Thursday, June 3, 2004

The Pen is Mightier Than?

I've seen a lot of new technology innovations over the past 25 years and only a handful have really hit me with the big WOW. Those innovations were, in chronological order, the first windows interface, the Xerox Star workstation (1982); Version 2.0 of WordPerfect (1983 - trivia quiz about this at the end of the article); Microsoft Excel version 1.0 (1985); Windows NT operating system version 3.5 (beta-1993); and XML technology (1997). So you can see it's been rather a long drought since the last big thing hit me. I now have a new cool technology advance to report that's called the HP Forms Automation System. Bad name huh? HP has always been an engineering oriented company but somebody did come up with the LaserJet name so, there is hope for the future.

So what am I talking about? It is a new digital pen and forms system that has been developed by HP. The reason I am excited is that we in court automation have been searching for a long time for the answer to the in-courtroom data capture problem. Keyboard data entry has been too slow. We have even tried to install multiple PCs and courtroom clerks to keep up with the work. We have also tried touching screens and even bar-code technologies. Nothing has been satisfactory except for fast moving paper. I think this has great promise because it marries paper and the computer, so let me explain what it is.

There are three parts to the technology. First is a paper form. But this it is not just any paper form; it is what HP calls "Digital Paper." Using their forms design package one can design a form that creates gray and tan color boxes when printed on an HP color laser printer. These gray and tan color boxes contain an invisible pattern that makes each box unique on each sheet of paper that is printed. The forms can be blank or, can be filled in before printing with merged data such as the case number and judges and defendants name from the court's database.

Now we are ready for the magic. Once we take the form into the courtroom the judge or clerk uses the HP Digital Pen to write on the paper form. The Digital Pen contains a small electronic camera that "captures the written pen strokes, he time written, and stores them in the pen's internal memory." The pen remembers where it was on the form from the patterns printed in the boxes. When one is finished with the form you check a finished box and the pen responds with a slight vibration. It is fun the first time to feel this in your hand. At the end of the court session, the user then inserts the pen back into it's pen holder/re-charger cradle (USB connection) and all of the data captured by the pen is downloaded and digitally merged into the forms. There is enough battery power in the pen to last 8 hours without recharging.

The court now has the form and information captured in three formats. First, an original paper copy (with signatures); second, a digital imaged copy within the computer system, remember the tiny electronic camera in the pen; and third, a data copy. The data copy is created by using the system handwriting character recognition engine. So how does that work? I didn't mention earlier that when creating the electronic form template the designer can limit the responses allowed to be filled into the gray and tan boxes. This is similar to a drop down box on a computer screen form. By limiting the responses, the software narrows the possibilities and can determine what was written in that box or data field. We now have data capture. Wow!

There is a lot more information on HP's website at: There is also information about this and similar systems at:

I would love to see someone in the court technology community give it a try. If you have any questions or would like to talk to me about this article, please drop me an e-mail at:

Now for the trivia questions. First, why was the first release of WordPerfect for the PC called version 2.0? Second, what was the name of the company, that later changed to WordPerfect Corp., at that time? Send me an e-mail!

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