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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
From paper to the internet
Graphic BBC
BBC Go Digital's Jon Wurtzel casts a wry eye over the developments in the world of technology

An innovative and sophisticated way of communicating with the internet has arrived.

This exciting medium is not a newfangled computer monitor, or keyboard or writing tablet.

Anoto pen
Wireless technology is used to communicate with the net
It is not the small screens on your mobile telephones or handheld computers that your eyes strain to look at.

Instead, it is one of the most ancient interfaces in the world - paper.

As an interface, paper is peerless. It's been refined and improved over centuries, anything can be printed on it, and it's incredibly inexpensive.

Click here to read your comments on the pen

Further, you get years of full-time education, paid for by the government, on how to use it.

But why and how is paper being seen as a potential medium for the net?

From paper to the net

The answer lies with the Swedish-based company Anoto. They have developed pens that use wireless technology to communicate directly with the internet.

Graphic BBC
This means that you can write notes and scribbles on pieces of specially printed, cheap paper that will soon be widely accessible.

A chip inside the pen records its movement, and then sends these messages across the internet.

Using this technology, you could send your e-mails and faxes, messages and drawings simply by checking a box on a piece of paper.

Global appeal

There are further advantages of using this technology. If you speak Hindi or Arabic or Chinese, your ability to send messages on the net will no longer be limited by keyboards and font packages.

You can send your writing in handwritten text across the net, along with any drawings and images you also want to include.

Similarly, complex mathematical formulations and equations, along with musical scores and notations can overcome the barrier of the keyboard and be transportable across the internet.

This is not a technology that is years away from being put into daily use.

Ericsson is scheduled to bring to market a ballpoint pen called the Chatpen that will let you use this technology to connect to the net by the end of this year.

The challenge for you for this week is this: if you could, how would you use this net-enabled paper and pens?

HAVE YOUR SAY

Click here to return

Many have lamented the "death" of letter writing. I believe that unless one is expert in touch typing, there is an inevitable interruption in the creative flow while searching for the next key, or checking spelling. I would use the net-enabled pen and paper to return literary quality to all my e-mails.
Mark Totton, Norway


My question is: Is it recyclable and affordable in Third World nations like where I come from?

Yosef Dabo, Nigeria
Obviously it would be just like old times. No whistling gadgets but plain old paper, sorry special paper. But my question is: Is it recyclable and affordable in Third World nations like where I come from.
Yosef Dabo, Nigeria

Very clever technology but e-mail is not a just a stand alone means of communication, it is part of a whole package. If the requirement is for a clear and informal link, then the the telephone must clearly win. Obviously any new technology represents a step forward and this is no exception, however, whilst there may be some merits, it's use will be limited, thus creating an impact on the commercial viability within the market place.
Dave Mann, UK

I use pen and paper for journaling. To be easily able to use my laptop for a mirror copy would be great. Good idea. I'll take one.
J Bumpass, USA

As a college student, I would use the Anoto pen in a variety of ways. Since I belong to many clubs and activities and there are many meetings to keep track of, I would make use of a planner application with the pen.

Another use that I have for the pen is to send handwritten messages to friends. It would be a thoughtful, affordable alternative to calling or e-mailing. I could use the pen during class to send copies of economics diagrams to my computer.

As the secretary of a few clubs, I would use the pen to send the minutes to a computer instead of having to type them up. All in all, I foresee a lot of good uses for the Anoto pen. I am excited about the new technology and hope to incorporate it into my life in the near future.
Lizzie, USA

I can add my "to do list" from wherever I am, and add new addresses phone numbers to my address book, as well as school assignments to my calender. This is a great way of reminding myself of all the small things that come up during the day.
Katarina Soderstrom, USA

The whole idea of advancing technology and computers is so that we move away from the more basic forms of communication, ie handwritten. Also with this new method it involves the use of more paper and yet more trees. Hardly a conservational good idea
Bob Springs, UK

This, perhaps, solves half of one problem - 2D input. I suspect that it doesn't capture pressure and angle or colour in any meaningful way. Missing: output. We still have to stare at low resolution displays, whether monochrome or colour. So, I'll vote for this as a PDA accessory, so we can ignore the tiny display screen on the PDA as an input device. Use the pen to write on paper and use the PDA to capture the notes and drawings.
Jeremy Chatfield, England

I currently can only send messages while sitting at my desk or in a hotel as long as I am online. From what I understand, this technology will allow me to send messages from anywhere as long as I can write on a pad and have my cell phone with me. Currently I use my cell phone and call whomever I have to send a message to and usually receive voice mail. This way I can write a note instead.


I would use it to send written prescriptions to the pharmacy. Such a thing might decrease fraud if the writer could be authenticated by something in the pen's software

Tom Arnold, USA
Further, I can store ideas and download them from my computer when I am near it - as good as calling my assistant and asking her to "make a note". I can take notes in presentation meetings and capture the essence of the meeting and sent it right away instead of transcribing the notes when I get back to my computer.

I can get messages to my staff for their quick response. It can impress clients to be that rapid. Taking hand written notes is much easier than sitting in a meeting and trying to type them.
Evan Weston, USA

I would use it to send written prescriptions to the pharmacy. Such a thing might decrease fraud if the writer could be authenticated by something in the pen's software. This pen might also allow for rapid generation of electronic medical records, or the ability to send patient encounter information to a referring physician.
Tom Arnold, MD, USA

I would use it for everything I do. I would write in my Franklin planner and have my agenda, tasks and daily notes automatically converted to the web. I would also love to see it integrated into advertising campaigns so if I saw an ad in a magazine and was interested in purchasing the product, I could simply fill in my personal information and automatically buy the product online.
Rebecca, USA

I think that it would allow me to send drawings, diagrams and other non conventional documents that do not work over traditional e-mail well.
Paul Carlson, USA


For me it would be useless. No one can read my writing anymore after 35 years of using a keyboard.

John, New Zealand
I will use it a lot for sending my handwritten graphical messages. Maybe also for signing payments, m-commerce.
Nino, USA

For me it would be useless - no one can read my writing anymore after 35 years of using a keyboard.
John, New Zealand

As a math teacher, I will find it easy to help students with their home work, or to tutor online. Otherwise, using e-mail will become as convenient as using your cell phone.
Bentley Bogle, Jamaica

You could sign your credit card receipt at a store and it could chat to a server to check that it is yours.
Mark Bishop, UK

I am a physicist and often feel lazy to type all the formulae to send to collaborators by e-mail. This pen would be great to just write those mathematical expressions as I do in my note book and just send them over.
Saurya Das, Canada

I used to take great pride in my handwriting. Now all my e-mails can have a truly personal touch. But oh no! It's been so long, I've forgotten how to use a pen!
Brian Ritchie, UK


You could sign your credit card receipt at a store and it could chat to a server to check that it is yours

Mark Bishop
What about vector graphics? SVG would be a great standard for this. In general, will XML based standards be used? Could this be bluetooth's killer app? I would use the pen to keep an online journal, a weblog, that ftp'd up anything I wrote.
Ale, UK

Surely this facility is dangerous when using the pen for one's signature, if it is transferred onto the internet
Graeme Kelly, Belgium

There is nothing quicker or easier for taking notes than a pen this sounds like a far more suitable method of sending messages than SMS or Wap e-mails.
Jey Malaiperuman, UK

This sounds like back to square one to me. I exchanged my typewriter for a word processor some 18 years ago, because I would no longer have to worry about how words were spelt every time I hit a key. Unless there is a spell check built into the pen gadget, or into the special paper, I won't be queuing up to buy one.
John Valentine, France

I will use the pen to the best of my ability in exploring more about the IT world and Internet and making the best use of the available facilities
Grace Soniran, Nigeria


I would use this pen to practice Chinese characters. A computer program could tell me if they were at least recognisable, and perhaps people on the internet knowledgeable about calligraphy would be willing to offer free advice

Fred Baube
I'll be eagerly waiting to see a commercial product of this unique pen. At the moment, for day-to-day short notes and non-english e-mail messages I use a writing tablet, which takes three steps in finally sending an attachment. Besides, as a doctor, I may find this new gadget more handy for wireless communication in the hospital for patient management.
Asif Iqbal, UK

Could it be used as a security aid when writing a cheque, to tell your bank to honour the cheque when presented as they will have foreknowledge of it? It might even replace the cheque completely.
Charles, UK

I would use this pen to practice Chinese characters. A computer program could tell me if they were at least recognisable, and perhaps people on the internet knowledgeable about calligraphy would be willing to offer free advice.
Fred Baube, Finland

Waste of trees. Working in IT, I've done very little writing, apart from scribbled notes. I can type much faster than I can write and more people can read it. I don't waste hours trying to decipher someone's handwriting. The sooner that writing in dead-tree format is obsoleted for good, the better.
Stuart, UK

I don't know, I have to admit that this little gadget looks rather enticing, and knowing me I'd probably get it just for the novelty aspect of it Nevertheless, I thought we were supposed to move to a paperless life-style.
Milan, Poland/Canada

As a writing teaching aid for children or indeed anyone with a need to learn or improve writing. For example, write c a t and a picture of a cat comes on the screen
Keith Robotham, Sweden

Combined with a digital camera, you could send handwritten, custom postcards from anywhere in the world
George Hollingbery, UK

Signature verification in shops. All to often shop assistants do not check your signature on the receipt. The pen could transmit your signature back to your bank for verification and storage. We could even get to the stage where we don't have to fill are wallets up with lots of receipts, it could all be on our banks web site.
Peter Ferguson, UK

If it is completely wireless then if you were stranded on a mountain you could use to contact the local Authorities and notify them of your location for a quicker and safer rescue..
Julia Mcdonald, Scotland


I would let my kids draw pictures for their grandparents. Does this come with colour?

Martin Willoughby
Schools in developing countries could benefit from this. They wouldn't have to splash out on many (sometimes expensive) PC's for a class of children. Instead one bluetooth enabled PC would suffice to record and forward information coming from many net-pens.
Cameron James, England

It has great use in the medical industry. All those handwritten prescriptions can be deciphered and sent tirelessly to the pharmacy where they could check for contra-indications immediately and then dispense the drug for use. The record could in parallel be added automatically to the patients records. This would better wirelessly enable the GP during housecalls. Plus it might stop pharmacy fraud.
Klynn Alibocus, UK

The pen could be used to confirm credit card transactions on the internet using signature comparison
Fergal MacDermott, N Ireland

I'd use it as a more personal way of keeping in touch with my friends in the US.
Martin Slaughter, UK

Reminds me of the anecdote about NASA when they were trying to develop the 'space pen' - one that would work in zero G. After months of no results, and millions of US tax dollars, they got no result, so they decided to consult the Russians. The Russians came back with a pencil.
Paul Hunter, UK

I do not ever see myself using the Chatpen or any similar device. I use a keyboard because even I cannot read my handwriting and my drawing talents are non-existent. Even 20 years ago I was resorting to typing notes to my secretary.
Tony Harvey, UK

I would let my kids draw pictures for their grandparents. Does this come with colour?
Martin Willoughby, UK

If it is as portable as it sounds I would use it to catch up with correspondence with my pen pals. It would also be useful if it had the function of converting selected sections of the text to a standard font whilst leaving signatures and personalised messages as they are written. Even a spell checker will come in handy.
Hazel, UK

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You can hear Jon every week on Go Digital, which is webcast on the BBC World Service site and BBC News Online every Monday at 1500 GMT.

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27 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
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