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Looking for an incremental revenue stream with a gee-whiz factor too?  A company called Adapx is rolling out a channel program for a digital pen that captures a user’s handwritten notes, stores them inside the pen, and then transfers them to the user’s PC once the pen is docked.

What’s more, the pen actually has ink in it, too, and the user writes on real paper. 

The device is actually a souped-up Fischer Space Pen that also includes an ARM processor, onboard memory and an infrared sensor.  By writing on watermarked paper printed from Adapx software that comes with the pen, or in preprinted books, the pen senses and records where it is on the paper and how it moves on the paper. Once docked, the pen transfers that information to the user’s PC. 

The entry-level model has an MSRP of $349, and the technology is now sold exclusively through channel partners. The company has not set any minimum sales for channel partners, and is offering channel partners a standard discount across the line.

Adapx is pitching the product both for general office use – it integrates with Microsoft’s One Note and Microsoft Office – and for more specialized applications such as geographic/geospatial information systems (GIS).

An Adapx-produced demo of how the technology, called Capturx, actually works is here.

“Our software not only generates that dot watermark pattern,” explains Ted Gauld, senior vice president of products and marketing for Adapx.  “It also relates that to whatever the original application was. When you connect the pen back into the dock, the information comes off the pen, and then our software puts it into Microsoft Office, or any Autodesk application, or other applications too.”

While Adapx is just beginning to market the Microsoft integration that was introduced in Fall 2007, the company has found initial success for its pens in industries that use mapping and GIS technologies.

For example, local governments and utility authorities have embraced the technology as a way for engineers to quickly capture map annotations while they are in the field. The engineers come to the site with a map that’s been preprinted with the watermark.  They write their annotations right on the map.  When they return to their offices they doc the pen and the map is updated.

A handful of solution provider Keck & Wood’s clients have started using the digital pen this way, says Tripp Corbin, vice president of GIS/Mapping for the Atlanta-based company that’s been working with Adapx for about two months. And the solution provider sees many new applications for the technology.

For example, recently several tornados went through Cherokee County, Ga.

“If we had this pen in the aftermath of this event we could have given it to police and fire crews,” Corbin says.  Then those crews could mark where on the map trees were down and power was out, “without trying to teach someone how to use a fancy GIS device. We could have been instantly been collecting data about where the damage had occurred.”

Corbin also sees the device as a way to digitally collect data from the non-tech savvy workers in his target industries.

“We thought it would be a big help for our client base who have a lot of people out in the field who are not super computer users,” he says. “And for several clients we are maintaining their data.  They use the pen, send the pen in to us, and we dock it for them and send the data back to them.”

The pen also has another benefit for organizations that employ many people in the field, according to Corbin.

“Field crews are horrible with mistreating equipment,” he says. “Now we can just give them a book they can write in it with this pen, instead of giving them PDAs which they are constantly breaking and need to replace.”

Adapx has also worked with Microsoft to make the technology compatible with OneNote, the company’s PC-based notebook software [see demo here] and Microsoft Office. Users take notes in their preprinted notebooks, dock their pens and their notes are automatically stored in OneNote.  By cutting and pasting, users can move the information into other Microsoft Office applications, and a tighter integration with other Office applications is likely coming, too.

End-user organizations may also want to use the technology as a way for people to fill out preprinted forms – automatically creating both a hard copy and a digital copy of the information that can then be sent to other applications.

Adapx’s technology came out of Oregon State University research into how teams collaborate and communicate. The company received grants from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the R&D arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, to further develop it for military use. Initial applications enabled troops in the field to record their movements and send the information back to commanders.

The products that are included in the partner program announced June 16 are

  • Capturx for Microsoft Office OneNote, which automatically converts field notes written on paper into digital data in Microsoft Office,
  • Capturx for Autodesk Design Review, which digitally enables markups, annotations, and redlines from paper versions of DWF drawings directly into AutoCAD and other Autodesk applications, and
  • Capturx for ArcGIS Desktop, which enables annotations and new features to be written on paper maps and automatically integrated in the leading GIS solution.

The Microsoft and mainstream commercialization of the product comes at the hands of two former Microsoft executives who joined Adapx over the last few years. 

CEO Ken Schneider served as a senior director of several organizations within Microsoft and also was a president and founder of Advantage Factory, a Microsoft-certified partner for professional services. Gauld, vice president of product management and marketing, served in a similar role at Microsoft for the company’s Windows Mobile team with a particular focus on taking the technology to market through channel partners.

Adapx is currently targeting those partners who have expressed a strong interest. And, Gauld says, while partners will always ask: “So what do you do for training?” especially partners in the CAD space where there’s some complexity, Gauld has found that question goes away when the partners see the product.

“When we give them the product they realize as long as you can take the pen out and write with it there’s no training necessary,” he says.