The thought of government IT departments promoting a new pen-and-paper data collection technology sounds like a joke, doesn't it? But that's what several local governments are doing. With a special pen, users mark up a paper map and those markings appear on a digital version of the same map. Each marking becomes a GIS layer in the digital version. Local governments are embracing this technology because many responders still favor using pens and paper in the field instead of laptops and tablets.

Conventional wisdom suggests fieldworkers must join the paperless world. However, some say workers whose core competencies involve field navigation, logistics and physical strength need not be expected to maintain extensive technology skills. The Adapx digital pen, called Penx, offers GIS technicians a way to do their jobs without requiring technology training for fieldworkers.


How It Works

The digital pen feels and writes like an ordinary ballpoint pen, but it contains a miniature digital camera and image microprocessor. The paper map, which any office printer can produce, is covered in tiny printed dots. The digital pen records the user's pen strokes and where the strokes appear on the map by reading the dots the pen touches. The paper version features a palette of GIS layers that a fieldworker might want to draw on a map, like roadblocks, temporary parking and pedestrian areas. The palette has a symbol representing each layer. If the user wants to draw a roadblock, for example, he or she taps the "roadblock" symbol with the pen and then begins drawing.


Fighting Cultural Tides

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Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.