureau of the IDG News
Service, an InfoWorld affiliate.
* Fountain pen sized handheld computer
* Handwriting recognition
* Display scrolls by tilting pen
* Handheld computer applications like Diary, Contacts, E-mail etc
* Voice record and playback
* 4Mb memory
* Powered by AAA battery
* Accelerometers measure hand movement in 2 or 3 planes
* On board DSP converts to ASCII characters for pen applications
* Write on paper, flat surface, vertical wall or in air
* Single character recognition on pen
* Record cursive letters and download to PC for decoding
* Password by signature recognition
* Write notes on paper - record in pen - download to PC
* Input to other devices eg. mobile phone, PC etc.
* Database - names and addresses
* To Do list
* Clock and Alarms
* Voice record - ADPCM speech compression
* Synchronise files, e-mails, messages to PC
* Allow 3rd party add on applications
* Revolutionary "Spatial Sensing" system uses semiconductor
* Sensors detect pen/hand movement
* Intuitive user interface
* Enables hand writing recognition
* Tilting pen scroll's the screen
* Automatically detects left or right handed use
* Power saving - no movement causes auto power down
* Small screen size requires less battery power
* Up to 25 hours on AAA alkalines