The US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Microsoft earlier this quarter that revealed an advanced stylus with an integrated optical system that would include a projection system. Microsoft believes that the new optical stylus will finally give the stylus a much more natural pen-to-paper experience. This next generation optical stylus will also be able to double as a pointer on a presentation display or television. And lastly, users will be able to use the stylus in combination with in-air wrist gestures to make it perform tasks on a tablet much like a mouse with a notebook.
Microsoft Advances the Stylus by Integrating a Projection System
Conventional styluses have limited functionality when used at a distance from a display device of a computing device. In addition, digital ink traces made by a traditional stylus are not applied in a manner comparable to physical markings made by a pen, paintbrush, or other writing instrument, which may make writing with a traditional stylus feel unnatural.
Microsoft's patent is about new optical stylus interaction techniques. The environment described for optical stylus interaction enables a writing mode that emulates natural writing by mapping different interpretable images to changes in pressure applied to the stylus when in contact with the display. For instance, a stylus may include a pressure switch in its tip that measures discrete pressure levels applied to the tip. The stylus may be configured to project different images for different pressure levels. Accordingly, the computing device may adjust attributes of digital ink traces in response to writing pressure changes in a manner that emulates natural writing.
Microsoft's patent FIG. 1 is an overview of this next generation stylus with an integrated projection system.
Microsoft's patent FIG. 2 noted below is a schematic illustration showing implementation details of an example of stylus. In the depicted example, the stylus includes a projection system that may be configured in various ways to project images for detection and interpretation by a computing device.
As illustrated above under patent point #124, we see an image that is projected onto a display device having optical sensors (such as a Sensor-In-Pixel (SIP) panel). The image can be optically detected based upon differences in illumination at the surface of the display. As represented in FIG. 2, the projection system may include a light source (see #202 above) and one or more image elements (#204) that can be employed to form a projection (#206) of an image (#124K). The mages may include holographic images, digital images, glyphs, icons, patterns, pictures, arc and line combinations, and/or other suitable images that may be projected via a projection system of this advanced stylus.
The light source may be a laser, such as a vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) or other suitable semiconductor laser diode. Other types of projection systems are also contemplated including laser systems, LED systems, and typical digital or analog projection systems suitable to project images from a stylus to a target. In at least some embodiments, the projected images are invisible to the human eye such as being infrared (IR) projections although visible projections and images may also be employed.
The Different Modes of the Advanced Optical Stylus
Microsoft states that different operational modes may generally include at least a hover mode or cursor control mode used to interact with a device from a distance and writing mode that may be activated to apply digital ink traces for writing, painting, and drawing in some scenarios.
In hover mode, the stylus may perform control functions through optical interaction to manipulate operations of a device including controlling applications and user interfaces of the device. Some examples of control functions include controlling a cursor, menu navigation, input of stylus-based gestures, and so forth.
The user will also be able to use this advanced stylus to perform in-air gestures that will act like a magic wand, describes Microsoft. A user may point, wave, flick, rotate, and otherwise manipulate to cause corresponding actions by a computing device based upon decoding of one or more images projected from the stylus in response to manipulation of the stylus.
The hover mode may be supported in a defined zone extending out from the display surface and at a distance from the display. For example, hover mode and corresponding optical interactions may be enabled at a range of distances from at an inch or so above the display surface to several feet from the display, and even at greater distances.
Rotating In-Air Gesture
Microsoft states that when using the optical stylus in hover mode, a twisting or rotating gesture in which the stylus is rotated around the z-axis may drive forward and back navigation between different pages for a browser, presentation, or electronic book. Other possibilities include the following:
A wrist flick gesture may be configured to select an item and/or open an item.
In paint mode, a wrist flick gesture may cause a spattering pattern of ink traces to appear like spattering paint
Waving the stylus up/down or left/right may cause a scrolling like response.
Moving the stylus up and down in the z-direction may cause zooming in and out.
In writing mode, a twisting or rotating gesture may facilitate selection of different writing/drawing attributes
A sweeping gesture may operate an erase function.
In the end, a variety of stylus-based gestures may be implemented of which the gestures enumerated above are but a few illustrative examples.
Microsoft states that the computing device can be more than a tablet as illustrated in that patent figures. The device may also be implemented as the a mobile phone, portable music player, portable gaming device, a multi-screen computer, and so on.
More interestingly, the computing device may also be implemented as the television class of device that includes devices having or connected to generally larger screens in casual viewing environments. These devices include televisions, set-top boxes, gaming consoles, and so on.
And lastly, the functionality of the image decoder module of the advanced stylus along with other modules noted in patent FIG. 1 above, may be implemented all or in part through use of a distributed system such as a "cloud" service.
Microsoft filed their patent application under serial number 371725 back in Q1 2012. The patent was published by USPTO earlier this quarter. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
For the record, Microsoft has filed a number of recent ePen and/or next-gen Stylus patents last year that are worth noting. Here are a few of the more focused ones:
- Microsoft Advances Next-Gen ePen with Multi-Touch & Beyond
- Microsoft Utilizes Military Technology to Reinvent the Stylus
- Microsoft's Surface Tablet to use Next-Gen Touch Technologies
- Microsoft Invents Fingerprint ID for the Stylus & More
- Microsoft Invents New Cooperative Touch + Pen Input Mechanism
If they ever delivered an ePen with all of the ideas incorporated in the patents noted above, they'd sure have one super iPen on their hands. But knowing Microsoft, we'll be lucky to see just one of the ideas get off the ground ... in the next decade.
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