Light Pens

Popular with emergency crews, medics & cinema staff

Light Pens

The light pen means different things to different people, and none of these connotations have anything to do with weight.

At its most basic level the light pen is a regular pen that doubles up as a mini-flashlight. Go up a notch and the light pen becomes sleeker and is fitted with LED bulbs. This is the light pen that is popular with emergency crews, medics, cinema, theater and restaurant staff when working at night or in subdued lighting.

But it had to happen eventually, doing away with ink and writing with something completely different. In the case of the light pen just precisely that, light itself.

Surprisingly, the ability to write with light, or transmit information to be more precise, has been around for longer than we may imagine. In the late 1950s the first ever light pen was used to interact with a computer, the Lincoln TX-0, at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory.

But it was more than a decade later before the light pen would find a commercial application, the first personal computers. In the early 1980s, the light pen enjoyed its greatest, albeit short-lived, success as an input device for pioneer PCs such as the Fairlight CMI and the BBC Micro.

The light pen rode the crest of a wave among early PC gamers until it was rapidly wiped out by developments in computer technology. Users found light pens accurate but tiring to use for long periods. When the superior ergonomics of the mouse combined with the introduction of fast scanning high resolution monitors light pens were effectively killed off. Now this type of light pen has evolved into a specialist input device for precise on-screen free hand drawing, art work and industrial uses.

Meanwhile, light pens of two slightly different hues are today making their mark. The first is the digital scanning pen which is rather like a pen-sized desktop scanner. Instead of writing, this light pen-variant reads what is on the page and stores the information for later downloading onto a computer. Understandably you can't scan in War and Peace in one go, but the digital scanning pen does have a niche for copying single pages, business cards and short notes etc. when you are out of the office.

But the most exciting new light pen is that used in conjunction with digital paper. This beauty looks like an ordinary pen but writes and reads simultaneously. Take notes on digital paper in a meeting or lecture and when you are through simply connect this digital wonder to your PC. Download the data from the pen and lo behold you now have what you've just written saved as a text document without the tedious chore of transcribing.

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