High-Tech Pen Makes Note-Taking Easier

A California company has invented a new pen. It features a camera mounted on the nib and a microphone that records audio, along with a docking cradle that allows uploads to a computer. But some note-takers still prefer quiet, old-fashioned pens and paper.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Savings to refiners. Oh, excuse me. I was just taking a note. We are, by the way, a species of note-takers. And today, there is a divide between people who take notes with electronic gadgets and those who use old-fashioned pen and paper, or just write on their hands for that matter.

A company in Oakland, California is trying to bridge that gap, and we have more this morning from Cyrus Farivar.

CYRUS FARIVAR: At the University of California Berkley, an Introduction to Anthropology lecture is just getting started.

Unidentified Woman: Here you see a (unintelligible) in what's known as a Skinner box.

FARIVAR: Sophomore Giordana Pepper is sitting near the front row with her laptop open. Her fingers glide across the keyboard.

Ms. GIORDANA PEPPER (Sophomore, University of California Berkley): I'm a very fast typer, and it helps because I can pretty much catch what the professor's saying and I just go at it. So, yeah. The computer's for me.

FARIVAR: Other students in the classroom are holding digital recording devices to capture the words of the lecture. Others are still using plain old pen and paper. No one's using a tablet PC, but that's another device on the market. It's a laptop with a screen that you can write on using a stylus.

Unidentified Woman: All right. We'll start that one again on Thursday. See you then.

(Soundbite of applause)

FARIVAR: Entrepreneur Jim Marggraff is trying to merge all these note taking tactics - writing with the hand, recording sound, and sharing the information digitally. He has a new invention called the Pulse Smartpen.

At first glance, his device looks like a large, fancy ball-point pen. And it is a pen with regular ink.

Mr. JIM MARGGRAFF (CEO, Livescribe): So if I now take my pen and I touch record at the bottom of the page, you'll hear a sound.

(Soundbite of beep)

FARIVAR: Marggraff is the CEO of Livescribe, the company behind the Pulse Smartpen.

Mr. MARGGRAFF: If I start to write on the paper - so I'll write Cyrus, C-Y-R-U-S. And I'll write two - two is Jim. And three - three, I'll write NPR. And I'll do a four. Four is pulse.

FARIVAR: The pen has its special powers when used on a certain type of paper printed with tiny dots. Marggraff says you can print out this dotted paper at home using a laser printer. A tiny camera mounted by the nib captures the motion of the ink and records what's being drawn or written. At the other end of the pen, there's a microphone. The digital recordings are linked to the words you write down, so later on you can tap the word in your written notes and the pen will play back the audio you recorded at that time.

Mr. MARGGRAFF: You're going to hear audio coming out of a speaker, which is being sent out from a pen which we just recorded. But I'll touch two again…

Mr. MARGGRAFF: Two is Jim. And three - three - three - three, I'll write NPR.

Four, I'll touch it.

Four is pulse.

FARIVAR: All of this can be downloaded to your PC using a docking cradle. But fanciness aside, many people still prefer the sheer simplicity of pen and paper, even Alex Pang, who's director of the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto. His job is to forecast future technologies, but he still prefers to take his notes with a pen and one of those moleskin paper notebooks.

Mr. ALEX PANG (Director, Institute for the Future): Well, one thing, I can drop my moleskin a whole bunch of times and nothing happens to it. So - as opposed to my fanciest cell phone, which every time I drop it, 100 bucks to change the screen. So that's a pretty big thing.

FARIVAR: The moleskin's also a bargain. The blank book cost Pang about $12.00. The Pulse Smartpen, when it comes out tomorrow, will sell for $150 to $200.

For NPR News, I'm Cyrus Farivar.

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