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Student builds magnetic pen for smartphones

Posted: 29 Jul 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology  MagPen  magnetometers  stylus 

A researcher from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has developed a magnetically driven pen interface that works both on and around mobile devices. The interface, called the MagPen, can be used for any type of smartphones and tablet computers so long as they have magnetometers embedded.

Almost all mobile devices today provide location-based services, and magnetometers are incorporated in the integrated circuits of smartphones or tablet PCs, functioning as compasses. Taking advantage of built-in magnetometers, graduate student Sungjae Hwang's team came up with a technology that enabled an input tool for mobile devices such as a capacitive stylus pen to interact more sensitively and effectively with the devices' touch screen. Text and command entered by a stylus pen are expressed better on the screen of mobile devices than those done by human fingers.

The 'MagPen' utilises magnetometers embedded in smartphones, thus there is no need to build an additional sensing panel for a touchscreen as well as circuits, communication modules, or batteries for the pen. With an application installed on smartphones, it senses and analyses the magnetic field produced by a permanent magnet embedded in a standard capacitive stylus pen.

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Figure 1: Bezel dragging and spinning a stylus pen to select the thickness of the lines.

"Our technology is eco-friendly and very affordable because we are able to improve the expressiveness of the stylus pen without requiring additional hardware beyond those already installed on the current mobile devices. The technology allows smartphone users to enjoy added convenience while no wastes generated," the researcher said.

The MagPen detects the direction at which a stylus pen is pointing; selects colours by dragging the pen across smartphone bezel; identifies pens with different magnetic properties; recognises pen-spinning gestures; and estimates the finger pressure applied to the pen.

With its spinning motion, the MagPen expands the scope of input gestures recognised by a stylus pen beyond its existing vocabularies of gestures and techniques such as titling, hovering, and varying pressures. The tip of the pen switches from a pointer to an eraser and vice versa when spinning. Or, it can choose the thickness of the lines drawn on a screen by spinning.

"It's quite remarkable to see that the MagPen can understand spinning motion. It's like the pen changes its living environment from two dimensions to three dimensions. This is the most creative characteristic of our technology."

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