HP Readies Smart Paper Introduction

Sources said Hewlett-Packard will unveil its Forms Automation System that uses "smart paper" technology and HP printers at Comdex Las Vegas 2003, next week.

Hewlett-Packard Co. next week will introduce a "smart paper" technology as a part of a forms management solution for enterprise customers. Slated for announcement at Comdex Las Vegas 2003, the HP scheme could cut forms costs by as much as a third, sources said.

HP will introduce its Forms Automation System (HP FAS) next Tuesday at Comdex, a spokeswoman for the companys PR agency confirmed. The initiative will tie together select HP LaserJet printers, the "smart paper," and HPs Workflow Connect 200 system, sources said.

The initiative will save customers both time and money by allowing them to maintain their current means of processing forms, sources said. Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP, meanwhile, will seek to make its printers an indispensable part of the workflow for companies that process large volumes of forms, such as the healthcare industry or government agencies.

The move could be an important step for smart paper, a technology that analysts have found interesting, but not entirely practical. "Its pretty new stuff," said Mark Walter, an analyst with Seybold Consulting of Media, Pa., who did not comment directly on the HP FAS technology. "I view it as still in the emerging technology stage."

According to sources, HPs FAS is designed to minimize the complexity of shifting to a new forms system. The selected HP LaserJet printers print a form onto a page with a specially designed backdrop, the "smart paper." Using an HP-branded digital pen, the information on the forms will be read back into the system and processed using the Workflow Connect 200 software into the customers database. The technology will reportedly be smart enough to identify individual fields and look for specific information, such as a Social Security number or street address.

Bob Palmer, an analyst with Newtonville, Mass.-based Lyra Research Inc. and managing editor of The Hard Copy Observer newsletter on the printing industry, said he didnt understand why HP printers would be required. As far as he understood the so-called smart paper, the technology required special paper, not special printers.

"Im not sure why [a LaserJet] would be required," Palmer said. "As I understand the system, the pen reads the paper, and not anything printed on the paper."

Seybolds Walter said the technology could compete with San Jose, Calif. Adobe Systems Inc.s eForms solution, done entirely online. Adobe eForms requires users to fill out the forms using a computer, and then submit them using a digital signature. The eForms software translates the form into an XML document for processing. Microsoft Corp. also offers a competing technology called InfoPath.

HPs FAS introduction will be presided over by Vyomesh Joshi, president of HPs imaging and printing group, who is also expected to announce several new printer models. The Comdex announcement will not address the relationship between HP and Konica Minolta Holdings Inc. of Tokyo, the HP spokeswoman said. In August, the two companies said they would work together to develop next-generation printing solutions.

Digital pens have been tried before, most notably by the CrossPad, developed by A.T. Cross Co. of Lincoln, R.I., and IBM, which used a pen that could store pen strokes for later uploading to a PC. The device was later discontinued due to lack of demand.

One source said that HPs Digital Pen is actually an HP-branded version of the "Io," a digital pen peripheral-maker Logitech Inc. introduced in Sept. 2002. The Logitech Io can store up to 40 pages between transfers, while the included battery can write up to 25 pages before the device needs to be recharged. The Io also currently requires the Microsoft .NET framework to function, an additional 20MB download if the user does not have the software already installed on his system.

Unlike early versions of the Io, however, the HP solution will provide handwriting recognition that will translate the users pen strokes into digital input, sources said.

The Logitech device along with a one from Stockholm-based Nokia use technology from Anoto Group AB, a Swedish company. The Anoto technology combines scanning and an intelligent camera to translate a users penmanship into digital input. According to Anotos Web site, the company charges a commercial licensing fee of 5,000 euros, or about $5,890, per 100 digital pens. Individual Logitech Ios retail for about $175.

Although the "smart paper" technology has been discussed for several years, its application is a relatively new one, Palmer said. "Im not aware that Anoto has done a whole lot with it," he said.