A Framework for Mobile Paper-based Computing



Military work-practice is a difficult area of research where paper-based approaches are still extended. This thesis proposes a solution which permits the digitalization of information at the same time as work-practice remains unaltered for soldiers working with maps in the field. For this purpose, a mobile interactive paper-based platform has been developed which permits the users to maintain their current work-flow. The premise of the solution parts from a system consisting of a prepared paper-map, a cellular phone, a desktop computer, and a digital pen with bluetooth connection. The underlying idea is to permit soldiers to take advantage of the information a computerized system can offer, at the same time as the overhead it incurs is minimized. On one hand this implies that the solution must be light-weight, on the other it must retain current working procedures as far as possible. The desktop computer is used to develop new paper-driven applications through the application provided in the development framework, thus allowing the tailoring of applications to the changing needs of military operations. One major component in the application suite is a symbol recognizer which is capable of recognizing symbols parting from a template which can be created in one of the applications. This component permits the digitalization of information in the battlefield by drawing on the paper-map. The proposed solution has been found to be viable, but still there is a need for further development. Furthermore, there is a need to adapt the existing hardware to the requirements of the military to make it usable in a real-world situation.


Ever since the advent of computers, engineers have continuously managed to reduce the size of the computer systems. The first computers occupied entire rooms, and it wasn’t until the desktop computers made their entrance, that computers became available to the general public. The third generation of computing is called ubiquitous computing, a term coined by Mark Weiser in the 1990’s. The ubiquitous computer is supposed to become invisible at the same time as it provides the benefits of using a computerized system. An important implication of ubiquitous computing is that the computer system should allow people to perform their normal tasks in their normal environment, but with computer support.

In this context a natural mean of interaction is paper and pen, which has formed part of people’s everyday life for a long time. Today, although computers are making their entrance in people’s life, work-practice still involves the use of paper and pen. For instance, military work-practice, relies heavily on working with maps. Soldiers draw on maps, and discuss strategies looking at maps. Current work-practice, however, implies that if the operators at headquarters want to have a complete overview of the situation, it is necessary for all units to report their findings manually. The arguments for having the information in a digital form is growing stronger as critiquing systems are being developed.

 In the future, a combination of paper and pen interaction can become reality in electronic paper. The technology at this stage, however, proposes the use of digital pens together with specialized paper in order to get a version of electronic paper. Whereas computer systems which use computer screens have problems with low resolution and low portability, this is not the case with paper which combines a higher resolution, and the portability of paper. When electronic paper, in its true sense, will become available the ability to provide visual feedback directly from the computer system will be added.

A further benefit from using paper is that it provides a natural mechanism for graceful fallback, which is a feature that can be important in, for example, military applications. If the computer system fails to function, the information is still available on the paper. For military purposes the weight of the soldiers equipment is crucial. Laptops and tablet PCs are highly portable, but their weight is considerably higher than a system consisting of, for example, a cellular phone, paper and pen. Currently there is no other solution than paper maps which allows the use of a large, high-resolution image.

A probable reason why computerized systems haven’t been accepted in the military is their weight, low resolution, and unnatural interaction models. This calls for the development of applications which better suits the specific needs of this user group. The goal with the project was to develop a tool for military use in which a digital pen could be used as an interaction device to work on maps. The main benefit from such a system was expected to be an augmented map representation together with digitalization of the information.

The size of a paper map can typically be far bigger than A3-format. Even very big paper maps are wearable and can easily be folded.

Research Question

The main research question was to investigate in which way it is possible to support the use of an online paper-driven computer system in military work-practice, where multiple users should be able to interact and share information. The requirements on the solution are implicitly decided by current work-practice, and limitations of the technology. To be usable, the solution must fulfill the following requirements:

     The solution must be light-weight

     The solution should be based on paper maps

     The solution should facilitate the development of new interactive paper maps, thus enabling rapid prototyping

     The application should support typical pen-based interaction, for instance symbol writing

In this thesis a solution to the military’ needs can be found in the form of a framework for paper-driven applications. This thesis describes how a solution to the problem was developed. The thesis is multidisciplinary in the sense that it treats several disciplines within Computer Science. Ubiquitous Computing, Paper-Based Interfaces and Software Engineering are all fields that are related to this work.