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In order to design new devices and programs, engineers must transfer their initial creative sketches from paper to computer-aided-design programs, a painstaking and cumbersome process. MIT computer scientist Randall Davis is on his way to eliminating the paper stage entirely with software that can recognize and interpret shapes sketched right on a tablet computer. When a software designer, say, sketches a rectangle, the program will recognize it as representing a specific programming function. “Once the sketch is understood, you can hand it off to other programs” that transform the sketch into a skeleton code, Davis says. The boon for designers is that they can quickly try out concepts to see how they will work before transferring more elaborate drawings to the computer. While he is still working on prototypes, Davis is already taking the idea one step further, constructing a digital drafting table, whose surface looks like an ordinary desk’s but is effectively a large-scale tablet computer screen on which drafters could sketch their designs.

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