Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Coolest Thing Since Pen & Paper: LiveScribe

Sometimes I just want to hug myself and say, Man, I am so glad to be alive in the knee of the curve! The curve I'm referring to is the one that represents accelerating technology. (See Singularity & The Price of Rice to read a 5-minute primer on the topic if you aren't familiar with it.)

What's got me so excited? It's a brand new invention that's highlighted in the New York Times.
Now Jim Marggraff, an entrepreneur with a long string of successful innovations, say he thinks he has figured out the secret of pen computing — and he has done it by playing with toys.

Mr. Marggraff, a longtime executive at the toy maker LeapFrog, is the inventor behind a string of talking books, smart pens and other educational toys that have made their way into millions of American homes.

His new company, Livescribe, which he plans to introduce today at the D: All Things Digital technology conference in Carlsbad, Calif., has taken some of those technologies several steps further. It has created an ambitious new type of pen-based computer system that, if successful, could bridge the gap between paper and the digital world and perhaps even change the way millions of people interact with the Internet.

This animation shows (in a kind of dorky way, I'll admit) what LiveScribe can do.
Instead of forcing users to write with a stylus on a computer’s slippery display, Livescribe put the computer inside a plump ballpoint pen that is used on paper imprinted with nearly invisible miniature dots. As a user writes, a tiny camera near the pen’s tip watches those dots go by, recording what is being written.

Mr. Marggraff said calling it pen computing is a misnomer. “We are creating paper-based computing,” he said.

In addition to the camera, the pen, which is about the size and weight of a fat Montblanc pen, has two microphones to record sound, a speaker for playback, a small display that Mr. Marggraff calls a pixel bar, and, of course, a hidden computer chip and other sophisticated electronics. It fits into a docking station, where it can upload or download programs and data files to and from a PC.

They say the pen will sell for less than $200 and will be available this fall. Count me in!

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