HP, Nokia mobilise the digital pen

HP's "digital pen" technology is going on the road with a little help from Nokia.

The digital pen is a real ink pen that takes 100 pictures per second to digitally record what the user is writing. A new model from Nokia can send that information via Bluetooth to a Nokia phone and from there to a server over a standard mobile data network.

HP and Nokia teamed up to add more mobility to a system that was designed to quickly and efficiently transfer information from paper forms to databases, according to vice-president and general manager of HP's Digital Pen and Paper business, Eric Chaniot, said.

HP's current digital pen uses a cradle wired to a PC via USB (Universal Serial Bus). Users have to put the pen in the cradle in order to upload data.

The key markets for digital forms are health care, manufacturing, financial services and government, where transferring information from paper forms to computers typically costs about $US1 per page and causes delays in work processes, Chaniot said. Digital pen technology takes that cost down to about $US0.25 per page, according to HP. By going mobile, the companies hoped to make digital forms useful in many new settings, Chaniot said.

For example, nurses and doctors making rounds, claims adjusters in the field and building inspectors will be able to send information back to a database as soon as it is entered on a paper form.

The system is built around a server application called the HP Service Controller and includes HP LaserJet printers that can print digital forms, as well as software for transforming an enterprise's existing paper forms in to digital ones. A user can fill out the paper form and then send all the information on it to the Service Controller from any remote location served by a General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) mobile data service.

Every part of the system is built around a grid. The HP printers can print a background grid on each individual form, in regular black ink, to map the location of every element of the form. The Service Controller understands that grid and uses it to make sense of the data it gets from the pen.

In addition, each copy of each paper form has a unique identity, defined by its position on a virtual grid of all the forms printed out by that enterprise. That grid, in turn, is part of a massive virtual grid of all forms printed out using the Mobile Forms Initiative technology.

That "super" virtual grid had trillions of possible forms and would be as big as Eurasia if it were reproduced in the real world, Chaniot said.

That "super" grid is designed to keep each form unique, to prevent mixups with critical forms such as medical records, Chaniot said.

Enterprises could recycle the unique identity of a form if it doesn't have to be saved, he said. For example, records from clinical trials need to be saved for decades but an insurance claim form might not be needed after it was settled.

There were 18 LaserJet models available now that could print the special digital forms and most future models would have the feature, Chaniot said.

The pen hae a rechargeable battery and can store 1MB of data, good for about 40 typical pages, before it has to be sent, worldwide manager of sales development for Nokia, Jukka Hieta, said.

On most forms, users will start recording their writing by touching the pen to a "start" box and send the data by touching a "send" box.

Each pen has a unique four-digit identification number and requires a password for use, which is entered on the phone.

If a pen was lost or stolen, it could be deactivated, he said.

Though today the pen works only with Nokia phones, in the future would be tested with the HP iPaq Pocket PC h6300 series phone and other HP products, Hieta said.

The system is available now. Currently it supports a variety of European languages, and support for some Asian languages is planned, according to Chaniot.

The pen can be purchased from Nokia's Web site for about $US199 but would usually be sold as part of a package put together by a reseller or system integrator, Chaniot said.

Packages for large enterprises, including the server, pens and software, probably would start at about $150,000, he said.

In addition, some enterprises would buy the pens and infrastructure as a third-party service, which would cost an estimated $US39 per pen per month, Nokia's Hieta said.

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

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