Where would some of us be without spell check?
The sometimes annoying, but frankly indispensable computer aid has spared billions of typographical blushes.
Now, an ingenious prototype pen developed by a German start-up is promising to give our longhand writing a similar sort of safety net.
Lernstift (German for “learning pen”) is a digital pen with a difference, carrying not only ink inside its casing but also a tiny computer that alerts users to spelling errors.
Daniel Kaesmacher, co-founder of Lernstift told CNN: “Basically there are two functions. The calligraphy mode which helps you correct individual letters, and the orthography mode which vibrates when a word is misspelled.”
The AAA battery-powered Linux computer includes a vibration module and a patent pending non-optical motion sensor which recognizes specific movements and shapes of letters and words.
The pen employs a menagerie of sensors, including a gyroscope (for measuring orientation), accelerometer (for calculating propulsion) and magnetometer (a device that measures the strength and direction of magnetic fields) — all to calculate the pen’s 3-D movements.
Lernstift recognizes all writing movements, the company says, written on paper or in the air and built-in Wi-Fi allows scribblers to connect with smartphones, computers or other pens in a network.
The pen was invented by software developer and Lernstift founder Falk Wolsky after seeing his wife’s frustrations at watching their son struggle with his homework. Why can’t pens give instant feedback on mistakes? she asked.
His imagination fired, Wolsky set about constructing a prototype before assembling a team of hardware and software experts late last year.
“We are at the stage where the individual components do their job. We haven’t put it together yet, but the response to the idea though has been overwhelming,” Kaesmacher said.
The pen has been designed primarily as an educational tool and the Munich-based company are hopeful that dyslexic children will find the new pen particularly useful.
Greg Brooks, Professor Emeritus of Education at the UK’s University of Sheffield gave the pen a cautious welcome.
“It’s a neat idea in principle, but as ever the proof will be in the using of it,” Brooks said via email.
“Will it learn individuals’ quirks of handwriting, or insist on one style? I can see how it might be programmed to spot obvious spelling errors (non-words), just as the spellcheckers in word processors do — but none of those can yet cope with real-word errors.”
A Kickstarter campaign recently got underway looking to raise £120,000 ($180,000) and tests in schools will begin later this year.
The first pens will initially recognize only English and German spellings, but other languages will follow, says Kaesmacher.
“Learning your native language is one thing, but it’s also the perfect tool to adapt for foreign language students,” he says.
“From a cultural point of view, the pen is a wonderful bridge between cursive and technological worlds.”
Eventually, the company plan to offer pencil, fountain and ballpoint pen options with a launch price between €120-150 ($160-200) falling to under €50 ($60) depending on how fast the company grows.
By Matthew Knight, CNN