Digital pen on the write track

A digital pen and form system designed to reduce the paperwork burden associated with Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) has undergone a six-week trial with Wiltshire Constabulary in what is believed to be the first police pilot of the technology.

Jul 1, 2004
By Cliff Caswell

A digital pen and form system designed to reduce the paperwork burden associated with Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) has undergone a six-week trial with Wiltshire Constabulary in what is believed to be the first police pilot of the technology.

The pilot was to test whether the traffic officers could work more efficiently by using the digital pen and a digitally compatible version of the existing form. It also looked at whether the form data was effectively transmitted once the pen was docked in its cradle ‘back at base’, and how accurate the form data would be running on the fixed penalty computer system.

To limit the expense of the trial, some restrictions were put in place, and IT staff manually transferred data files on a daily basis. But in theory, when used in conjunction with a specially-designed FPN form, the digital pen would process data as soon as it is docked and transmit, via the computer system, directly to the computer screens in the Central Ticket Office. The result means that staff would not have to process the fixed penalty ticket paperwork as they do under the current system. The reduction in paperwork should enable staff to spend more time on correspondence around disputed tickets.

Hewlett-Packard, who developed the system, provided four digital pens and a cradle, plus the specially designed pre-printed FPN forms, and installed ICR (Intelligent Character Recognition) software for handwriting recognition.

Eight traffic officers trialled the pens over a six-week period, and collectively completed a total of 117 notices using the special forms. Around 52 per cent were totally accurate, rising to 65 per cent once certain factors had been taken into account, while the remainder needed some manual input.

No system failures were encountered, although several docking errors occurred, which were resolved when the computer was re-booted.

Sgt Craig Hardy, one of the officers who took part in the pilot, said: “The pen is quite chunky and the cap doesn’t fit on the other end while in use, but otherwise, I had no problem using it.

“Out of the eight officers in total who used the pen, only one person found it hard to write with, due to its large size. I dropped my pen on the road a couple of times and it was left in a hot car for hours on end, neither of which caused any damage, so the pens are pretty robust.

“There was about a 20-30 second wait from docking the pen in its cradle until the data appeared on screen, and a couple of times I had to reboot the computer, otherwise it was fine to use. The new smaller form was no problem, although you have to write very clearly, without joining up your caps, to ensure the letter recognition system works accurately, which might irritate some officers!

“I think the whole pilot project is a good idea, but will need a bit of fine-tuning. It won’t save us any time however, but I can see the benefits for the staff in the CTO to have the data already on their system, rather than having to wait several days for us to send the forms to the CTO in the internal mail system.”

Despite some concerns, CTO Manager Max Phesse could also see long-term benefits from the new technology. “We didn’t have the actual ticket to look at on screen, just the data, so this would need to be addressed,” he said. “I would also wish to see a 75 per cent accuracy rate and a saving in inputting time to my staff of 75 per cent, to make it worthwhile considering. In my view, the concept is ideal, but more tests are required.”

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