Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Maple handwriting recognition: useful or gimmick?

One of the more original features of Maple 10 was its handwriting recognition tool. Quoting the PR:

" With over 1000 symbols, it could be a daunting task to find the symbol you want. But with the handwriting recognition built into Maple 10, it's easy!

Simply use the mouse to sketch the symbol in the Symbol Recognition palette, just like you would draw it on paper. The symbol rec
ognizer will search through all the symbols and find the symbol you need."

The question is- "Is this a useful tool or just a gimmick". I set out to find out.

The first problem is a human failure. With only a mouse to do the handwriting, it is actually quite hard to draw the symbol you want unless you slow down and concentr
ate. Here are screenshots of my first attempts at drawing an Infinity symbol:

The list of characters at below the two buttons are Maple's suggestion for what I meant. With this writing, it should probably be forgiven for its suggestions of "M" and "&".

However, when you take more care, the suggestions don't get much better.

These seem like pretty good infinity symbols to me, but I never managed to get a match, even though the symbol is supported. "%" was the most common response and I can't see why it matched to "D" in this example.

The results varied depending on the symbol, arrows and comparisons frequently gave useful suggestions, but lots of the symbols were frustratingly hard to match or impossible. Following are some more screenshots of decent attempts to draw supported characters, with the failed matches:

The most surprising was Pi, since it was on the face of the button you press for a match and very likely to be needed. I never managed to get a match for Pi out of lots of attempts. Most often Maple suggested "H"

Where it did do well, with almost flawless matching was ASCII characters. Presumably because ASCII character recognition was already a solved problem. Of course, those are the characters where it is of no use in this context.

n reality, the need isn't really there anyway. 1000 characters may sound like a lot, but there are over 100 on your keyboard already, and once the remaining 900 have been broken down into 12 catagories, it is pretty easy to scan, say 70 arrow symbols, by eye, for the right one because, unlike Maple, your eyes are good at character recognition.

This feature was a lot of fun, seeing what the character lottery would throw up, but useful or gimmick? Strictly gimmick.


Anonymous said...

Buy a tablet and try again. It may not be obvious to you since you only have a mouse, but I have a mouse AND a tablet and they are WAY different devices. Speed, sampling rate, control, etc.

It could be that Maple handwriting is good with a tablet and totally bad with a mouse. It would be foolish to conclude from your mouse test anything other than "don't use it with a mouse".

Scientific Computing said...

I agree that my first comments about MY ability to enter the symbol are specific to mouse use.

But after the first two examples, the entry is not at fault. They are good representations of the symbols, certainly as good as my handwriting is with pen and paper.

Most of the failures I have given as examples are failures in recogniation, not failure of entry.

Anonymous said...

Handwriting recognition is typically not based as much on the appearance as the sequence, direction, speed, and even pressure of the strokes. Thus even if you have managed to make something that LOOKS like a sideways 8, it may not be "close" in the space of handwritten characters. I haven't tried Maple 10 with a tablet, but I wouldn't totally discount it based on your mouse experience.

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