June 2, 2002 10:00 AM PDT

Handwriting apps emerge from Intel China

SHANGHAI, China--Intel is trying to make computers see much better.

The company's software and solutions group in Shanghai is working on software that lets PCs more readily understand shapes and visual patterns, which should ease the burden managing images, handwritten notes and other real world data.

Ink Email, an application developed by the group, for example, can recognize and send written Chinese characters over e-mail. Currently, users can draw Chinese characters onto a screen, but a user has to go through additional steps before a PC or a handheld can understand what the user wrote.

Other applications will make it easier to find specific clips in video streams and let electronic forms more easily be filled out by pen.

"Pen recognition, general shape recognition, we're working toward libraries for this," said Wen-Hann Wang, director of the software and solutions group at Intel in Shanghai. "Your pen and paper will keep your computer very busy."

Rather than confine its research to the lab, the company will try to commercialize many of the results through licensing or other means, he said. More complex applications, after all, lead to computer upgrades.

The push to develop visually intelligent software--which is taking place across the industry--comes largely because the real world isn't always Qwerty-keyboard friendly. The vast number of characters in Asian languages, combined with the multiplicity of dialects, has made computer input here one of the salient problems. On PCs, to type in Asian languages, users type in commands on a Western keyboard. The PC then pops up a series of four or five potential matching characters and the user then selects the appropriate character that he or she meant.

The process is similar for handhelds, according to representatives from CMC Magnetics, a Taiwanese handset maker. Consumers can write stylus, like on a standard Western Palm, but then users have to engage in a dialog with their handhelds to winnow away the alternatives to get to the intended character.

Ink Email effectively speeds the process by capturing and transmitting the exact handwriting image. China's vice president tried out the software at a visit to Intel's headquarters in May by writing a message and then e-mailing it back to Beijing, Wang said. The demo worked.

In Western markets, similar technology could also be used to simplify filling in multiple-choice forms, he added. Other keyboard alternatives, meanwhile, aren't as promising.

"Voice recognition can supplement, but it's always five years away, five years away," he said.

Other experimental applications use ocular techniques to ameliorate data overload. Company researchers in Shanghai and Russia have created two software tool kits that detect scene changes or anomalies in compressed video. Applications based on the toolkit essentially insert a thumbnail break where significant changes occur in the image steam so the user can easily find the "new" events on the tape.

In the consumer market, applications based on the tool kit will allow users to more easily find relevant moments in video streams and e-mail them without first decompressing the data. In the commercial market, pattern recognition could make it easier to find break-ins or other out-the-of-ordinary occurrences.

"No one wants to watch 40 hours of tape," he said.

Commercial deployment of some of these applications could occur soon. Intel is currently negotiating with PenPower, an Asian software developer to bring out a commercial version of Ink Email. Video editing specialist Herosoft, meanwhile has already licensed the Video Analyzer toolkit for the consumer market, he added.

Other Chinese news
Samsung is spending approximately $950,000 on events for rabid Chinese fans attending the World Cup in Korea, according to the China Daily. Samsung is also trying to move aggressively into the printer, camera and PC market in China, according to Samsung representatives at Cebit, and is courting a dealer network.

In an unrelated note, Audrey Hepburn wasn't much of a beer drinker in real life, but with some high quality digital retouching, the actress can now be seen offering a can of Kirin beer to commuters. The poster is one of the more popular on Shanghai's subways.

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