App lets phone users write in the air

Durham, NC – Engineering students at Duke University have created an application that lets users write short notes in the air with their phone and have them sent to an email address.

The application takes advantage of the accelerometers used in emerging cell phones to keep track of the phone’s movements and make it possible for the display screens to rotate from landscape to portrait modes depending on how the phone is rotated.

While this first generation application only allows the writing of short messages or simple drawings, it should soon be able to handle larger and more complex tasks, according to Romit Roy Choudhury, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“One of the efforts of our group is to take a fresh look at how people get their information into the Internet,” he said. “Today, especially now in the age of Twitter and micro-blogs, the speed in which you send information becomes more important,” Roy Choudhury said. “To be able to write quickly using only one hand would be very attractive to many people.”

The app has other limitations. Currently, air-writers must pause briefly between letters, which can slow the process down and rules out the use of cursive writing. Also, each letter must be written large. But improved algorithms and more sophisticated accelerometers are expected to fix these problems.

“We plan to further augment the pen with real-time feedback, character recognition and better support for drawing diagrams,” said Sandip Agrawal, electrical and computer engineering senior at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering.

The PhonePoint Pen prototype should be available for download within the next few months.