RFID pen to debut next week

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January 19 2005. A new RFID-enabled pen will be shown for the first time next week at the Paperworld exhibition in Frankfurt. Jointly developed by Dutch company Allwrite and Fisher SpacePen using SOKYMAT RFID tags, the pen offers a number of benefits other than the ability to write on paper. The idea behind the pen is that the RFID tag in it gives the owner a unique ID and can hence be used in a number of very useful ways. We're not so sure how useful it will be.

The manufacturers of the pen have used the following example in their press announcement: The Xerox Corporation gives to all visitors to a Printing Congress a Hi-Pen. One of them is Paul Smith.

At the entrance of the congress Paul presents his Hi-Pen with build in RFID to an electronic reader that recognises him as an invited guest for this congress.

It gives him access to an automatic gate, where the words, "Hi Paul, welcome to our Xerox Conference" on a bill-board appear. At the conference he makes notes with his Hi-Pen. By presenting his Hi-Pen to a reading device on the cash register at lunchtime, he gets a free lunch.

Later at a vending machine, presenting his Hi-Pen he gets a free coke. At the end of the congress at an unmanned desk he is asked to leave his Hi-Pen when he wants to receive a soft copy of the congress presentations. That same day this data is in his e-mail box. Some days later Paul receives a small parcel from Xerox in his mail box. It's his Hi-Pen again, now engraved with, "Paul Smith", together with a pen-stand also with his printed name on it, plus security software on a CD-ROM. The pen-stand plugs into the USB port.

Paul now has an easy and secure log-on tool for his desktop computer. The tedious log-on procedure is reduced to one simple operation "Paul puts his Hi-Pen into his pen-stand".

The rest of the process is done automatically. During a phone call Paul takes the Hi-Pen out of the pen-stand and makes a note in his private agenda. As long as his Hi-Pen stays within a short distance of the pen-stand, the presence of his Hi-Pen is still recognised by the stand. However, when Paul leaves his desk for a meeting he takes his Hi-Pen with him and the computer shuts down because the pen-stand doesn't sense the Hi-Pen anymore. EXAMPLE ENDS"

The company also cites several other useful uses for the pen. Such as being able to change the access codes on security doors with RFID readers to recognise the Hi-Pen and grant you access when you walk up to the door - essentially replacing what the company calls "outdated impersonal access codes, passes and plastic cards that are often are an annoyance to the user."

Gizmag is generally bullish about new technologies, but only if we think they're an improvement, and we're not sure about this innovation.

It obviously has little use for anybody who ever mislays their pen. Losing your pen or sunglasses or keys is a bummer, but not nearly as much as if the loss also steadfastly locks you out of your computer. On top of that, most offices have multiple pen thieves - seemingly honest people who are genetically programmed to pick up pens and cigarette lighters and put them in their pocket without conscious thought.

And the security manager for a building might not be all that enamoured with the thought of someone being able to steal your pen and render holes in his otherwise functional security system. Swipe cards at least can have photo identity and prominent display to prevent unauthorised usage. The pen does not need to be visible to be read by an RFID reader.

We're hoping that's not the full extent of the Hi-Pen's repertoire of useful tricks - stay tuned.

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