Dec 9, 2009

The Pen of the Future?

Just when I thought I was getting caught up with technology, along comes another innovation that I didn't even dream existed. I just became aware of the "Smart Pen" from Livescribe. The Smart Pen is actually a computer in a pen, complete with a video camera and microphone. That may not sound like a big deal, but the function of the Smart Pen differs dramatically from your laptop, Blackberry, or GPS device. Essentially, the Smart Pen gives connectivity to paper and pen. The pen is able to link what you write directly to your computer. You can take class notes with the pen, and later re-listen to the professor's actual words by simply touching that part of your notes with the pen. You can write in English and get a voice translation into another language. Or you can send an email by writing on a sheet of paper.

One downside is that the pen requires "smart paper," a paper pre-printed with microdots that allow the pen to "read" the image. However, the use of pre-printed paper does not appear to be a major obstacle to use of the Smart Pen. People are already using paper pre-printed with lines or grids, so the use of writing pads with micro-dots is not really a big change.

This technology links the paper world with the digital world. The potential applications go well beyond academia. Imagine seeing an ad in a magazine for a product you might want to buy. Putting the pen to the ad produces a verbal message of where you can buy that item and how much it costs. You can then make the purchase by writing "buy item" and signing your signature. Or imagine if your doctor could write your prescription and email it to your pharmacy at the same time. No doubt there are many more applications that haven't even been thought of yet. Perhaps this application of technology to the ordinary routines of daily life will bring about the biggest changes in the future.

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