19 Dec, 2011 By: Robert Green

First Look Review: Slick system turns a projected image into an interactive surface for design review and annotation capture.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Winter 2012 issue of Cadalyst magazine.

Let's imagine that it's time for a design review, and your team is having a great brainstorming session while viewing projected images. How are you going to remember all the comments and corrections? A whiteboarding session — where a design is projected onto a whiteboard and everyone makes annotations with colored markers — doesn't let you capture the original projected image, and you still have no way to record notes other than photographing the board. How can you review a projected image, benefit from the annotative capabilities of a whiteboarding session, and capture the results to save, reference, and share?

The new U-Pointer from FullCon Solutions is the answer.

The U-Pointer captures markups made to any projected image with its digital whiteboard pen.

The U-Pointer is a slick little hardware–software combo that turns a computer display, TV, or even a wall or tabletop into an interactive work surface that you can annotate, then saves the marked-up image as a digital file. Add your favorite screen-sharing software and you can take your collaboration session online to include any team member regardless of geographic location. Hardware consists of the main unit, which measures 5" x 3" x 1.5", weighs less than a third of a pound, and connects to your computer via USB cable; and a digital stylus, called a whiteboard pen, that measures 6" x 0.5" and is powered by a pair of AAA batteries. Proprietary i-Pro software drives the process and can be downloaded by any users any number of times. The entire setup is compatible with any display hardware and any software that's running your projected image. An optional rugged case ($200) makes the U-Pointer road worthy. Here's how it works.

Once you complete the basic installation and establish communication between the pen and the U-Pointer, you must calibrate the pen. Do this by making a series of menu selections and pick points with the pen via a setup wizard on the computer projecting the image. FullCon Solutions states that calibration should take two minutes, but it took me approximately 15 minutes to walk myself through the instructions the first time, and the process felt tedious. You must recalibrate if you move the U-Pointer to a different position or computer.

Start with a digital image you wish to review, displaying or projecting it on any screen or surface. The U-Pointer superimposes an invisible plane over that projected image via camera-like optics at the front of the unit. The whiteboard pen has a clickable point and functions like a marker for making annotations and like a mouse for selecting annotation options or sending coordinate positions as it moves around the image. Annotations you make with the pen show up on the projected image. You can save everything to the connected computer.

Here's where the fun begins. Using the onscreen menu of annotation tools and the pen as your mouse, you can easily change colors, pen tip widths, and other options for your annotations. (Think of it like running Windows Paint on steroids, and you've got the idea.) It quickly becomes apparent that capturing annotations over projected images is simple.

To use the U-Pointer's annotation features, touch the pen to any toolbar option and click.

I tested the U-Pointer with an image projected on a wall, but it is easy to see how a flat-panel HD monitor, a tabletop (ceiling-mount the U-Pointer and point it down onto the table), or virtually any flat, smooth surface can become a virtual whiteboard. Because the tip of the pen is a mediumdurometer plastic, you won't damage the surface of a largescreen TV — yes, I tried it! And, because there's nothing proprietary about a wall, table, or HD monitor, the U-Pointer won't become obsolete just because your presentation surface changes.

The U-Pointer's $1,600 retail price might put it out of reach as a tool for occasional travelers, but it could be a worthwhile investment for frequent travelers and conference-room environments where the cost is amortized through constant use. If purchasing the U-Pointer saves you from buying a rear-projection system or old-fashioned thermal-printing whiteboard, then you could easily justify its cost.

Depending on how much your users and design teams like the whiteboarding method of review and how much your budget allows, U-Pointer could be a great choice for integrating image markup and capture into your design-review processes. I'll be interested to see how many U-Pointers show up in my clients' conference rooms over the next few years. 

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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