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Perceptive Pixel’s stylus-based display, now part of Microsoft.

The concept of the stylus as an input for computing has been around for a long time, with people dragging items around the screen with a pen and scribbling in digital ink.

Microsoft first attempted to popularize the approach with its original Tablet PCs a decade ago. The rise of screens and the iPad pushed the industry away from the stylus. But the Redmond company doesn’t appear to be giving up on the concept just yet.

First came the unveiling of the company’s Surface tablet computer, with stylus as an option for input. Then came the company’s acquisition of Perceptive Pixel, which makes large touch screens that also work with a stylus.

And now comes word that Microsoft’s Silicon Valley labs are developing a new type of stylus that would work accurately with any type of screen, regardless of whether it was designed for stylus support.

MIT’s Technology Review reports that Microsoft researchers have come up with a stylus that incorporates a camera that can count pixels as they pass by on the screen below, tracking its movement closely even if the screen doesn’t have the layer of sensors normally required for pinpoint accuracy.

“The new Microsoft design has the camera looking out of the side of the stylus body at an angle, so it views the display aslant,” writes Tom Simonite of the Technology Review. “That lets it infer the angle it is being held at based on how different pixels are in and out of focus. However, for the stylus to work, it also needs to know precisely where on the screen it is at any time.  The Microsoft researchers’ solution was to have the related software ‘massage’ the color of the blue pixels in a display so that their pattern of brightness encodes their position; the stylus then knows where it is.”

The site reports that the design has been well-received inside the company, but they haven’t yet decided whether to take the next steps toward turning it into a product.

A computer on every desktop and a stylus in every hand? Assuming this is technologically doable, is it something you want?


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