September 5, 2004, Updated September 13, 2012

The electronic pen developed by Pegasus makes it possible to write directly into a computer, wireless telephone, personal digital assistant (PDA), or mobile computer, and transmit the written material by e-mail or fax.Everybody from doctors, students, and law enforcement officials to insurance agents, messengers, journalists, and businesspeople frequently find themselves a slave to their computer keyboard – even in situations that are not very convenient.

But now, an Israeli-developed electronic pen will enable them to write on ordinary paper, and immediately transmit what they write to databases. The electronic pen developed by Pegasus makes it possible to write directly into a computer, wireless telephone, personal digital assistant (PDA), or mobile computer, and transmit the written material by e-mail or fax.

“The first system we developed was a mouse for three-dimensional games,” Pegasus cofounder and CEO Gideon Shenholz told Globes, describing the origins in 1991 of the company which then dealt in tracking and positioning systems at ranges of about one yard.

“We decided to switch to an electronic pen at a later stage. The transition required further development, because the technology needed for the electronic pen is more complex than the technology for a 3D mouse. A mouse doesn’t require maximal accuracy of movement. In handwriting, missing even the slightest movement will ruin what is being writing, and the signal processing must therefore be at a far higher level,” he added.

The electronic pen looks like an ordinary pen, with an ordinary refill and base unit that writes on paper. Electronic components are installed in the pen, including a small ultrasonic transmitter. The base unit’s electronic components include two ultrasonic receivers with very strong processing capacity.

“When the pen starts writing, the base unit follows its movement, and receives what it is writing through ultrasonic signals. Once the signals are received, the processor turns them into information about the precise location of the pen point on the paper. The processing unit continuously processes the data in order to obtain a continuous image of what is being written,” said Shenholz.

Pegasus now has two generations of electronic pens. A company named PCNoteTaker developed the first, and the second is called Mobile NoteTaker. The second was developed in cooperation with a Japanese company named Pentel, which makes writing devices, and invested in Pegasus a year ago. The difference between the two generations of pen is that the later generation provides the user with mobility, while the first generation requires the user to stay close to a computer.

“In the first-generation pen,” Shenholz said, “the information is transmitted from the base unit to the computer while the user is writing, sketching, drawing, etc. The connection between the base unit and the computer is permanent, and users can see on the screen what they’re drawing, while they’re drawing it.

“The second-generation pen, the Mobile NoteTaker, includes a memory, which makes users mobile. They don’t have to write next to a computer. They put the base unit next to the paper, and the material is stored in the base unit memory while writing is taking place. At a later stage, the stored material can be transferred to the computer (or to a wireless device, or to a PDA). The base unit has a two-megabyte member (about 50 A4-size pages). A larger member can also be developed at the customer’s demand.”

According to Shenholz, the system includes algorithms and application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) components, which facilitate low-cost processing.

“The idea is to create a system that is simple and inexpensive to operate, so that the pen can be sold at a low cost the price is $80 in the US and $100 in Europe. I expect the price to go down with time. Our goal is to reduce costs enough to allow us to sell the pen for less than $50,” he said.

According to marketing manager Assaf Yaari, the PC Notetaker will be available to American consumers in October.

“You’ll be able to walk into Radio Shack or your favorite computer accessory store and buy it on the shelf,” he told ISRAEL21c.

Shenholz said that with both generation of pens, the written material is transferred to computer through a wire, but with the third generation, the written material will be transferred through wireless communications either Bluetooth or radio frequency (RF).

An ultrasonic transmitter is installed in the tip of the pen, and two receivers are installed in the base unit. Since the signals are ultrasonic, and voice waves travel at about 300 meters per second, the system can receive the waves and calculate their propagation. Since each receiver is aware of its distance from the transmitter on the tip of the pen, and the distance between the receivers is fixed, triangulation can be performed, like sketching two arcs and finding their intersection point.

“Furthermore, the base station has a switch that identified the touch of paper. Only after the ink begins to flow does the base unit begin receiving the signal and processing the ultrasonic signals. The switch is programmed to identify the touch of pen and paper, while ignoring (not transmitting) when the hand is in the air,” explained Shenholz.

“The Mobile NoteTaker’s target markets are users who need to collect data from the field while being mobile, and transfer them quickly to information systems and databases. Students who need to sketch during a lecture can use a second-generation pen to transfer the material to a computer later. Doctors writing information during a visit, or following a test, can use it to transfer the information to the hospital database. Policemen who need to sketch a crime scene can transfer the sketch to databases, and many other users having to collect information from the field, and transfer the information to databases or their main office while it is being collected can use the pen.

“This is a very large user population, which includes surveyors, agents of express mail services, messengers, people who must obtain customer’s signatures on receipts of products, etc. I emphasis that for now, the pen is designed for enterprises,” said Shemholz.

At this stage, the electronic pen is designed for business enterprises and users, but its use will be extended in the next stage to a wide variety of household and individual applications. One application expected to gain widespread popularity is writing short messaging service (SMS) messages directly into a wireless device.

Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) manufacturers expected to join this revolution include wireless device manufacturers, which must now supply small, lightweight telephones with large screens. Transferring a large proportion of keyboard applications to the electronic pen will make it possible to restrict the telephone keyboard to dialing numbers.

Pegasus is not alone in this technology with the other main players being a company named Anoto and two South Korean companies, FingerSystem and NAVIsis. But Pegasus currently provides the most affordable solution, and has sold more than 300,000 units, compared with at most a few tens of thousands of units for the other companies.

According to Shemholz, Pegasus is currently offering the technology to wireless and PDA equipment manufacturers, wireless operators, hospital equipment manufacturers, and so forth to enterprises that can sell the system as a value added service to their customers. The base unit can hook up to a wireless device as an accessory, but can also be installed within the device, so that the wireless phone itself functions as the base unit.

“The technology has been greatly miniaturized, and can be installed in wireless phones without any problems of volume, weight, power consumption, etc. Furthermore, the base unit can be installed in certain models of wireless phones without significantly adding to their cost. Users working in the field can transmit the written material to their wireless phones or PDAs, and from there via e-mail or fax to the main office,” he said.

Shemholz said that one drawback to the system which will soon be rectified is editing capabilities.

“At this stage, everything written by the electronic pen, including the written material, diagrams, sketches, etc. is received as an image, not as typed material that can be edited. The system makes it possible to receive the material as data (a signature on a document, data written by agents in the field, diagrams, etc.). We believe that by the end of the year, we’ll have a system capable of identifying the written material as typed in a way that will accommodate editing, although initially this will be only in English.

“In order to develop this capability, we’re cooperating with companies that have developed handwriting identification software. Combining handwriting identification with our system will make it possible to obtain material from the pen as a typed word document. The possibility of turning material from the electronic pen into a typed document will open many new target markets to the system.”

(Based on a report in Globes)

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Jason Harris

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