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Lernstift: A Linux Pen That Corrects Mistakes While You Write

Lernstift — German for “learning pen” — is a Linux-based smart pen
that will notify users when they make mistakes. Photo: Lernstift

What if your pen could warn you about spelling mistakes, just like your word processor? Lernstift — German for “learning pen” — is a Linux-based smart pen that not only corrects spelling, but can also help students, or anyone else, improve their handwriting.

There are other smart pens on the market, such as the Livescribe, but Lernstift is unusual in that doesn’t require special paper and will have exchangeable pen tips — including a fountain pen module, a ballpoint module, and, eventually, a pencil module. The gadget is now available for pre-order through Kickstarter and is expected to ship in December.

But why worry about enhancing handwriting on paper just when society seems to be abandoning that skill in favor of typing, or at least using digital styluses? Lernstift inventor Falk Wolsky explains that the idea was born out of frustration with his oldest son’s homework mistakes. Wolsky says his son was too often distracted, and would make small, preventable errors.

“My wife said: ‘I wish the pen would give him an electroshock or something to make him think about his spelling,’” Wolsky says. “I thought, an electroshock wasn’t so good, but a vibration might work.”

Wolsky doubts old fashioned handwriting will ever go away, citing research on its cognitive benefits. For example, one study by researchers at Indiana University found that students who wrote letters and other symbols by hand could better identify those shapes later than those who just studied them without writing them.

Lernstift works by monitoring what a user is writing using built in sensors. It can then send data wirelessly to a computer or tablet that can analyze what’s being written and then tell the pen to vibrate if the user draws a letter too sloppily, or if they misspell a word. “They get instant feedback, instead of feedback three days later when the teacher hands the paper back covered in red marks,” Wolsky says.

The pen uses a custom embedded Linux operating system with custom, closed-source software that controls the sensors and handles handwriting recognition. But Lernstift will have an open API so that developers can build new applications for the pen, whether that’s new dictionaries to support spell checking in different languages, or ways to use the pen to transfer drawings to Photoshop. “The developer platform is extremely important part for us,” he says.

Lernstift is yet another example of how “the internet of things” can turn household items like pens into programmable “smart objects.” Even something as old fashioned as handwriting can be given new dimensions.

Written by Klint Finley. Originally appeared on WIRED
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