Paint it on the Wall for Me, Paint it Digital

A few years ago, I visited an IT shop in Central Wyoming that had a smart whiteboard, and saw a bit of a demonstration of how it worked. We were considering the idea for the company I worked for at the time, but cost was the mitigating factor, as it common. The whiteboard was very neat, even at that time, and technology is moving forward quickly, so likely the ones you can get today are even more impressive.

The board looked much like the whiteboards many are familiar with, this one on a stand, but you can get wall mounted ones as well. It used the same whiteboard pens as a traditional whiteboard, writing on the board in the same manner, and cleaned off in the same manner. So far, just like a regular whiteboard in every way. What was done with the surface is where the difference came. The board used the surface to generate a digital image.

This was useful in two different ways.

First, it could be displayed remotely, allowing a whiteboard to be used in a video conference without the camera having to focus on the board, which isn’t always readable at the same angle and distance a camera following a presenter is. The remote audience could see the board as if the image was being written directly on the screen.

Second, the image, and video of the image, could be stored. This means you could take a snapshot of what was on the board for future use, or have a recorded video of the board as it was being used. This is very useful for recorded training, and also for brainstorming and other processes where you might want to review. On a regular board, to record the process would require a camera pointing at the board the entire time, and a snapshot would require manually taking a picture. This simplified both these outcomes, and gave you the image of what was directly on the board, without viewing angles or other complications.

One such whiteboard producer is SMART, a Canadian company. You can find them at their web page:

Consider for a moment, this idea. A board or device that isn’t limited to keyboard input or mouse type input.

Digital Tablets

You’ve likely seen drawing tablets for input to computers, which are a bit more useful for more free form applications. One example is those made by the company Wacom. They have been making these tablets for a long time now, and constantly improving them. You can take a look at their products on their website:

The style tablets they have been making for a long time are very good for what they do. You have a surface that you use a stylus on, the tablet and stylus, specifically a pen, as it’s shaped like a normal writing pen, not the styluses most people are used to, communicate to determine the pressure and location, and buttons on the pen work like mouse buttons. This works vary well, for instance, with tracing something you drew and digitizing it, though there are many other application.

The difference between such a tablet, of course, and the whiteboard I talked about above, is that with the whiteboard, you are looking at what you was creating while doing it. Using this type of tablet, the action is on the device, but the results are on the screen. With practice, this works well, but what if you want to see what you are doing below the pen?

There are a couple different ways to approach that problem, or likely many different ways.

Scanned Paper

One such way is by creating the image or work physically and scanning it. This runs into some issues when using a traditional scanner, as the detail and color aren’t always the best. But some companies have developed specific notebooks that are designed for specific scanners to recognize the paper in such a way to line everything up and get the best possible image. This allows both handwriting and drawings to be used, which has application in both art contexts and business contexts.

One example of this is a notebook that Moleskine worked together with Evernote to develop. Called Evernote Notebooks by Moleskine, these notebooks are a known size and include smart stickers to put on the pages to tell the Evernote Camera how to file them in Evernote and process them. A neat idea.

You can find out more here:

Smart Pens

This does, however, still introduce the issue of human error and a manual process to get what you write or draw into a digital form. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have it on your computer or mobile device in real time? You can.

A company called Livescibe created a smart pen. There are likely many other smart pens on the market, but this company gives a good example of the idea. They developed a specific type of paper, Livescribe Dot Paper, which the pen reads as you write and draw on it. The pen syncs this real time back to the computer or mobile device. The pen is a real pen, so you are writing or drawing directly on paper and getting both a physical and digital copy of it in real time.

They also have some other products including the Echo Smartpen, which works the same way but stores the image in the pen to by synced by USB at a later time, and the Sky Wifi which records both what is written or drawn and the sound that is going on, allowing you to speak while writing and save both. These are synced into Evernote over Wifi, rather than to a device or computer, the notes then being available from anywhere.

The Dot Paper can either be printed, or you can buy notebooks. The pens use replaceable and exchangeable ink carterages, in blue, black, or red, so you can use one pen with multiple colors. Though I’ve been unable to find red for the Livescribe 3 smartpen, only for the Echo and Sky Wifi pens.

You can find out more about Livescribe at their web page:

Moleskine also worked with Livescribe to join the idea we discussed with the Evernote Notebook with the realtime input of Livescribe. It’s a very neat product, because the combination of the Livescribe and Moleskine products gives a feel very much like you might be familiar with in taking notes and jotting down ideas and concepts before you started attempting to do all this digitally with the ability to do just that. You can read more here:

Digital Painting

The ability to draw or write and have the results on your device or computer in real time is very impressive, but these smart pens are limited to ink and a point like a normal office pen. What if you like to paint or similar, and don’t want a precision pen with ink, but a brush?

One solution to this is to use a device with a touch screen, like most phones, tablets, and some computers now, with a stylus that instead of a point has a brush head. This basically allows you to paint directly on the touch screen. Rather than reiterate what has been discussed elsewhere, I’ll point you to this review of several such products:

This of course doesn’t give your the physical reality of painting on paper or other mediums the way Livescribe does for writing and drawing or the way a smart whiteboard does with markers. I’d like to see a product like Livescribe but with painting, allowing you to actually dip the brush and paint on paper and have it digitize, but to my knowledge there isn’t such a product yet. Water soluble paints could theoretically be used on a smart whiteboard to similar effect, since it relies on the surface, not on the pen. This would not be permanent like the Livescribe idea, but doable until someone develops smart paper or a smart paint brush.

Smart Paper

Smart paper is what I’d really like to see, paper that functions like a smart whiteboard to similar results as a smart pen, so you can write, draw, paint, or use pastels or charcoal, the medium not mattering, and anything put on the paper is transmitted to the computer or device. This would allow traditional art to continue while integrating with modern technology, and would have application in many areas. This idea has been present in science fiction writing for some time, and I believe we are close if not already there technology wise.

Can you image a flip chart of smart paper on the wall, where you can draw or sketch or scrawl ideas like you would with a normal paper one, tearing them off when you’re done, and have both a physical and digital
version of them? And that someone could see remotely in real time as if it was being done on their screen? A master painter being able to paint with the painting displayed real time on a monitor across the world? Doctor’s charts on a clip board that they could take notes on and the computer system would have those notes in real time without anyone having to manually scan or copy them? The possibilities are endless.

~Bethany Davis
Caer Illandria Enterprises

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