Technology of a smartpen: how it can change the way you take notes

Madeline Bombardi

You’re tired of traditional note-taking, and a ballpoint pen and paper feel outdated. The smartpen may be the solution. It provides the unique ability to not only take written notes, but edit, share and organize electronically.

There is a sector in the world of technology that aims to encourage creativity and education. The smartpen is used like a regular pen, but it is capable of transforming written word into digital text.

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Livescribe is a company that makes smartpens that are capable of turing notes into a pdf document. (Photo Courtesy of livescribe.com)
Livescribe is a company that makes smartpens that are capable of turing notes into a .pdf document. (Photo courtesy of livescribe.com.)

To date, there are roughly ten companies producing smartpens. One of the leading companies in the industry is Livescribe. They explain that the success of the smartpen works three-fold: the camera in the pen, the tiny dots on the paper and the computer embedded in the pen.

The camera takes 72 pictures a second and tracks a 6-by-6-inch grid formed by the dots. After the pictures are taken, the computer processes the information and compiles the images to create a digital copy of the page.

Another useful feature is the ability to record audio with the built-in microphone. For example, a student can write “exam question” on their paper, hit the record button on the paper, and the pen records while the professor lectures. When the student goes to review their notes, they touch the pen to the phrase “exam question” and the pen will replay the lecture.

Jamie Ruiz, a Colorado State University professor for the Department of Computer Science, explained how the audio links to the written word: “The neat thing is that the special dot pattern allows the pen to know where on a page it is within 1 millimeter … so that when you go back to your notes, the pen knows what audio file to play and which section to play.”

The dots create an (x,y) coordinate, so for example, if one writes and records in a given coordinate, the computer pulls the information from that spot. After the notes and audio are recorded with the pen, a student can then uploaded the information to an online account that acts as a storage facility for all the data. Here, one can organize their notes by class and date, edit the notes with new information and share notes via email or even Facebook.

Livescribe’s online software gives you three versions of notes: an exact photocopy of what was written, a text version of the notes and a version that combines both with digital text as a footnote at the bottom of the page.

Jill Goodwin, a CSU graduate student in journalism, has used a smartpen and said it enhances her learning.

“For me, I learn best when I take handwritten notes in class,” she said. “I also appreciate having the digital notes to make study aides from. As an added bonus, I am also able to record audio so if I miss a note in class, I can actually point to that area of my notes and playback the associated audio. It takes the stress out of trying to write so fast to get everything being said and I’m actually able to focus more on the class discussion.”

This technology is very beneficial for students — if a teacher is talking too quickly, a student can write a keyword and record that part of the lecture. It is also useful for students with learning disabilities or students studying abroad who have difficulty keeping up or are embarrassed to ask the teacher to repeat a portion of the lecture.

Teachers might favor the smartpen because it gives students more control over their notes without the distractions that laptops and tablets create.

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The smartpen is a useful tool in and out of the classroom. It can be helpful in work meetings, interviews and brainstorming sessions. The smartpen has been designed to help people be more efficient, creative and to aid in success.

Collegian Science Beat Reporter Maddy Bombardi can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @madelinebombard.