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Linux-based smartpen goes live on Kickstarter

Jul 8, 2013  |  Eric Brown
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[Updated July 10] — A Linux-based digital pen from German startup Lernstift went live on Kickstarter on July 10 for about 115 Euros, or $148. The Lernstift pen incorporates an ARM Cortex processor, a WiFi module, and a motion sensor, and is designed to correct penmanship, spelling, and grammar errors as you write.

Lernstift announced the Lernstift pen in February, and was finally ready to begin seeking contributions on Kickstarter this week. Kickstarter supporters pledging 99 Pounds (about 115 Euros, or $148 U.S.) will receive the first shipment of pens in November or December, said co-founder Daniel Kaesmacher in an email to LinuxGizmos. Commercial pricing is expected to start at 130-150 Euros when the device ships in early 2014, with hopes to reduce that to 90 Euros with volume production.




The Lernstift smartpen runs Linux on an ARM SoC
(click images to enlarge)

 

The Kickstarter fundraising goal has been set at 120,000 Pounds, or about $179,000, said Kaesmacher. The batch of smartpens slated for delivery in November will go to recipients of an “app developer reward that includes two pens, plus ‘open API tech support’ from our team for backers who want to develop their own Lernsitft apps,” he added. The company uses its “own Linux distribution, based on the current Kernel,” said Kaesmacher.



Lernstift smartpen technical features
(click image to enlarge)

 

The Lernstift website shows a design based on the Gumstix Overo computer-on-module (COM). However, Kaesmacher said that they now use a similar, but oval-shaped PCB of their own design. It’s unclear whether this custom design uses a Cortex-A8 TI OMAP3 processor like the Overo or a Cortex-A9 OMAP4 like Gumstix’s new DuoVero.



Lernstift prototype based on Gumstix Overo COM
(click image to enlarge)

 

Lernstift has yet to post detailed specs, but the pen is said to include a WiFi module, a battery, and a vibration module, which alerts users to mistakes. The innovation here is a set of 3D motion sensors, including a gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer. Together, they help the smartpen’s embedded Linux computer calculate the pen’s 3D movements and generate 2D vectors. The sensor pack offers approximately 400dpi resolution at 200Hz, says the company.

The company is working with an unnamed “market leader” in handwriting recognition to detect errors in handwriting based on the motion sensor input. The user must select whether the pen is in calligraphy mode, which corrects for penmanship with a single vibration, or in orthography mode, which vibrates once for misspellings and twice for grammatical errors.



Lernstift calligraphy (left) and orthography (right) modes
(click images to enlarge)

 

Unlike many smartpens, the Lernstift requires no external sensors and can detect errors even when writing in air, says the company. The device supports exchangeable pencil, ballpoint, or fountain pen tips (click image at right to enlarge), and is available in multiple colors. Initially, English and German will be supported.



Writing in air with the Lernstift
(click image to enlarge)

 

Initially, the WiFi module is limited to providing “software updates and language swaps” via smartphones, tablets, or PCs with the help of an administrative app, said Kaesmacher. Eventually WiFi-enabled apps will be developed for “learning statistics, real-time digitalization, error visualization, and recap,” he added.



Lernstift mobile app displaying real-time digitization
(click image to enlarge)

 

Lernstift suggests potential educational applications including penmanship success measurement and live monitoring of students. Also noted are the ability to create documents by writing in air, as well as co-writing applications.

Other smartpens include Livescribe’s Sky WiFi Smartpen, which requires special Livescribe dot paper to help track handwriting. The focus is less on penmanship, however, than digitization of pen input. The Sky pen also includes audio functionality timecoded to each penstroke, letting users record and play back audio clips of a lecture or presentation.

More information may be found at the Lernstift website and on the Lernstift pen’s Kickstarter funding page.
 

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