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Livescribe Pen at SXSW

When I was at SXSW Interactive, PepsiCo was doing some interesting things in their area of the Austin Convention Center. They were displaying assorted technologies, like future vending machines and panes of glass that could display video or be interactive. One of these technological displays I got to participate in was an interactive experience utilizing Livescribe pens.

The Livescribe pen works like a normal pen, but has a small camera at the tip and a small LCD screen on one side. When used with a special paper with very small dots, it is able to track the writing and record it into the pen for downloading to a computer. Additionally, certain triggers can be put into the paper to trigger actions in the pen, from playing sounds to recording audio to displaying information on the pen’s screen.

As part of the PepsiCo promotion at SXSW, participants were given a pen and special notebook to perform actions in. The book gave instructions on how to use it and the pen would occasionally give advice for things to do in the book. Doing certain hidden actions also triggered things within the pen – tapping the moon made the pen howl and displayed “Team Jacob” on the pen and tapping silhouetted heads made a sound and displayed “Mystery Theater” – showing the pen’s capabilities while showing the developer’s sense of humor. As we used the pens, we gained points and achievements, which were displayed in a leaderboard at the PepsiCo area along with some of the things we drew in our notebooks.

The notebook allowed me to take notes during a panel and record audio along with it, which could be played back and show what text was written as the speakers were talking and sync it. It also allowed for any drawings or writings I did in Austin, Texas to be downloadable to look at later on my computer.  Now that SXSW is over, I’m still using the pen, but am slowly learning the software. I’m guessing there is an OCR program somewhere, but in the meantime, it’s easy to export what I’ve created to PNG or PDF to my computer, Evernote, Facebook or a few other places for use elsewhere.

The Livescribe pen is a pretty amazing piece of technology. The ability to take my writings and export them for reuse is a real convenience. Using a pen is something we all learn very early, so it’s very intuitive to use – just start writing – and just as easy to retrieve the information from, by just plugging it in to the computer. A simple convenience that I can carry in my backpack and create designs or art and upload them to the computer to refine and finish.

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