For decades, engineers have been trying to figure out how to turn our pen strokes into usable data. In other words, I write something down with a pen and the image of what I wrote is not only captured as an image that can be stored in the computer, it might even be recognizable for searchability later (about the only real reason handwriting needs to be recognized). Tried as they did, company's like Go Apple (remember the Newton?), and others launched a variety of tablet like devices that were never quite able to recognize what we wrote.
To some extent, Graffiti fixed the problem. Instead of changing computers to recognize all sorts of different handwriting, Graffiti essentially changed people by getting them to write differently. Although Graffiti, which got most of its traction in Palm (PDA) devices, survives to this day, the population of Graffiti users is slowly dying off as they migrate to thumb-board based devices such as Palm Treos, BlackBerries, Motorola Qs, Samsung BlackJacks, a slew of cool devices from HTC, and others. Except for a few pockets of vertical applications, digital ink was pretty much one of technologies lost stepchildren until Microsoft launched the tablet edition of Windows XP.
But there are still downsides. You still needed a special tablet PC. Not only do tablet PCs cost more, they're more complex (increasing opportunity for malfunction) and they only come in a notebook form factor which means they draw more battery power and desktop users can't take advantage of the technology.
But what if there was a way to capture the pen strokes you make using the low-tech combination of ordinary pen and paper? Gone would be the complexities and cost of expensive tablets. Issues relating to battery life would go away. Desktop users would have a way of bridging handwriting to their systems as well.
Enter EPOS' Digital Pen.
The Digital Pen (pictured left) comes in two parts. The first is a combination of a thumb drive and a scanner that clips onto the top of any piece of a paper, and the second is a pen that writes in ink but that's designed to have its strokes monitored by the scanner at the top of the page. At some point after you're done writing (you can move the scanner to fresh pages and the scanner/thumb-drive combo can hold up to 1000 handwritten pages of content), you take the device and simply plug it the USB port on your notebook or desktop where the files can be opened as images. When it works perfectly, the images in the files that you open will look just like the ink on the paper. When it doesn't work, you may see fragments as I did in my short test while giving the Digital Pen a try at the Consumer Electronics Show. One reason this may have happened is that I'm a lefty and lefties often write with the back of their hand facing the top of the page where, in this case, it would obstruct the view of the scanner.
When I adjusted my writing style, the Digital Pen did much better. EPOS doesn't offer its own handwriting recognition software which means you have to turn to a third party recognition engine such as Microsoft's. To what businesses would the Digital Pen be well suited? Well, perhaps in ones where a lot of handwriting takes place and, at the bare minimum, it's better to store it digitally than on paper. For example, at law firms or in doctor's offices. I'm sure there are many other applications. Anyway, here's the video from CES: