Innovative Invention Lets Student Escape Handwriting Drudgery

Society Technology

A Japanese university student invented a device to write reports “by hand,” with his efforts extending to manual creation of a new font with thousands of characters. He plans to further develop his creation in response to online comments.

One concern common among Japanese university students is whether they will be able to graduate successfully without repeating a year. Students study hard, taking on many subjects and units, but the biggest burden is surely the number of assignments. Making this course load even more of a challenge are the teachers who require assignments to be handwritten.

The purported reason is to prevent students from copying and pasting online text, but it can be onerous for students with poor handwriting or who face multiple assignments. Any student who has ever been told to rewrite an assignment may have wondered, while massaging cramped fingers, whether there was an easier way.

We spoke with a student who invented that easier way, inventing a unique handwriting machine.

Handwriting Reports? But It’s Almost 2020!

The creator of this dream machine is a university student going by “Tamu” on Twitter (@tamu_misw).

His “fully automated handwritten report machine” uses a pen to write on paper, reproducing text data from a PC. This is not simply a handwritten font printed using a regular printer; the machine uses a real pen, attached to a device called a “pen plotter.

In his tweet announcing the invention, Tamu wrote:
“I have made a fully automated handwritten report machine.
There’s no more need to fear handwritten university assignments. My victory is complete!”

Tamu’s solution transforms text data in the computer into signals delivered to the plotter, which moves the pen across the paper to produce writing that appears handwritten.

Tamu posted the development process for his machine on Twitter and a Japanese video sharing site, complaining about the requirement to handwrite assignments in this day and age. The video provides detailed insights about the device.

Determination and a 3D Printer

Tamu started by preparing the components for the pen plotter, using 3D-CAD design software to design them before producing them with a 3D printer.

Tamu used 3D-CAD software to design the parts and fabricated them on a 3D printer.
Tamu used 3D-CAD software to design the parts and fabricated them on a 3D printer.

After assembling the basics, the X- and Y-axes were in place to move the pen horizontally and vertically. The belts and gears for these axes are controlled by an Arduino microcomputer. Then, when the pen was attached, the fully automated handwritten report machine was ready!

The contraption is not much bigger than the A4-sized sheet of paper ready for its output.
The contraption is not much bigger than the A4-sized sheet of paper ready for its output.

A pen plotter can draw anything if it has the right data. Even an illustration like the one shown can be reproduced if the data is fed into the program.

Original drawing (left) and the machine’s reproduction.
Original drawing (left) and the machine’s reproduction.

The handwriting machine is able to actually draw the image on paper to a standard comparable to the original. The speed corresponds to the complexity of the content, but deliberately slowing down the operation will improve its precision.

A Handmade Font for a Genuine Feel

The next hurdle was finding a suitable font to produce a handwritten impression. The handwriting machine needs a “stroke font” drawn one line at a time, but Tamu thought the free fonts that were available did not produce a handwritten appearance.

Existing fonts did not look handwritten at all.
Existing fonts did not look handwritten at all.

Tamu came up with an astonishing solution, using a touch pen and mouse and actually handwriting the 2,406 characters (hiragana, katakana, kanji, and English letters and numbers) used in the font. To ensure that the writing was neat enough, Tamu wrote each letter multiple times and captured the average values as data. At roughly three attempts per character, this meant that Tamu had to write around 7,000 characters in total.

With this specially devised font, data transmitted to the machine produces a report that appears to have been written by hand. The movement of the pen is controlled by the machine, yet the characters on the paper give a handwritten impression. Considering all of the effort it took to devise, this is nothing short of amazing.

Even viewed closely, it looks handwritten.
Even viewed closely, it looks handwritten.

Online, Tamu’s efforts received much admiration, with comments ranging from “That’s a complicated short-cut” to “I seriously want one.” But the question remained as to what had motivated its inventor.

The Inventor’s Rebellion

Why build a fully automated handwritten report machine to begin with? At Tamu’s university, the science and engineering department has “experimentation” subjects that, for certain courses, required that reports be written by hand for submission. Tamu was struck by the irony that universities could still expect students to handwrite reports in this day and age, and resolved to use all of his know-how to retaliate.

The resourceful student embarked on his project mid-August and had finished it by mid-September.

Comparison between machine (left) and handwritten text. Even the writer’s bad habits are visible.
Comparison between machine (left) and handwritten text. Even the writer’s bad habits are visible.

He claims that the greatest challenge in producing a handwriting machine was trying to produce lettering with a handwritten feel. Stroke-fonts that were available for free did not look handwritten, and he knew that teachers would have seen through the ruse immediately. So he struggled to create his own handwritten font, hoping to make it neat but to also appear natural. In the process, he researched fonts and employed mathematical technology to generate tidy script from his own messy writing.

In contrast, Tamu did not find it as difficult to actually build the machine—it was just a matter of designing the parts, producing them with a 3D printer, and assembling them. The mechanism used is the same as for pen plotters, which have existed for many years.

When it came time to share his invention, though, the challenge was taller. Tamu had never produced online video content before, and had made a serious effort to edit the material to make it interesting and easy for viewers to understand.

Popular Demand for a Job Application Version

Tamu’s first attempt to reproduce a drawing using the machine was an astonishing success. Later, when he printed an actual report, he was thrilled to see the pen move exactly according to the coordinates plotted for the font. He jokingly remarked that if, in the future, he was required to handwrite an assignment, he would look forward to it.

Pen plotters fell out of fashion with the advent of printers, and most of Tamu’s audience had not heard of them. Many expressed their surprise just to see the pen tip move and draw the letters one stroke at a time. Tamu also received valuable advice online to help make the results look more like genuine handwriting. Some viewers even requested that he invent a version for writing job applications, which are generally written out by hand in Japan. He has placed this task on his list of things to do.

Surprisingly, Tamu has not yet actually submitted a paper written by the handwriting machine, because the classes he is taking generally do not require such reports. Perhaps his invention might come in handy for other students, though.

Hopes to Design Enduring Services

Tamu plans to create other devices in the future. He usually makes games and apps, but recently he also designed a semi-automated laundry folding machine and posted the results on Twitter. He says that he wants to upload more “fun electronic engineering” on Twitter to entertain people. Although he does not have firm plans for the future, he hopes to become an IT engineer and design services that people will use for many years.

Tamu’s invention attracted a great deal of attention online. It was his first viral tweet, causing some minor embarrassment, but he was also pleased with the wide coverage his invention attracted. The many compliments and questions from friends and fellow students has inspired him to post more of his creations and videos online as he comes up with them.

Tamu’s semi-automated laundry-folding machine folds shirts in a snap.
Tamu’s semi-automated laundry-folding machine folds shirts in a snap.

The fully automated handwritten report machine is more than just a device to produce authentic-looking reports. It is evidence of Tamu’s dedication to his studies.

Going viral probably resulted in university teachers finding out about the handwriting machine. But hopefully, if any of them discovers a suspicious-looking report, they will show some leniency out of respect for Tamu’s zeal.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on October 4, 2019. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)

https://www.fnn.jp/

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