New tools keep users connected anywhere

New tools keep users connected anywhere


Workers in the field will be able to stay networked next year using tools ranging from ballpoint pens to satellites.

Swedish start-up Anoto Inc. is developing a pen-and-paper interface to the Internet using Bluetooth technology. Users will be able to save, fax and e-mail handwritten documents with the stroke of a pen.

An infrared device in the pen tracks its position 100 times a second as it writes, and data is stored in the pen.
The pens are expected to be available late this year, and manufacturers of a number of organizers will print their 2002 calendars on special paper that will let the analog versions interface with their digital equivalents.

Boeing Co. expects to begin providing in-flight Internet connections to some commercial airline customers by next year over high-speed, plane-to-satellite links. The 1.5 million federal employees who fly each year will be one of three market segments initially targeted for the company's new Connexion service.

The new services were outlined at the FOSE technology show in Washington last month.

The Anoto service resulted from efforts to create a mousepad that could track the absolute'rather than the relative'position of a mouse, company president Jan B. Andersson said. A Bluetooth-enabled pen uses an algorithm that tracks position on a unique dot pattern and transmits data to digital devices within the pen.

Close quarters

The key to the system is paper covered with a pattern of tiny dots printed one one-thousandth of an inch apart. An infrared device in the pen tracks the instrument's position among the dots 100 times a second as a user writes.

A storage device in the pen retains up to four pages of data. The dots must be printed in black carbon-based ink; noncarbon ink can be printed over the pattern without interfering with the pen.

The dot pattern can cover 73 trillion letter-sized sheets of paper before repeating, so a variety of applications will be able to convey large amounts of information using the same system. A number of patterns have been set aside for specific commands.

To transmit data, the pen must be within 30 feet of an activated Bluetooth device, such as a cell phone or notebook computer.

The pens are expected to cost about $200 apiece initially, but Andersson predicted the price would fall to between $50 and $100 when production picks up.

The Boeing Connexion service will work over distances considerably greater than 30 feet. Notebook computers, personal digital assistants or other digital devices will be plugged into an on-board Ethernet LAN at an airliner seat and link via satellite to a ground station, said Ken Medlin of Boeing commercial information systems.

Connexion already is offered for private jets, and Boeing is testing it on a 737 configured for commercial passengers.

'We're heavily engaged in negotiations with the airlines' and hope to have the service available on commercial flights sometime next year, Medlin said.

The company has leased Ku-band transponders on satellites covering North American and Atlantic air routes. Two phased array antennas on aircraft will provide satellite links. The antennas will give a 1.54-Mbps T1 uplink to the satellite, and a 5-Mbps downlink to the plane.

Medlin said Boeing hopes to be able to offer the service for $10 to $25 an hour.


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