Digital writing tool aims to reduce paper

Allstream Inc. has unveiled a digital pen and paper system that the firm claims can streamline data entry and document retrieval for Canadian companies.

The telecom service provider demonstrated its new Digital Ink platform at the Canadian Telecom Summit last month. The system includes a digital ballpoint pen, PC and server software, as well as special paper. The platform essentially captures handwriting and stores documents in an electronic format. John Macdonald, Allstream’s president, said it’s no stretch for his company, known for its network services, to offer Digital Ink.

“The industry is going to have to move up the food chain,” Macdonald said. “I think the industry has to start speaking applications.”

During a Digital Ink demo, Rick da Silva, Allstream’s director, product management, pen and paper solutions, described how the system works. It relies on a high-tech pen that has old-fashioned ink and a tiny optical camera. The camera captures whatever the user writes on the special paper, which sports a predetermined template.

The paper template matches an XML document on the user’s PC. When the user puts the pen into its accompanying “ink well” — connected to the PC via USB — it sends the captured handwriting to the computer. The computer then displays on screen a virtual version of the paper-based document, with all of the user’s notes, signatures and such — a computer copy of the filled-out form.

The system translates the hand-written info into ASCII, excepting signatures, confirming with the user every time it comes across a character it’s not sure of.

The system’s administrator can edit the data once it’s saved to the Digital Ink system, but that editing feature does not affect the PC-based version of the original document. That iteration can’t be changed, which means signatures would pass muster with the courts.

“It has the same legal standing as a signature that’s been faxed in,” said Krista Jones, Allstream’s vice-president, business development.

Jones said users can capture information in the field, simply record the info on paper and in the pen, and upload the data directly to the system’s storage units via the PC.

Da Silva said Allstream has teamed up with a Toronto printing firm, Grenville, to help create the special paper that Digital Ink uses.A North Carolina-based company, Mi-Co, came up with the Digital Inn system. Da Silva said Allstream has been demonstrating Digital Ink, but no one has signed on to purchase the system yet. The system starts at $7,000.