Microsoft has been developing a wireless “universal stylus” that can interact with almost any screen, not just touch-enabled ones.
Its stylus prototype uses a miniature camera mounted inside the tool that tracks movement and measures the angle so that it can beam data back to the computer, tablet or smartphone that the screen belongs to.
An advantage of using such a system, even on a touchscreen, is that it can be more accurate than a normal passive stylus accessory.
Traditionally, the most accurate stylus designs have used a special layer of extra sensors built into the screen to pick up where the pen-like tool is placed, but this means that the stylus cannot be universal.
Microsoft’s version could be customised for almost any device after downloading a suitable driver and software update for the stylus.
If the device makes it to market, it could be used on just about any display, touchscreen or not. An issue that Microsoft is reported to have encountered is that it’s difficult to track pressure on screens while avoiding the risk of damaging them, so you probably won't be able to buy one for a while until it passes through more tests and approvals.
It’s worth noting that one of the versions of the upcoming Microsoft Surface tablet includes a stylus (of a more conventional design), and both Windows 8 and the next release of the Office suite of software are more touchscreen and stylus orientated than previous versions.
Technology Review reports: “Andreas Nowatzyk and colleague Anoop Gupta hit upon the idea of using the grid of pixels that make up a digital display as a navigational system for their backwards-compatible stylus. In their design, a small camera inside the stylus looks down at the display and counts off pixels as they pass by to track its movement. That is fed back to the device via a wireless link, much as a wireless mouse reports its motion to a computer. The way the stylus tracks its motion is similar to the way ‘smart pens’ such as the LiveScribe, a device for aiding note-taking, use a camera to track dots on special paper.”
It adds: “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 colour of the blue pixels in a display so that their pattern of brightness encodes their position; the stylus then knows where it is. ‘Blue is chosen because the human eye doesn't have many blue cones in the fovea,’ the area of the retina used for our central vision, says Nowatzyk.”