Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 15 January 2009   Friday, January 30, 2009

ISSN 1748-3603

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Contents
Feature article
Building a better future – planning and designing innovative, intelligent educational buildings
Conference reviews
Perspectives on learning design – a report on the 3rd International LAMS and Learning Design Conference
FOTE – Future of Technology in Education 2008
Technology reviews
The eBeam – interactive whiteboard and capture system
eXe – e-learning XML editor
Project updates
Developing open content – the POCKET perspective
Web 2.0-style resource discovery comes to libraries – the TILE Project
Reports
ALT research news – transformed for 21st century learning
Technology and learning – a trade association perspective
Commentary launched: Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning
The Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ascilite) update
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Chief Executive's report
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The eBeam – interactive whiteboard and capture system
by John Conway

Figure
1: The eBeam receiver, pen cradles and eraser.
Figure 1: The eBeam receiver, pen cradles and eraser. (© Luidia, Inc)

Introduction
The eBeam is a device which can convert any flat surface into an interactive whiteboard or smartboard. It can also be used to capture content digitally in real time for later review or for publishing online.

How does the eBeam work?
Before we look closer at how the eBeam works, you may find it useful to refer to Figures 3 and 6 below, as this will help to visualise and distinguish the two different uses of the eBeam system. The eBeam works by means of a combination of infrared and ultrasonic technology embedded into the stylus, pens, and an eBeam receiver to translate the movements of these signals and convert them into mouse strokes on a PC or Mac.

When an eBeam stylus or pen first touches the board it emits a flash of infrared, which is, picked up by a sensor in the centre of the eBeam receiver. When the stylus or pen is being used it emits a series of ultrasonic signals, which can be heard as a slight ‘buzzing sound’; this signal is received on the poles of the receiver. The eBeam unit then calculates the difference in time between the two signals and triangulates the position of the stylus or pen on the pre-calibrated area. The principle is not too dissimilar to counting the difference in time between lightning and thunder to locate the centre of a storm.

Figure 2: How the eBeam receiver triangulates the location of the stylus or pen
Figure 2: How the eBeam receiver triangulates the location of the stylus or pen (© Luidia, Inc)

Let's look at the system more closely:
The following section will look at both uses individually and will highlight the pros and cons for each.

eBeam Interactive:
Figure 3 shows the main elements and connections, which are possible when using the system as an interactive whiteboard. The eBeam receiver can be fixed either temporarily or permanently using the fixings supplied (magnetic, suction or with screw fittings).

Figure
3: Using the eBeam as an interactive whiteboard
Figure 3: Using the eBeam as an interactive whiteboard: eBeam Interactive (Image courtesy of Legamaster)

Setting up the eBeam in 3 steps:
With the eBeam Interactive (in conjunction with a laptop and projector), you have a complete mobile interactive whiteboard. Locate the eBeam receiver on any desired (projection) surface and you create your own giant ‘touch screen’. Ideal for people who wish to present or hold brainstorming sessions at various locations or on the move.

Once the software has been installed, setting up the system is very straightforward. The software can be downloaded for free from from: www.e-beam.com/downloads/software.html?product=1.

Step 1:Connect the eBeam receiver to a flat surface, e.g. a whiteboard, and link the sensor to your PC/laptop via Bluetooth or a USB cable.

Step 2:Connect a projector to your PC/laptop and project the desktop onto the whiteboard or any suitable surface where the receiver is attached.

Step 3:Launch the interactive software and calibrate the working area. The system is now ready to use.

How do I use the system?
Depending on the type of use the interactive menu wheel or palette will present the user with different options, as appropriate. For example, a typical scenario would include presenting a PowerPoint TM presentation using a data projector and using the stylus provided to annotate the slides. In this example the PowerPoint palette, as illustrated below, would be presented and only those options, which are indicated, would be available for the user to access at that time.

Figure 4: The three eBeam tool palettes
Figure 4: The three eBeam tool palettes (© Luidia, Inc)

To navigate the desktop in a similar way to using a mouse then the user would be presented with the ‘Desktop Palette’ as illustrated above.

The ‘Scrapbook Palette’ will be presented if the user selects the scrapbook icon from the ‘Desktop Palette’ as shown in Figure 5.

Figure
5: The Desktop Palette
Figure 5: The Desktop Palette

How will I get on with it?
As with any new technology, it will take some time to get familiar with the system and to become comfortable with using it. The first thing to over come is how to position yourself so that you do not obscure the projected image. This does take a bit of adjusting to but it does respond well to the stylus and it is quite accurate once the calibration has been set correctly.

The menu wheel/palette can be easily relocated to any location on the screen. This is very useful as it can get in the way from time to time. The wheel can also be removed completely from the screen by selecting the toggle button located on the barrel of the stylus. Press this button again and the menu wheel will reappear. There are two buttons on the stylus, the second acts as a ‘right’ mouse key and when used within a presentation the ‘right’ key menu option will appear.

Generally the software seems to be robust, however, initially issues were experienced when both software elements were loaded simultaneously (‘Interact’ and ‘Capture’ software). It was not clear from the user manual that this would cause a problem, and it is possible that both features may be required during a single session and therefore it would seem a reasonable expectation to have access to both. One hopes that this issue will be addressed in later releases of the software.

Another useful tool, which is available via the wheel palette is the screen capture function. This feature will capture the current screen content, including any annotations made to the slides. The various screens can then be made available online for students, ideally through the use of a VLE or similar delivery method.

eBeam Capture:
Referring to Figure 6 below, here you can see the main elements and connections, which are possible when using the system to capture hand written content produced on a standard whiteboard. The eBeam receiver can be fixed as before, either temporarily or permanently using the fixings supplied (magnetic, suction or with screw fittings).

Figure
6: Using the eBeam to capture written content on a whiteboard
Figure 6: Using the eBeam to capture written content on a whiteboard: eBeam Capture (Image courtesy of Legamaster)

There are two significant differences to the previous system and they are;

  • There is no need for a data projector, although one can be used to project the captured content onto another screen, which could exist in another room (more about this feature later!).
  • The stylus has been replaced by four coloured pens, as shown in figure 7.

Figure
7: Whiteboard pens in the eBeam cradles
Figure 7: Whiteboard pens in the eBeam cradles (© Luidia, Inc)

The whiteboard pens are just standard non-permanent markers, which fit into their respective coloured cradles. Each cradle contains two 3v lithium button batteries, which powers the ultrasonic and infrared transmitter built into the cradle. When the pen is placed into the cradle it presses against a micro switch, which engages the ultrasonic and infrared transmitter. As with the stylus, this allows the eBeam receiver to triangulate the position of the pen/cradle

Each cradle is electronically tagged with a unique identity so that a colour can be assigned to it and this colour can then be reproduced onto the computer screen.

In addition to the pens there is also an eraser tool, which can erase the ink from the whiteboard and also electronically remove the image from the computer. The eraser is also battery powered in the same way as the pens.

Additional features
The eBeam Capture can also be used to record a live session. There are two quality settings (low and high) and the high setting is just about acceptable to post online for students to later refer to for revision. The high setting does not compare well to the live mode, when viewing the captured material directly on a computer screen.

As mentioned earlier it is possible to use a projector with the ‘Capture’ system. The reason for this is not immediately clear, however it may be necessary to transmit the captured to another location in real time, such as an overflow or remote location. This can be achieved by utilising the inbuilt eBeam server, which allows other authorised locations (up to a maximum of 5) to log into an eBeam session by simply downloading the free Capture software and logging into the appropriate session as displayed in the menu opposite.

In the example shown in Figure 8, the MATH 060 session has been password protected, as indicted by the padlock icon to the left of the meeting. Once authenticated the user can participate fully in the meeting.

Figure
8: The eBeam Server setup screen
Figure 8: The eBeam Server setup screen

eBeam Complete:

Figure 9: The eBeam Complete kit
Figure 9: The eBeam Complete kit (© Luidia, Inc)

The eBeam Complete comprises the ‘eBeam Interactive’ and ‘eBeam Capture’ systems. In addition it is also possible to purchase the eBeam Complete system with Bluetooth functionality, this will allow the eBeam receiver to connect to any Bluetooth enabled computer. However, this option will require the eBeam receiver to be connected to a power source via the USB cable and power adaptor supplied. It is also important to note that the separate eBeam systems (eBeam Capture and eBeam Interact) are also available with Bluetooth connectivity, please refer to the system description and pricing further on in this article.

Conclusions
The final comments in this article have been reserved for feedback received from academics using the ‘eBeam Capture’ system, mainly for undergraduate tutorials and research group meetings.

“Overall I like the system, it is relatively easy to install and configure, once everything else is working correctly; However, I do have the following gripes:

  • The pens have to be pressed harder to the board than I would generally do in order to get a perfect capture of the content.
  • The pens run out quickly if left in the sensor tubes, as they do not provide as good an air tight seal as the original pen covers
  • There are 2 'resolution' modes for capturing the real time board capture - the low resolution one is essentially unreadable due to pixelation and even the high resolution one is of much poorer quality than the 'live' image - I would like to see a very high resolution capture, even if the file size was huge; HD space is cheap.

Being a relatively early adopter and using the system with Microsoft Vista, some difficulties were experienced when trying to get the system to operate with the Bluetooth connection and while using a wireless mouse and WiFi DLP projector.

Once the College build of Vista Enterprise was removed in favour of the factory install of ‘Ultimate’ together with the installation of Service Pack 1, all problems were resolved. However, when I reverted I also installed service pack 1 for ‘Ultimate’ and so it is not certain if it would have worked with the e-Beam prior to this (I suspect it would have).

The jury is still out for me concerning its usefulness - I'll be in a better position to know after the coming teaching term. I suspect that a tablet PC will be a better option for PP related work and lectures.”

John Conway
Imperial College London

Appendix – Pricing, suppliers and information about the manufacturers

Systems pricing structure:
The following table provides a brief guide to each system available and typical cost of each system, when going to press. Please use the following prices as a guide only, as invariable cost will have changed from those quoted.

System Description:
Cost (USB only )
Cost (USB and Bluetooth)
 
eBeam projection (Interactive):
Converts whiteboard into an interactive whiteboard, use with projector, Meeting Server for over web interactivity
 
£ 340.00 + VAT*
£ 547 .00 + VAT*
 
eBeam whiteboard (Capture):
Turns whiteboard 8x4 feet into an interactive whiteboard, connects to PC for use without projector
 
£ 366.00 + VAT*
£ 547.00 + VAT*
 
eBeam Complete:
Turns a whiteboard 8x4 feet into interactive whiteboard, connects to PC, use with/without projector
 
£ 455 + VAT*
£ 602.00 + VAT*

The company:
Luidia produces eBeam portable interactive solutions that work with existing writing surfaces to capture meeting notes as they are created and, in conjunction with digital projection, turn traditional whiteboards into interactive ones. Luidia also provides its ‘Idea Capturing Technology(TM)’ to industry leaders such as 3M, ACCO, Hitachi, NEC, edding AG, and Uchida, who incorporate the technology into interactive presentation and display products.

Formerly a division of Electronics for Imaging (NASDQ: EFII), Luidia was incorporated in July 2003.

For more information, visit www.luidia.com.

Suppliers:
The following list provides contact information for UK suppliers of the eBeam system. Please note that these suppliers are listed here as a source of information only and therefore should not be considered as an endorsement by either the author or Imperial College London.

Gordon AV: www.gav.co.uk
Wedgwood AV: www.wedgwood-group.com
More Computers: www.morecomputers.co.uk/contactus.asp

Specification:
Minimum system requirements

  • Windows® - compatible PC with Pentium™ II 400 MHz+ processor, Windows 98, 98SE, ME, 2000, XP (including Tablet PC)
  • Power Macintosh® with Mac® OS X v.10.2x or higher
  • 10 MB available hard drive space
  • Available USB port

Bluetooth Radio Range: Up to 33 ft (10 m)
eBeam System Performance: Active area: 1.7' x 1.1' (0.43m x 0.28m) minimum, up to 8' x 4' (2.40m x 1.20m) maximum [equivalent to 107" diagonal]
Positional resolution: +/- 1.5mm

Warranty
Two year limited warranty on hardware and software.


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