Penx digital pen makes secret agent or plain old field work easy

EVERETT — Imagine a pen that can record what you write as you write it then send the notes you take to a remote location at your command.

Meet the new Bond gadget: the Penx digital pen by Seattle-based Adapx.

If Ian Fleming were alive today he might choose such a pen to write his next novel.

Like the gadgets “Q” issued to 007 for his next mission, the Penx is advanced. It comes with an onboard infrared sensor and a StrongARM processor. Its sleek shape makes it a predictable sidekick for a Bond-type operative. And, it’s Bluetooth enabled.

“I saw the pen at a trade show last fall,” said Jake Jacobson, who added “I’m old but I’m not afraid of new things.”

Jacobson, a fish biologist, is one of the watershed stewards at Snohomish County’s Surface Water Management program where they work with complex maps to track natural resources and deal with salmon and water quality issues.

“We do a lot of field work, and taking good notes is important. The pen is used to take notes, but it also grabs what you write and boom, it’s converted to an electronic document when you dock the pen,” Jacobson said. “It’s very cool.”

Jacobson said his division bought three pens and were given Beta copies of Adapx’s software called Capturx, which his division is evaluating. The software prints notations onto regular maps. He called the character recognition pretty good, though not perfect, adding it could have something to do with “my sloppy handwriting.”

He noted that a dead battery in his computer can kill a day’s work. “The advantage of the Penx pen is that you can always use it as a regular pen and thereby still get a paper copy, as a backup,” he said.

I also found the pen to be simple and intuitive to use, from software installation to note taking in the field. In fact, it does almost all the work for you. It even turns on by itself when you remove the cap.

During a recent test at the Green Festival in Seattle, I found the Penx to be a capable partner. It was lightweight and comfortable in my small hands. It weighs only 1.06 ounces.

An important feature, it didn’t ask me to change my note-taking habits. I wrote on paper and the pen stored my notes on an internal 1-megabyte memory chip, where information can be stored for up to 10 days before the battery needs recharging. That equates to approximately 20 pages of notes on a normal sheet of paper.

The Penx has a casing that is durable and its lithium-ion battery is dependable and rechargeable. The “all-weather digital Journalx” and ink made by Tacoma-based Rite in the Rain is weatherproof.

One of the things that intrigued me most about the pen’s technology is how it works with the digitally encoded paper pioneered and made by Anoto. Penx’s Journalx uses Swedish-based Anoto’s digitally enhanced dot pattern technology in its paper.

“The pattern is almost invisible to the naked eye, and consists of numerous intelligent small black dots that can be read by a digital pen. What’s more, the pattern on each paper has a unique identity so that each page can be kept separate from another.”

The dot pattern is dense, 1,200 dots per inch. This makes the pen precise. And that’s the point.

The pattern and density make it possible for the pen to read a location on a page to within 0.2 millimeters and identify precisely on which page the data is located. This means the pen is able to take a “picture” of exactly what you write, including very fine lines on note pages, maps or architectural drawings, for example.

The pen records what you write using an onboard infrared sensor, said Ken Schneider, chief executive of Adapx, the software company that sells the pen. It’s also equipped with an infrared light that illuminates the dots on the Anoto paper. As the pen moves across the page it stores the grid locations of the pen tip and the sensor picks up that information.

With Adapx Capturx software that Jacobson uses, the pen’s stored coordinates are used to reproduce the writing or sketches you’ve made in a new document or an existing file such as a drawing or a map.

When I returned from the Seattle festival I was delighted to discover that the Penx pen had captured exactly what I wrote in the field book. It had taken a “picture” of what I had written including all of my mark-outs, scribbles and margin notations.

Penx is password protected, making it virtually impossible for anyone to penetrate. I actually locked myself out of the pen when I forgot my password, but a customer service representative helped me reset it.

The complete package, including the Penx digital pen, Capturx software, all weather Journalx, docking station and USB cable retails for $249. A bargain for all the work it does.


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