IF YOU find being buried under the
mice, keyboards and all the other computer paraphernalia a little cumbersome
then take heart, because you are not
alone. Irritated by a clutter of similar
electronic gadgets an his desk, a
researcher at the Tokyo-based Sony
Computer Laboratories devised a quick
and easy way to move files from one
computer to another without ever
having to touch a mouse or a keyboard.
Instead, he uses a pen-like device to
'shift' a file icon off one computer screen
and transfer it to another. The file itself
is then automatically transferred between
the two computers over a network.
"I first thought of this when I was
using three computers on my desk at the
same time," says researchers Jun
Rekimoto. "There were three different
mice on the desk and I kept getting confused as to which mouse went with which
computer." The answer he has come up
with, called pick-and-drop technology, is
designed for a future generation of computers that will use the interactive screens now common in palmtop computers,
which allow users to write on them with a
pressure sensitive pen.
The pen-and-screen combination
used by Sony is a commercial product
made by the Japanese company Wacom.
Behind the screen is a low-power radio
transmitter linked to a microprocessor.
As the pen approaches the screen, a coil
inside it interferes with the transmitted
signal. By working out where the interference is coming from, the microprocessor works out the position of the
pen on the screen. However, the pen is
also identifiable: buttons on its side can
be pushed to alter the length of the coil
and its interference pattern, which
changes its identity (ID).
In Sony's system, tapping the pen
onto a file icon links the pen's ID code to
the file. Then, when the pen is tapped
against the screen of another computer
on the same network, the network's
server notes the pen's ID code, checks
which file it touched last and transfers
that file to the new computer. Files can
also be copied or cut and pasted this way
(New Scientist, Vol 160, No 216 1).
The system should be especially
useful for people such as those in stock
market trading and television editing,
who regularly have to use two or more
computers. Rekimoto, however, says
pick-and-drop could prove its worth in
any other office where people need to
exchange files frequently and also for
people preparing lectures and presentations. A speaker could connect his/her
laptop computer to a large interactive
display screen, known as a digital white-board, and transfer data such as text, video clips from it to the whiteboard
with the touch of the pen.
Sony's prototype has been developed on Mitsubishi palmtop computers, which are equipped with Wacom's interactive liquid crystal display (LCD)
screens. The company admits it is not
ready to commercialise the idea. "A lot
of decisions have to be made about an
application for the technology," says
Sony spokesperson Daniel Lintz. "It
takes time to transfer these kinds of
technologies to the development stage."
As part of the development process,
Sony wants to increase the number of
different pen ID codes - there are just
three at present - to make the system
practical for a large number of users on
the same network.