Anyone collaborating with far-flung colleagues has run into the limits of collaborative software. Sometimes you just wish everyone could be on the same page, literally. A group at the University of Tokyo has a potential paper-based computing solution.

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"The idea is to do computing on paper," Tomoko Hashida, a postdoc researcher in the lab told DigInfo TV (video) this week during a demonstration of the technology. "In the future we'd like to enable several people to create one document, like with Google Docs, actually using real-world paper while far apart."

Hashida and her colleagues at the Naemura Laboratory originally looked at existing paper-oriented technology and found it wanting. Projections onto paper requires darkness to see the results and digital pens still don't allow users to access the drawings from the computer directly on the paper.

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Instead, the Naemura group came up with a way to allow drawings on paper to be altered in real-time by more than one collaborator. Participants can draw, erase and copy content. The system uses paper coated in a photochromic smart material that changes color when the light changes. A high resolution digital micromirror device-driven UV projector prints images onto the paper.

Then a ball-point pen containing thermo-sensitive ink is used for drawing on the paper. Erasures can be made using a laser. According to DigInfo TV's Don Kennedy and Ryo Osuga, the ink can be erased to a high level of accuracy equalling 0.0009 inches.

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For artists especially this kind of collaboration could be incredibly fruitful, although writing that appears almost magically on real paper eerily recalls Tom Riddle's diary in the "Harry Potter" series. Only with this paper-based interaction, hopefully everyone would know who's actually holding the other pens.

Photo: The University of Tokyo's paper version of Google Docs. Credit: DigInfo TV (video)