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Brown University and Microsoft Research unveiled plans for the Microsoft Center for Research on Pen-Centric Computing, which will promote and fund research aimed at improving pen-based operation of Tablet PCs, Pocket PCs and other personal digital assistants, electronic whiteboards and conventional desktop computers. The center is the first academic research program in the nation dedicated to pen-centric computing innovation.

Through the three-year joint research and education alliance, Microsoft Research and Brown University will explore and develop new ways to use pen-like styluses to operate computing devices. Under the alliance, Microsoft Research will invest $1.2 million over the next three years.

“Pen-based computing has the potential to alter the way students and teachers interact,” said Rick Rashid, senior vice president of research at Microsoft Corp. “And together with Brown University, we will create new ways of combining the pen and the computer to positively affect not only the educational process but our working methods and our culture.”

Andy van Dam, Brown’s vice president for research and a founding member and first chair of the Department of Computer Science, will serve as director of the new center. “In some cases, the pen is mightier than the keyboard,” van Dam said. “Chemists and composers, archaeologists and artists all need pen and paper to create and communicate. We want to help them do their work digitally – in a way that is as easy and natural as drawing on paper.”

Brown has been an early pioneer in pen-based computing. For more than a decade, Brown researchers have designed and tested gesture-recognition software, including prototype applications that recognize music, mathematics and chemistry notations. Microsoft has provided partial funding for these initial efforts.

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