August 27, 2006, Updated September 14, 2012

EPOS’s digital pen writes on any surface, and your words go straight into your word processing software – and it also doubles up as a wireless mouse. There is good news for people who are slow typists.

Inputting text into a document isn’t just about tapping on a keyboard anymore. If you just want to pick up a pen and have the computer recognize your writing, or you want to save the notes you are taking during a meeting, then the technology has arrived, thanks to Israeli company EPOS.

Without the need for tablet computers or specially-designed sheets of paper, EPOS’s digital pen writes on any surface, and your words go straight into your word processing software – and it also doubles up as a wireless mouse.

“Our company does something very simple,” says Boaz Schlesinger, EPOS’s vice president of marketing. “It is all about positioning: one thing is static and something else is moving.”

What doesn’t move is the base station, the size of a small matchbook, which clips to the top of a pad of paper or just sits on the table. The moving object is EPOS’s Digital Pen, and the two communicate using sound: acoustic signals which are too high for the human ear – and even dogs – to hear.

Sonar is how a submarine finds out what its position is in the water and what is around it: the sub sends out pulses of sound waves that travel through the water, reflect off the target and return to the submarine.

“Submarines were the first to use acoustics for positioning [around a hundred years ago] and there haven’t been any breakthroughs in acoustic technology since then,” Schlesinger told ISRAEL21C. “We call [our technology] digital acoustics.”

Using radio waves is the most common method of communicating between electronic devices, such as cellular phones and their base stations, or computers hooking into WiFi wireless Internet networks. But the benefit of using sound waves is that they are much more accurate in determining position – to several microns, which are millionths of a meter.

EPOS’s battery-powered Digital Pen, which is the same size as a large ballpoint pen, weighs 16 grams and also contains real ink so you can see what you’re writing. It has a transmitter in the nib which constantly sends a unique ultrasonic signal to the sensors on the USB clip receiver letting it know where the pen is. Because each pen sends a slightly different signal, one base station can ‘hear’ up to 96 pens or other devices.

The USB clip, which plugs into the computer’s USB port and has a retractable cable so it can be positioned a way away from the PC, follows the pen’s movements and transmits them straight to the computer screen, where standard handwriting recognition software translates the writing into text.

However, writing is not the Digital Pen’s only use – because the receiver recognizes movement in three dimensions the Digital Pen can also be used as a mouse by clicking a button on the side to put it in mouse mode. Pointing the pen at icons and clicking will open files, or drag and drop, or scroll the page up or down, like a standard computer mouse.

The Digital Pen is the first product from EPOS, which was set up in 2002 by three friends: Oded Eliashiv and Nathan Altman, who were at high school together, and Ran Raif. Eliashiv now serves as the company president, Altman, vice president of research and development, is the technology wizard, a graduate of one of the Israeli Defense Forces’ elite technology units, and Raif is the senior mechanical designer.

In 2004, Schlesinger, who was also in high school with Eliashiv and Altman, was brought in to run EPOS’s marketing, and, earlier this year, Oded Turbahn, previously president and CEO of Israeli optical sensor company Phone-Or, joined the company as CEO. In 2005, EPOS raised $5 million in funding from the Jerusalem Venture Partners venture capital fund, to add to the $1 million in seed funding that the company raised from private investors and Tel Ad Electronics.

With this funding, EPOS is continuing to develop a line of products based on the same underlying technology. The next to be unveiled, by the end of this year, will bring together digital acoustics and flash memory: a completely wireless receiver with a flash memory drive embedded in it so that you can take clip it to your notepad, take notes with the Digital Pen which are stored in the flash memory, and later plug the flash drive into your computer to download the notes.

EPOS are also taking on the lucrative touch screen market by doing away with the need for a specially-designed screen: “You clip the receiver to the top of the screen,” explains Schlesinger, and this turns any screen into a touch screen, with the receiver capturing the movements of the pen and translating them into actions exactly as if the pen had touched a point on the screen.

EPOS is in talks with screen and laptop manufacturers to embed the receiver in the screen – and this will work equally well for tiny screens such as those of mobile phones or PDAs, with a digital stylus instead of a pen.

Future products include a mobile joystick based on the same underlying technology, and perhaps a biometric product, which could authorize access using signature verification. The technology could also be incorporated into toys.

“We haven’t invented the market, we are just replacing the technology so it will be cheaper, more accurate and with a lower battery consumption,” says Schlesinger. EPOS has also been approached by members of the robotics and medical industries interested in the technology’s accuracy, but right now the company is focusing on the note-taking market.

“In a couple of years we may spin off several companies for different markets,” he says.

Pen-and-ink may never be the same again.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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