AT&T MURRAY HILL, N.J. -- As a harbinger of the advanced computer technology to come, an American artist became the first person to draw an electronic painting in the United States that appeared instantaneously in Germany. In addition, eight New Jersey and New York school children were the first to collaborate with young German artists on paintings created with interactive input from both continents.
Using experimental graphics technology from AT&T Bell Laboratories, artist Lillian Schwartz and children from schools in New Jersey and New York, created works of art which were transmitted between the AT&T Bell Labs research facility here and the German Postal Museum in Frankfurt, West Germany.
Two Bell Labs developments, a pressure-sensitive electronic pen and an electrostatic writing and design tablet linked to AT&T computers, allowed the artists to exchange drawings across the Atlantic. Every artistic stroke, highlight and shade was transmitted as a digital data signal via the AT&T Worldwide Intelligent Network.
The exchange helped celebrate the opening of a new postal museum in Frankfurt that marks the 500th anniversary of the German postal system, Deutsche Bundespost.
The New Jersey students are Kevin McGinn, 15, of Chatham High School; Vic Chu, 17, of Morris Knolls High School; Steve Eiter, 16, of Madison High School; and Luke Brooks-Shesler, 13, of Madison Middle School. The New York students are Leonardo Urbano, 8, and Claudia Maroney, 9, of P.S. 88 in Ridgewood, N.Y.; and Julie Kim, 16, and Alex Chesler, 16, of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.
"This is the first time that real-time color graphic images have been created and transmitted internationally," said Bob Boie, the Bell Labs researcher who designed the tablet and pen. "The prototype system is a harbinger of the portable, high-performance, low-cost 'notebook' style computers to come, where handwriting-sensitive displays, not keyboards, will be the primary means for communication."
To inaugurate this international demonstration, Schwartz, a Bell Labs consultant in computer graphics, today created the first original work of art on the pen-and-tablet apparatus that instantaneously appeared stroke by stroke on an identical tablet in Frankfurt. To commemorate the event, the art work was printed on a color laser printer and given to Dr. Schwarz Schilling, government minister for the Deutsche Bundespost.
Schwartz's pioneering role in establishing computers as a valid artistic medium had its beginnings in 1968 at Bell Labs, when she created a group portrait of several colleagues on a computer screen. At the time, the effort represented the first full-scale example of digital picture processing in both the telecommunications industry and the art world.
"Computers have come a long way since I began to use them as a medium for the creation of art," said Schwartz. "This new pen and tablet constitute an important forward step in that continuing process of improvement. For the first time, I now have a way of sketching as if I were using pen and ink, charcoal, a graphite pencil or color pastels. The pen and touch screen act as a natural extension of my hand, allowing me to draw continuous lines of varying thicknesses by changing the pressure as I guide the pen over the surface."
The design and performance of this revolutionary transparent pad and pen system relies on several significant Bell Labs advances in technology: a linear response force- sensitive pen, a novel filter that accurately measures pen movement, and the visually transparent tablet.
As the metal pen glides across the 3-by-6-inch screen, its tip crosses a grid of square tiles created by invisible wires embedded in glass. By measuring the capacitance between tiles and the tip of the pen, the system accurately determines the pen's point on the surface.
The pen's signal changes as the tip approaches the tablet surface, and the varying levels of force generated by contact cause the signal to increase or decrease. This sensitivity allows users to control the width of strokes appearing on the computer screen. Then, by touching the pen's tip to a palette of computer-generated colors, users can easily create images or write notes.
"The nice thing about this technology is that you can make the tablets any size you want," said Boie. "They could be 8-by-11 inches or the size of a chalkboard. And no matter what size the tablet is, the images' resolution will always be crystal clear."