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Government Robotics Hardware News

Robo-Arm Signatures Are Legal, Gov't Buys One 154

Posted by Soulskill
from the precedent-set-by-the-governator dept.
AndreV writes "It's endlessly comforting to know a recently designed and implemented long-distance robotic signing arm can produce signatures legal in both the US and Canada. The aptly named LongPen replicates the handwriting from a person writing in a remote location — with the unique speed, cadence and pressure of a human pen-stroke. It started as an idea from author Margaret Atwood to help free her from grueling, multi-city, multi-country book tours, but the hard stuff was done by a bunch of Canadian haptic gurus, whose design took into consideration many factors of the human arm and how we write. How it works: from the author-end, data protocols are set up, and the pen pressure is measured on a special tablet. The data streams to the robot, while algorithms smooth out all the missed points. Complex math operations were used to help the mechatronic limb repeat the hand's motions without unnecessary jerking, and programmers had to 'scale time' or 'stretch time' by breaking down the movements, essentially tricking the eyes into thinking the robot is writing fast. It was recently adopted by the Ontario Government to sign official documents. It helps criminals sign books, too."
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Robo-Arm Signatures Are Legal, Gov't Buys One

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  • Canada's best-known novelist and inventor of the LongPen.
    Boy, you learn something every day.

    • Re:Margaret Atwood (Score:4, Informative)

      by rackserverdeals (1503561) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @09:26AM (#27626027) Homepage Journal

      And obviously someone that doesn't understand why people obtain signatures.

      A signed copy of a book can increase it's value but when you consider how many book signings they do these days, it's pretty meaningless, at least for the near future.

      People get autographs for the same reason they take pictures with celebrities. To have some sort of proof they met the celebrity.

      With digital cameras so readily available and portable, I'm surprised people are still looking for autographs (other than to sell on ebay).

      With book tours, people don't just want their book signed, they want to have their 15 seconds to talk to the author.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        They're using the system to do video-conference book-signings. You still get your 15 seconds, and you still get a personal signature. The only difference is that the author doesn't have to travel, and doesn't have to smell you.
        • Author's security from that over-friendly fan.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by MrNaz (730548) *

            Yes, because it's such a hard life jet-setting around, waving at adoring fans hopeful that you'll scribble something in their copy of a $24.99 book turning it into a priceless artifact of literature all the while being paid huge amounts of money for it.

            Only a modern human would be lazy enough to want to automate being famous.

        • They're using the system to do video-conference book-signings. You still get your 15 seconds, and you still get a personal signature. The only difference is that the author doesn't have to travel, and doesn't have to smell you.

          The fans want to see the author in person. Might as well just have the author take email requests for book signings, record it, put it on youtube or even do it live over the internet. Then ship the autographed book. Would be much cheaper.

          This is just an author being lazy. I can understand if the author couldn't physically make it, but this just seems like a case of an author that can't be bothered with her pesky readers. In the end, I think it might give her what she wanted, but not how she wanted.

          • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            This is just an author being lazy. I can understand if the author couldn't physically make it, but this just seems like a case of an author that can't be bothered with her pesky readers. In the end, I think it might give her what she wanted, but not how she wanted.

            She's 69. She has been writing for 50 years. We don't know what her health is like. Her fans will take what they can get. You aren't bothering to look into the particulars of this at all, are you?

          • If I'm not mistaken, there are cases where people send things to a celebrity to be signed and get it back with a video of the signing. Can't think of where I heard this so I don't have a reference.
            • by mrmeval (662166)

              It depends on the author. Some will send you a book plate that affixes to the book. Some will sign a book if you send it with return postage. Some will refuse to sign anything sent without permission. Some only do signings in a controlled setting, etc.

              I was reading where some nutjob harassed Piers Anthony till he relented and signed a book but he's a bit of a wimp. Most would have jailed the cretin.

      • Re:Margaret Atwood (Score:5, Interesting)

        by omeomi (675045) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @10:07AM (#27626285) Homepage
        With book tours, people don't just want their book signed, they want to have their 15 seconds to talk to the author.

        Realistically, I suppose I'd be more likely to head down to the book store to see the weird robotic arm signing books than to talk with some random author I've never heard of.
  • The real question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spiritraveller (641174) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @08:29AM (#27625741)

    is whether a handwriting expert can tell the difference.

    • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @08:32AM (#27625751) Homepage

      The real question is whether a handwriting expert can tell the difference.

      Between the Robo-Arm signature on the document you intended to sign, and the Robo-Arm signature on the document you didn't? I doubt it.

      • by jcr (53032) <jcr@NOsPAM.mac.com> on Saturday April 18, 2009 @08:38AM (#27625783) Journal

        The workaround for that problem is to get a signature notarized, so that the signer can't disavow it. Same solution we've had for a long time before this technology came along.

        -jcr

        • Re:The real question (Score:5, Informative)

          by TheRedSeven (1234758) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @09:03AM (#27625897) Homepage
          Right, because Notaries Public are always scrupulous, have high standards [wikipedia.org] and ethics training, and never notarize documents signed outside of their presence.

          I have signed documents and later found that someone had them notarized without my knowledge. Legal? No. Does it happen? Without a doubt.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by maxume (22995)

            The robo-arm doesn't really add a lot or problems to that though (and if someone uses a naive playback attack to forge multiple signatures, the fact that they are too similar should make it easier to successfully deny the signature).

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by kohaku (797652)
              Hah, well this won't affect me: my signature comes out different every time!
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by turbidostato (878842)

              "The robo-arm doesn't really add a lot or problems to that though (and if someone uses a naive playback attack to forge multiple signatures, the fact that they are too similar should make it easier to successfully deny the signature)."

              Do you know what "non repudiation" is? Since they are too similar which one is the good one? I'd be more than happy to sign you a one million check knowing that the day you try to get it I'll go with one hundred copies so I can deny to pay.

              The robotic arm is twofold bad idea

          • by jcr (53032)

            I have signed documents and later found that someone had them notarized without my knowledge.

            That's fraud. Did you file charges, or complain to the authority who issued the notary's license?

            -jcr

            • It is fraud. But it was fraud that benefitted me without my fore-knowledge, so I did not report it.

              (It was on a visa application for a trip I took through my college. The leader collected all our signatures, had the university notarize them all (!?!) and then submitted them to the appropriate embassy. I only found out about the notarization after I got the visa back with a copy of the notarized form...)
        • by jshackney (99735)

          Geez, so now there'll be a Notary service at every book signing. Sounds like a business opportunity.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      A persons brain produces Analog writing
      In robotic arms, There wil be segmented gaps , as a stepper motor or other motor has only a finite resolution.
      example 3600 steps per revolution of the motors shaft or .1 degrees per step , but these gaps also identify the writer as a robotic arm , so the signature has Both parts of the real person and parts of the roboric arms
      It may not fool a writing expert if he/she can see this segmentation, because digital /robotic writing must contain segments no matter

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by j_sp_r (656354)

        You might be able to use a mechanical solution between the shaft of the motor and the driven shaft. Think of a spring-damper system that dampens the step movement to a smooth path.

      • by tepples (727027)

        In robotic arms, There wil be segmented gaps , as a stepper motor or other motor has only a finite resolution.

        How do you know the gaps will be segmented, and not smoothed out by some sort of low-pass filter?

      • because digital /robotic writing must contain segments no matter how fine
        However it is certainly plausible that they are lost in the noise.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by camperdave (969942)
        In robotic arms, There wil be segmented gaps , as a stepper motor or other motor has only a finite resolution.

        Who says they have to use stepper motors? There is a type of motor called a selsyn [wikipedia.org] or self-synchronizing motor. The way it works is this: You take two identical motors, called the transmitter and the receiver. You hook them up coil for coil. Then you supply power to the rotor coils. Any movement of the rotor on the transmitter motor generates a voltage in the stator coils (the stationary coi
        • In a practical sense, I doubt that movement would be at all fluid in the system you propose. The pen would only move when the magnetic force on the second motor was high enough to overcome the friction losses. The result is non-fluid movement, or no movement at all if the input was subtle enough. The second part of your comment doesn't make sense to me. Digitization artifacts are a function of the A/D conversion, not of the transport mechanism. Over a telephone, that is remedied by time.
          • Well synchros are used for gyroscopic compasses, so the accuracy is going to be there. Also, they are used in weapons fire control systems, so the power is there also. Keep in mind, that these things are driven by AC current, so there will always be an induced current in the stator windings. As far as the pen moving only when there is high enough magnetic force to overcome the friction losses, well that applies to stepper motors and regular motors as well.

            As for the second part of my post, I can only
        • Servo motors can easily resolve 1/2500 of a revolution, and if mated to a relatively inexpensive 60:1 zero-backlash worm gear, effectively can position to within 1/150,000 of a revolution. That is some pretty serious precision that can be assembled for just a few hundred dollars.

      • There wil be segmented gaps , as a stepper motor or other motor has only a finite resolution.
        example 3600 steps per revolution of the motors shaft or .1 degrees per step

        You can double the resolution of a stepper motor by making half-steps (energising 2 coils at once will cause it to stop half way between the 2 steps). You can also greatly increase the resolution by PWMing the energised coils - between these 2 methods, using 256 PWM levels your 0.1 degree resolution motor now has a resolution of 0.0002 degrees. Want a higher resolution? Just increase the number of PWM levels you use.

        Yes, it's still digital and therefore still has discrete steps, but between the flexibili

    • ...is can this (not) be hacked? Now where did that checkbook go?

    • by SIR_Taco (467460)

      According to an interview with one of the inventors (on CTV):
      "We worked closely with forensic scientists and they deemed it 100% accurate in replication as well as pressure"

      Now take that with a grain of salt, but they seem to have done their homework.

    • by bughunter (10093)

      No, the real question is whether the LongPenIs Mightier Than The Sword.

      (Perhaps we should ask Sean Connery.)

  • Better than (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is less laughable to me than the State of Michigan where government workers are required to "sign" memos by typing their name in italics over their non-italicized name.

    • by u38cg (607297)
      Legally, in English common law jurisdictions at least (which includes the US) the signature itself is irrelevant: what matters is the intent. All you need to do is signify (note the etymology) that you have consented to whatever you have "signed". An X is more than acceptable. So are signature stamps and autopens ( by the way, can anyone enumerate the difference between this and an autopen?). Even a physical mark is not strictly necessary: contracts, after all, can be verbal and effected with nothing mo
      • by rich_r (655226)
        Amusingly, the application forms used by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency in the UK still have a space for people to make their mark as well as a signature box.
  • by piripiri (1476949) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @08:37AM (#27625777) Journal
    How this handle security? If the signature is sent remotely, it is possible to store ones signature to reproduce it several times afterwards.
    • by rackserverdeals (1503561) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @09:34AM (#27626077) Homepage Journal

      Not only that, how do you know what you're actually signing if you're not there to read it in person?

      You don't even need to figure out a way to store and reproduce it. Just through a piece of carbon paper under the document and have a second contract under it, or even just a blank sheet of paper to be filled out later.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by koro666 (947362)

        From my experience, when filling forms that use carbon paper, there's no carbon under the signature area so you have to sign all copies separately.

        I'd assume a carbon-copied signature would not be considered binding at all, and would be also be dead easy to spot.

        • by Jared555 (874152)
          Someone could just cut a small hole in some random document needing signed and put something else underneath it. It is doubtful someone could tell the difference and the machine would be signing directly onto the paper. Just shred the document that was SUPPOSED to be signed and claim something happened to it. Unless you sign your documents slightly differently when you use the robo-arm there would be no way to tell. Maybe a special ink could be used or a tiny code that indicated the machine that signed
      • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @10:06AM (#27626273)

        If you search for LongPen videos on youtube you can see a demo of this at a trade show...

        It's more than just a remote signature product - it's really meant for legal/financial use where there may possibly be disputes over what was signed, who was present. etc.

        What the product does is transmit a photo of the document in the robo-pen device to the remote signing end where it appears in a display built into to the tablet device you sign on - it's as if you're singing the real document on the appropriate line/whereever. The system also takes and stores before/after photos of the signed document and saves audio/video of the remote signer (& robot end?) so that these can be brought up if there's any legal challenge... It should be noted that the anticipated legal challenges arn't because of this being a remote signature device, but rather that the whole photo/audio/video capture system is designed to address the challenges that already occur with traditional signed documents.

        There are various comments in reply to this article about how this is nothing new, but from the video it seems that not only is it an entire singing/verification system, but also the signature reproduction quality is very high - it detects/reproduces 60 different pressure levels and samples at 2000/samples sec.

    • by bentcd (690786) <bcd@pvv.org> on Saturday April 18, 2009 @09:36AM (#27626089) Homepage

      How this handle security? If the signature is sent remotely, it is possible to store ones signature to reproduce it several times afterwards.

      Signatures don't handle security, and it's a very very long time since they did. The robo-arm introduces nothing new wrt reproducing signatures that fax machines didn't already bring to the masses several decades ago.

      I suspect that signatures, together with other low-security authentication mechanisms such as PINs and credit card numbers etc, are really only there so that when people do falsify or misuse them you can legitimately lock them up for various forms of fraud.

      Note that in certain situations involving signatures, you still need for both parties to sign at the same time, with two or more witnesses who also sign the document. This shows us that there is little or no security in the signatures as such, but that the security aspect is handled by having well known eye witnesses to interview should the validity of the contract come under dispute at some point.

      • by NonSequor (230139) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @10:52AM (#27626643) Journal

        As I see it, a signature is a sort of signifier that a person recognizes they are agreeing to something that they can't trivially disavow later. It's basically evidence that someone entered into an agreement or issued a statement under their name willingly. It doesn't prove who actually did the signing, but as you said other evidence can corroborate that.

        It's not something you can claim you did accidentally. If you sign something without reading it, then you're willingly trusting the person who asked you to sign it.

      • by lilomar (1072448)

        I suspect that signatures, together with other low-security authentication mechanisms such as PINs and credit card numbers etc, are really only there so that when people do falsify or misuse them you can legitimately lock them up for various forms of fraud.

        Rknpgyl. N fvtangher vf gb senhq nf ebg-13 vf gb QEZ. Abj cercner gb or QZPN'q. :)

      • by Patch86 (1465427)

        Signatures don't handle security, and it's a very very long time since they did.

        I still get asked occasionally to sign for my credit card, and the shop assistant always peers intently at the back of my card to see if they match.

        And we still rely on signatures as a first-line-of-defence for identifying people in written correspondence at work (including in formal documents and forms). For most important things there are other checks, but a matching signature is still often required.

        Being able to accurately reproduce someone's signature would still be a big boon for any would-be fraudste

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It doesn't matter, signatures aren't secure anyway. The variability between separate signatures of one person is often greater than the difference between any one of them and a reasonable forgery. In that respect the law is out of sync with reality, in the sense that a signature is supposed to guarantee that the document was signed by the undersigned while in reality it could be signed by anyone who had taken the trouble to exercise jotting down someone else's signature for half a day.
      In the Netherlands thi

      • by Don_dumb (927108)
        House selling scams in Britain. I live in that there Britain and hadn't (I think) heard of these scams. Could you enlighten me?

        Ps - Your prose might benefit from some paragraphs [wikipedia.org], your post was interesting but I had to read it three times to understand.
    • I have already got a system to prevent this.
      No two signatures are the same. That's how you know my signature is genuine - it doesn't match another signature of mine.

      Used to cause a bit of annoyance at the bank when they checked these things.
      • by Tacvek (948259)

        I don't intentionally vary my signatures, but they definately do vary. Unfortunately for me, they can very so much that the traditional check of "Are they very similar?" would be worthless. If you try to match two of my signatures, you there might be a 1/4 chance that they match as closely as signatures traditionally "should". Sigh.

        • by Don_dumb (927108)
          Yeah I was just joking that it was intentional. My handwriting is simply just too poor to replicate it.
  • by pz (113803) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @08:41AM (#27625795) Journal

    Robotic signature machines have been around for decades. Some of my colleagues at MIT worked on the first modern ones based on plotter technology in the late 1980s/early 1990s which were quickly bought by places like the US White House to sign letters.

    A 5-second search on Google for "signature machine" comes up with 8 thousand hits. There's an autopen entry on Wikipedia indicating that mechanical signature machines have been around since the early 1800s (yes 1800s), and lists three current manufacturers of the devices.

    So, this is news? Just because someone hooked up the recording part and the writing part across an internet connection and made them work in real time? That makes it to the front page? Is that really the first time it was ever done? Lots of other things have been done telerobotically already.

    • by DavidR1991 (1047748) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @08:48AM (#27625827) Homepage

      Auto signature machines are not the same as long distance signature machines. It's also worth noting that mechanical signature systems are rarely used for sensitive data etc. (they're normally used on cheap merchandise etc. and hand writing experts can tell the difference between the mechanical version and a real signature)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nbauman (624611)

      You're right. I remember seeing a long-distance handwriting machine at an airport 50 years ago, where someone in a remote city was writing messages to our city -- I think about the weather and flight delays. (I assume they could also have used teletype.)

      And Harry Truman was the first president to use an Autopen to reply to constituent letters.

      • by pongo000 (97357)

        Your memory is accurate. We used them in the air traffic control tower I worked at to send weather and flight data to the Flight Service Station that was across the field. Hardly nothing new here in terms of hardware. Just a new legal interpretation on an old idea.

    • Oh, the autopen is used for so much more than just signing letters. When I worked for a certain elected official, we kept a stack of autopen-signed papers so we could do floor orders and the like. Nothing big, of course, like "move to add Member X as cosponsor to my Bill Y", but there's no reason why they couldn't have been used for more sinister ends. If I ever wanted to write a racist, pro-Nazi diatribe I could've gotten my boss's signature on it without any hassle. Needless to say, it requires a lot
  • long pen (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    longpenislong
  • Manually signing things is cumbersome because (a) you have to be within arm's reach of the signature's destination, and (b) because it takes a certain amount of time to sign each paper.

    These folks seem to have a (complex) system to create signatures remotely, addressing (a). If you record and play back what comes into the signing machine, you would also have (b) - at the expense of an even greater security headache. I really hope they are keeping the connection encrypted. And kudos to them on account of imi

  • Yes, off topic. Where should I post this then?

    Slashdot's CSS is all broken. I can't see any images! And the pages are fugly. My error console in firefox has "$ is not defined" about a million times for slashdot.org, even if I log out. Anyone else getting this? It's been going on for about a day.

  • On a business, rather than celebrity autograph level, how is this different than an autopen except that it's (lots) harder to detect forgery? How is this a good thing?

    Anything that can be sent can be recorded, and anything that can be encrypted can be decrypted given enough time. The security of the device seems to be based on the fact that it is more or less unique. This will not remain true, and therefore the security offered will not continue to exist. All this machine has done is make one of our las

  • It's going to be hilarious when the LonPen 15 is introduced...
    • by Don_dumb (927108)

      It's going to be hilarious when the LonPen 15 is introduced...

      Well, perhaps for those who get the joke.

    • by bughunter (10093)

      I can see the Marketing Slogan now:

      The LongPen 15
      Mightier than the Sword!

  • Impact == 0 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by physicsphairy (720718) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @09:01AM (#27625887) Homepage

    The value of a signature is its difficulty to replicate. The historical cut off for this has been the talent and prevalence of expert forgers. Having automated forgers is quite irrelevant if they require more investment of time and effort to perform the same replication. (which would clearly be the case for this implementation, at least)

    If anything, I would say the problem is that these machines are being underapplied. What they should *really* be used for is to create extremely complicated signatures a human being would not be able to accurately reproduce. Then for the first time in hundreds of years written signatures would become more secure.

    (Granted, only until someone develops a machine that can reverse-engineer them, but at that point human-written signatures would have been even less helpful.)

    • by ivucica (1001089)

      The real problem is that these forgeries are for some reason legal in US and Canada, and God-knows-where-else.

  • http://www.earlyofficemuseum.com/copy_machines.htm [earlyofficemuseum.com]

    Scroll down to the Polygraphs paragraph.

    I swear I saw in a very old movie the original-idea polygraph on a machine separated over a phone line. Cannot find a reference to it anywhere.

    I love /. for what I learn while looking for other things - originally, a polygraph was a machine to copy signatures.

    Props to the LongPen for its tech - but I think we have a history-recording gap between it and the polygraph.

  • by cenc (1310167) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @09:02AM (#27625891) Homepage

    These have been around for hundreds of years I believe. We just now can send them longer distances.

  • Using robotic arms to sign official documents? In Spain we use rubber stamps.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pimpimpim (811140)
      Indeed, often I get documents where there is a signature of someone else, like the secretary, just saying "in assignment of". If the document is really important you could always have it hand-signed later on.
  • Wot? (Score:2, Funny)

    by XMode (252740)

    Where is the 'whatcouldpossiblygowrong' tag?!

  • Look at patient #5,222,138

    http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=5222138.PN.&OS=PN/5222138&RS=PN/5222138 [uspto.gov]

    It was called the Telesignature and used dual key RSA for authentication and encryption. The system used a combined scanner (chinnon planetary configuration scanner) attached to a flat bed plotter inside a security enclosure. A pen computer was used at the remote end to review an

  • How can such an arm be secure?
    I mean: how is the data transmitted? Any details?
    • by pcjunky (517872)

      Look at the above patient. Details on how the system was secured are included.

      Most of this is moot at this point as faxed signatures are deemed legal anyway.

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Saturday April 18, 2009 @09:53AM (#27626209) Homepage

    How is this any different from the "telautograph" machines common in the 1950s? As a kid I was fascinated by one I saw in a New York hotel that was used to allow a manager in one location to remotely sign documents in another. Heaven only knows that technology it used, but my vague memory is that it looked like an X-Y version of an analog, galvanometer-type pen recorder.

    Click, click, Google: Wikipedia has an article on the Telautograph [wikipedia.org] which mentions that "The telautograph was first publicly exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago."

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pcjunky (517872)

      The teleautograpgh does not seem to include any means of preventing it from being used for forgeries.

      No security measure means it could not be used for legal documents.

      It is simply a means of reproducing handwriting at a distance.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I couldn't find the LongPen at PenIsland. Can anyone tell me the URL of LongPenIsland?

  • Didn't Reagan use one of these? I seem to remember that.
  • I thought part of the reason a signature is important in the first place is to verify the signers presence at the time of signing.
  • Is no one going to mention Robert Heinlein and Waldo? They don't make nerds like they used to. http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=23 [technovelgy.com]
  • Plain old signature is getting obsolete, they need digital signature for authentication + something like TACACS/RSA for authorization.
  • This should be used with hookers and blackjack instead.
    In fact, screw the blackjack!
  • Reading about this, I just can't help but think of Nixon on Futurama. I'll be much more impressed when they get this technology working to the level where you can sign by rubbing your nose against the glass.

  • ... the government is developing a modification of the arm allowing it to reach into your pocket.

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