Pen-Based Computing Loses The Tablet

LeapFrog FLY.

Via Engadget I found mention of the LeapFrog FLY, a pen with embedded computer that reads your handwriting. Need a calculator? Just write out “2 + 2 = ” and hear a response from the pen computer’s synthesized voice. Need to schedule something? Write out the date.

It’s targeted at kids, and the company has released it with a variety of tutoring applications and games (you guessed it: FLYware) appropriate for kids in 3rd to 8th grade. Gizmag has details.

It turns out that it requires special paper (FLY paper, of course), but it’s an interesting concept. I wonder how much more it would have cost to use accelerometers (eliminating the need for that special paper) instead of an optical sensor?

Big picture moment: The computing world of today is built around computers with keyboards and big screens, but what might it look like if this pen-computer takes off? What applications might we build for a networked FLY? The world is in search of a $100 laptop, but this pen is available now for that price.

computer, edutainment, embedded computer, fly, fly paper, handwriting, leapfrog, optical sensor, pen computer, pen-based, pentop, pentop computer, special paper, tutoring, ubicomp, ultraportable

6 thoughts on “Pen-Based Computing Loses The Tablet

  1. I too was rather taken with this device after first reading about it in the current issue of Wired (13.11) and had many of the same questions you had.

    The low cost, ease of use and disposability of paper was hyped a great deal and left me very excited – until I reached the portion buried deep in the article that declared that the device worked only with FLY paper. I suppose deep down I was hoping for a magical innovation that would make the use of plain paper as a tablet possible. But then, the specialized paper isn’t a major compromise towards that end.

    The most encouraging thing about this device though is its very limitation. The output comes only from a built-in speaker and there is no “visual” aspect to it. I suppose that it wouldn’t be unexpected to see down the road – if these devices grow beyond their “learning toy” roots – a wireless visual feed to an eyeglass-mounted personal display. But for now at least, the output is strictly aural and that means one remarkable thing – users are forced to use their imaginations.

    This is not the place (at least in the comments section, anyway!) to debate the impact of technology and modern media on our ability to vividly visualize, imagine and construct mental imagery, but it is undeniable that when such a powerful device as the Fly pen is restricted to audio output, it can only serve to encourage a diminishing trait of today’s children (and adults, for that matter).

    Now, shall we discuss the irony of using technology to get back to basics?


  2. Is there something stopping anyone with a high res laser printer from scanning the pattern on the “fly-paper” (groan) ?

    On their website, they state that its a very fine grained dot-matrix.

    [tags]tag you\'re it[/tags]

  3. So I did some googling to see if there was a grown-up version that syncs with a computer…lo and behold,crid=1545

    The logitech io pen. The technology is made by a company called anoto ( You can get special anoto paper notebooks. I could really see this being useful for college students. Take the notebook to class write your notes and sync them up to OneNote on your laptop. I hope someone makes one of these pens and offers an sdk to work with their tool. Of course to be really useful you’d need to be able to make paper that is customized for your application. Although the anoto website does mention case studies of like remote sales forces using specially designed forms.

  4. Not only is there a “grown up” version. there are many viable business applications available through various development partners. A quick search on youtube will reveal a nifty presentation by anoto. Interestingly, one of the development partners offers the optical recognition pattern you can print on forms your company already uses…this is way more than a simple toy. Any company that needs to document activities could save time and money by implementing some form of this technology, and they wouldn’t have to spend years training people how to use it.

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