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Smart Paper

By LEG [leg@telekabel.at]

One of the outstanding products of TL8 science is Smart Paper, a material that looks and feels very much like thick, glossy paper, but is actually a controllable display surface. It combines the advantages of paper and screen, and has countless applications. There are several ways to make Smart Paper. Some manufacturers use thousands of tiny spheres with one dark and one bright hemisphere embedded between thin polymer foils, others make sheets out of crystal particles that can assume a certain color and level of brightness and maintain it without power.

There are two versions of Smart Paper: Normal and Advanced.

Normal Smart Paper is early TL8 and cannot change very quickly. Its surface can change many times per second, but not quick enough for video applications. The resolution of Normal Smart Paper is equal to that of a 20th century newspaper.

Normal Smart Paper has only very crude sensors to detect stylus movements on its surface. It can function as a simple touch screen, but writing can only be recognized with a Smart Pen, and it does not react very quickly. Users scribble on a small writing pad at the bottom of the page, which offers a quicker response.

Advanced Smart Paper is available at late TL8 or early TL9. Its resolution is like that of a modern high-quality art book, and it can change so quickly that it can be used to display video images in perfect quality.

Advanced Smart Paper has a fine latticework of sensors that can detect the movements on a stylus with a special electrically conductive tip (a dozen cost $50) or a Smart Pen. The overall quality of handwriting recognition depends on the Computer attached to the Smart Paper sheet. See Handwriting Recognition below.

Smart paper requires only minute amounts of energy, and all this comes from a tiny solar cell in one of the corners of a page or on the cover. Smart Paper can maintain its content without energy, but the quality of the image degrades after a few months. GMs take note: The good old barely-legible treasure map, the mainstay of many adventure stories, makes its comeback in the computer age as Smart Paper that has been in a dark corner for too long.

Smart Paper Products

Smart paper is available in several forms. The GM should use this list only as a rough set of guidelines, as the possibilities are endless. All Smart Paper items can be mistaken for normal paper, and are normally clearly marked with logos or colorful borders to prevent accidental destruction.

Operating Systems and Input

Book Computers with Smart Paper interfaces require unique operating systems. Alexandria, by Wise Systems, is the most important. Naturally, the system divides the book into chapters. It provides a table of contents and an index, both normal (written over several pages) or searchable. It arranges documents over the pages, presents controls as forms or interactive images, sets and manages hyperlinks and bookmarks and lists of the pages that were last visited and their content so the user can always flip to a page and find the right content, even if  part of the layout has been changed. It lets programs that are not designed for Book Computers run on a page as if it were a normal screen.

Loading Data

Smart Books upload data with standard Datacables (p. UTII40), or by radio. The GM should rule that a simple radio receiver tuned to a handful of channels for Smart Paper content adds no cost or weight to a Smart Book. A fully interactive communicator with a range of about a mile should add $50 to the cost of a Smart Book or Book Computer. An ordinary Smart Book does not have much computing power and cannot do a lot with that communicator; it should be just enough to actively call a library through the public communication net and request downloads. If the news come by radio people may try to tamper with them, which can lead to funny situations ("The morning news are full of spam again...") and even some adventures ("I want that spammer!").

Smart Books may have unique storage media before TL9, when tiny discs with huge storage capacity come along. One possibility is the "Smart Spine", a detachable book spine that contains a storage device (1 GB for a small Smart Book, 5 GB for a medium book, and 10 GB for the full-sized version, cost is $10). Libraries rent out the Smart Spines.

Book Computers use regular storage media or Smart Spines.

Handwriting Recognition

The user "writes" with a special stylus on Advanced Smart Paper which creates a line where the stylus moves. Note that a Smart Pen gives a computer handwriting recognition at one level of Complexity higher.

Smart Pen

The Smart Pen is a device that resembles a fat pen or stylus, but contains a tiny computer and a set of sophisticated sensors that record and analyze every motion, and then transmit this information to a nearby computer via infrared , radio or direct electric signal. A Smart Pen helps a computer to recognize handwritten or drawn input. A computer is treated as 1 level of Complexity higher in its ability to recognize the handwriting of anybody who uses a Smart Pen. Costs $50, weight is negligible.

Solo Pen

This is a progressive development of the Smart Pen: a pen with sufficient processing power to recognize handwriting on its own with the equivalent of Complexity 1 (see Handwriting Recognition). It can also be used as a Smart Pen. Every Solo Pen has a long, narrow screen that displays the writing for the user to check.

The user of a Solo Pen can write on a regular writing surface, as the Solo Pen has a normal writing tip. TL8 Solo Pens have trouble with the spatial relationship of writing, so if the user writes three lines on paper and then wants to write a heading above the first line, the Solo Pen might put it a line higher or lower than desired. The user can also write in the air, but this requires an IQ roll to avoid mistakes. TL8 Solo Pens are great for short notes on the run, not for novel writing.

TL8 Solo Pens can be used in a Virtual Reality environment. The pen continually transmits its location to the VR manager, which displays the writing in the virtual environment. The data is stored and downloaded to a computer via infrared.

A Solo Pen is TL8, costs $100 and has negligible weight. It has a rechargeable A Power Cell, but do not bother about energy as long as the Pen is placed into its recharging stand (comes with the pen).

More advanced versions are possible:

Smart Paper in the Campaign

Existing Technology

Smart Paper is possibly just around the corner:

There was an operating system called PenPoint (by GO Corp.)a few years ago. It never really got off the ground, but it had a user interface with a book metaphor. Look it up on a search engine.

Recently, a number of businesses have begun to market "electronic books", which are just dedicated computers with a normal LCD screen and a book-like cover. These devices are meant as readers for digital files, and can be seen as forerunners of Smart Books. There are three products so far:

The Everybook site has a handy comparison of the three products (http://www.everybk.com/compare.html).

Kent State University has a page on the future of print (http://www.jmc.kent.edu/futureprint/). Good for those who want to introduce Smart Paper, but need some ideas.

The Smart Pen may be just around the corner as well. Try http://www.cross-pcg.com/crosspad/index.html for information on the CrossPad, forerunner of the Smart Pen. They have a nice product brochure in Adobe PDF format . You will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to read it (http://www.adobe.com/prodindex/acrobat/readstep.html).

The Solo Pen is currently at the experimental stage at British Telecom under the name "Smart Quill" (http://www.innovate.bt.com/showcase/smartquill/index.htm).