Ericsson sees future for electronic pen

L.M. Ericsson Telephone has taken a minority stake in a small Swedish startup set to launch an electronic pen designed to send messages via infrared transmission to a PC, mobile phone or personal digital assistant.

The Swedish communications equipment vendor last week announced it invested an undisclosed amount in C Technologies AB, of Lund, which is set to launch what it calls C Pen.

Ericsson will both market the product and help develop it further, according to Peter Bodor, press officer with Ericsson Mobile Communications AB. One possibility is that Ericsson will incorporate the wireless transmission protocol, Bluetooth, into C Pen. Bluetooth is a standard being developed by Ericsson and other vendors, and uses radio technology to send voice and data between mobile devices.

Ericsson will begin marketing C Pen under its own name sometime in 1999, Bodor said.

In the meantime, C Technologies will ship the first version of its product to Swedish stores, according to Magnus Manhem, vice president of marketing with C Technologies. The pen will also soon be sold in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Germany.

The company sees its target market as business people on the move, such as lawyers, journalists or researchers who need to read a lot of printed material, remember it and subsequently work on a computer with the text, Manhem said.

The pen can either be used as a computer with limited functions in it own right -- it is equipped with an Intel StrongARM processor -- or to send files to a PC installed with Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT software. A later version still in the testing phase will be able to send files to a mobile phone or personal digital assistant.

To save printed information, users simply scan a text with the pen. Equipped with a tiny digital camera, the pen photographs the text, then converts it into text files in the ASCII format, using optical character recognition software.

C Pen stores up to 6M bytes -- or 3,000 letter-sized pages -- of text in its memory. It has a limited number of functions that can be accessed via a four-line display screen. Using a navigation control button, the user can name and even edit the files, for example, although it is much easier to do so on a PC, Manhem said.

To send to a PC, users click on an icon on the Windows display, activating the software, which enables the PC to pick up the infrared signal. The infrared signal can reach a device up to several meters away, according to Manhem.

"It's the same concept as the remote control on your television," said Manhem.

The company claims the device is the first of its kind to use a digital camera, although Siemens AG recently launched a competing product, according to Manhem. That product uses a built-in scanner, and must be linked via cable to the PC to send the files, according to Manhem.

British Telecom PLC is also working on a similar device, which is not expected to launch for several years.

By next year, C Technologies wants to expand the pen's functions to allow it communicate with mobile phones and send faxes, text messages (using the mobile standard Small Messaging Service) and e-mail. Other features planned are a built-in dictionary that translates text, a digital address book, an electronic calendar, and a function which allows users to write with C Pen, by forming letters or characters on a paper. These will be interpreted as text and shown on the pen's display.

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