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VR Interfaces: Livescribe Pulse Smartpen


Overview of Livescribe Pulse Smartpen
The smartpen is one of those gadgets that drifts from CES to CES without much headway on the market between them. First demoed at the 2008 CES, it appeared again in 2009, its makers Livescribe again attempting to pass it off as a new product. Perhaps the problem is the price?

The pulse is a pen, a biro which is held and written with like any other. However, unlike most, it digitally records every pen stroke, and picks up the audio in the room at the same time, linking the two together and storing them on an internal 1GB or 2GB flash memory system.

The pen uses paper with millions of near-invisible microdots printed upon it, and a tiny camera in the nib, which tracks the changes in ink between them, 72 times per second. To avoid problems, the dot pattern can be printed out by the user using standard copy paper, and a photocopier or inkjet/laser printer. Alternatively, pre-made notebooks can be purchased from the company.

As far as specifications go, the pen is 6 inches long, half an inch wide, like a boardmarker, and has a 96x18 OLED display printed on its side. Inside, either one or two gig of memory allows up to 200 hours of recording time, or 60,000 pages of notes. On top ofthat, it has two microphones embedded in it, and a separate microphone system the user can wear if they desire to pick up binaural sound in 3D space around them.

A small usb dock serves as both a charging centre and a data download port, connecting to the pen like a second lid. Bespoke software then translates the data stored on the pen into pictographic representations of the writing done with it - bad handwriting and dicey diagrams are perfectly preserved. Click on or highlight any part of the page, and the device will play back the audio that it picked up at the time. Alternatively, just play through the entire document. The program will highlight the scratch-marks as they were laid down, and playback the audio that occurred at the time, making it an ideal way to fully capture a conversation.

The software talks to whatever OCR software you have installed, directly, to transfer the notes across to a crisp font format. Alternatively, the self-learning handwriting recognition software allows you to search your notes for keywords, without converting it from tiff files to normal text. You can then listen to the audio around those searches, as normal.

Arithmatic services are also provided via the handwriting recognition functions. If you write out on the page, something like '13 x 4 =' then turn the pen, the OLED display will be displaying '52'.

The paper itself has a series of instructions printed at the bottom, using the company's specific style to look like buttons. Press the pen against one of these and it will obey the command on the page. Commands include 'record', 'stop', 'playback', 'mute', and language translation features.

The main problem as stated above, is the price. The cheaper model is $149 usd. That is for 1 gigabyte of space. The 2 GB model is $199. On top of that, the ink in the pens, ah, runs out eventually. Because of the amount of computerised hardware inside the pen, not only is the reservoir smaller than usual, but its fully integrated. If your pen runs dry, you need to buy another one.

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