Laurent Bernardin, Chief Scientist, Maplesoft
After using Maple for over 15 years, I still occasionally reach for a notepad to write down a couple equations or to do a quick derivation. I ask myself: Why? Even though the new equation editor, as well as a broad set of easy-to-use palettes, in Maple 10 make it very easy to enter mathematical expressions, it is still sometimes more efficient to use old-fashioned pen and paper, especially for very simple calculations.
The obvious solution is to make Maple understand handwritten mathematics. Handwriting recognition is an active research area and has gained new popularity with the Microsoft® push for the Tablet PC. As it turns out, recognizing handwritten mathematics is an order of magnitude harder than recognizing text: to recognize a mathematical expression, you first need to correctly identify all the symbols and split them into words, but you also need to determine the spatial arrangement of these symbols and words in two dimensions. Finally, math is ambiguous and inferring the semantics of a hand-drawn expression is another difficult problem.
For Maple 10, we have taken the first step towards recognizing handwritten mathematics. The symbol lookup palette allows you to draw a mathematical symbol that is automatically recognized among the set of over a thousand symbols available in Maple 10. After recognition, the symbol can be inserted into a Maple document and used as part of a computation. As mentioned above, symbol recognition is a crucial part of recognizing handwritten expressions. This feature brings us a step closer to the goal of pen input in Maple.
Handwriting recognition in Maple 10 is more than a glimpse into the future. Our development team has made handwriting recognition useful today. Using pen input can be frustrating if there is a high rate of recognition errors, but the symbol lookup palette in Maple 10 is based on a new internally developed algorithm that has excellent accuracy. Whether you are using a pen or a mouse, being able to scribble a symbol that is automatically recognized is a powerful way to search a large set of mathematical symbols.