Imagine if you could pick up a digital file or a note on a computer and pass it to a colleague's computer as easily as you can give them a paper document or a Post-It note. Researchers at Sony's Computer Science Laboratories in Tokyo believe they have figured out how to do just that.

Today, laptops, mobile phones and PDAs are everywhere and we digitally swap or access an increasing amount of information. But is still difficult for two people who are in the same room to copy files or notes between their devices. The typical ways of exchanging files, using e-mail, discs, or a shared file server, are impractical or clumsy in many cases.

Dr Jun Rekimoto and his team at the Sony Interaction Laboratory (http://www.csl.sony.co.jp/IL/) have been grappling with these challenges, and recently presented their research to an international audience in Vienna, at the CHI2004, a conference on how we interact with computers.

Dr Rekimoto's lab has extended the drag and drop technique used in most PC software to create a 'pick and drop' technique. So the owner of a handheld computer can pick up a file from their device, using a special pen, and drop it onto the screen of another computer, by placing the pen on its screen. He refers to this approach as 'direct manipulation'. It allows people to visually select and move information in physical space, rather than having to understand abstract concepts of networks and servers.

The pick and drop technique would make it easy for two colleagues in a meeting to exchange files between their laptop computers, new acquaintances to pass each other electronic business cards, or friends to swap references to websites or music tracks they like.

Full Story: BBC News