Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Handhelds Toys Hardware

New 'Pentop' Computer To Help Children Learn 144

theodp writes "Educational toymaker LeapFrog is introducing the Fly "pentop" computer, a talking computer hidden within a pen the size of an electric toothbrush. Available in mid-October for $99 at Wal-Mart and Target, the device responds to written commands and is aimed at 9-14 year-olds who can use it as a calculator, a calendar, to create and record music, and to play logic and geography games."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

New 'Pentop' Computer To Help Children Learn

Comments Filter:
  • Are they mad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zachary Kessin ( 1372 ) <> on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:09AM (#13387649) Homepage Journal
    I have 2 kids who are about 14, and I got to say there is no way I would give them something that costs $99 and is the size of a pen. They would loose it in 3 days.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      How does one "loose" a pen?
      • by Anonymous Coward
        How does one "loose" a pen?
        I don't know. I've just tried throwing one up in the air and shouting, "you're free, you're free", but the stupid pen just plummeted to the ground. I think it had something to do with the Intelligent Gravity but I did expect the pen to at least attempt to escape its infernal servitude.
      • "Pen, thou art loosed!"?
    • well just wait til the cheap asian copys com out, tha latest is always overpriced
    • Re:Are they mad? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AlphaJoe ( 798014 ) isn't the size of a pen, it is the size of an electric toothbrush. Substantially bigger than a pen, I must say. Which, unless it is lighter than the average electric toothbrush, I think it may be a bit unwieldy for younger kids.
      • My kids would probably still loose it, even if it is a bit bigger. They are very good at loosing stuff, it comes from being a teen ager (or an almost teen ager)
        • Re:Are they mad? (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          If you typed "loose" instead of "lose" it could be a typo. Since you did it twice, you are one of the many people online who do not know the difference between lose and loose. Join the club.
        • by Pxtl ( 151020 )
          Get it right:

          Suzie's about to lose her anal virginity. After that happens, her ass will be very loose.
          • May I suggest? (Score:5, Informative)

            by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @11:18AM (#13389416)
            Suzie's about to lose her anal virginity. After that happens, her ass will be very loose.

                Bobby's about to lose his button. After that happens, his collar will be very loose.

                There's no real need to invoke extreme vulgarity when all that you are trying to do is make a grammar point.

                Getting into the habit of being extremely and unnecessarily vulgar is easy, but it's a difficult habit to break. And it can be very costly if you misjudge the extent that it might cause offence.

                Just a thought.
            • > it can be very costly if you misjudge the extent that it might cause offence

              Offence is caused by the person who is offended, not the person who does something you (generic "you") don't like. The vulgarity is, IMO, a tool'(although the real 'tool' may well be the person using it) to get the person to remember something. A pornographic device, if you will. (As opposed to "mnemonic device")
            • But your way isn't funny.
    • And if they don't lose it, it will certainly help them learn how to get mugged in the playground.
  • I feel so duped! (Score:4, Informative)

    by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:11AM (#13387653) Homepage
    Leapfrog Talking Pen []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:14AM (#13387658)
    I said consummate v's...CONSUMMATE!
  • another computer? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by michalf ( 849657 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:15AM (#13387663) Homepage

    Now how can I tell my children that hiking, climbing, biking gives much more fun than electronic gadgets??? Do you really think such gadgets are good for children?

    Somehow I am getting more and more sceptical about these pseudo-educational gadgets.

    • Now how can I tell my children that hiking, climbing, biking gives much more fun than electronic gadgets???

      I don't see any reason why one shouldn't make an electronic gadget which teaches hiking, climbing or biking in addition to writing, reading, etc.

    • There's a huge market for electronic junk.

      Remember the mini-robot craze of the late 80's. I mean, most of those "robots" were no different than the bumper car toys of the early 80's. Drive forward, bump into something, pull back and to the left, drive forward again. Close inspection revealed that they were the bumper car toys of the 80's with a "robot" plastic shell on top.

      Take your kids hiking. Nature provides far more than you can pack into an electronic gadget. But to appreciate nature, you'll have
    • Now how can I tell my children that hiking, climbing, biking gives much more fun than electronic gadgets??? Do you really think such gadgets are good for children?

      You can't. You have to show them. If you don't personally do these things when you have a chance rather than play with your own electronic gadgets, they're not going to be interested. If you're not going to put your money where your mouth is, don't tell your kids stuff like that. Kids are very sensitive to hypocracy, they haven't learned to
    • Right. It is only pseudo-educational. If it can record music, that will be it's dominant use, almost certainly. And that's just a distraction, not anything that will help kids learn.
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:15AM (#13388416) Homepage
      Now how can I tell my children that hiking, climbing, biking gives much more fun than electronic gadgets???

      How? by getting off your ass and doing it with them. my techno-girl daughter hated camping and hiking until I exposed her to geo-cache activities. I bought her a $119.99 GPS and she combines computers and hiking, camping, biking and outdoor activities. Plus we get to do these things as a family, she is learning a skill that 99.997% of the populace lack.... the ability to search for and find things that are hidden or not obvious with neon signs pointing at them.

      This summer I upped the ante. we did a geo-cache locating hunt without a gps. we plotted the location on a paper map and went searching with only the map and a compass.

      THAT is how you get your kids outside.
  • by YuriGherkin ( 870386 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:22AM (#13387686)
    Is it just me, or does this gadget come across as just ... stupid and overpriced ? Seriously, you have to buy their "special" paper to use it!

    Why would you pay so much for a device without a screen? You can pick up a Palm Zire 31 for around USD$130 and you get something that kids would think is SO much better than a talking pen.

    "[the pen] can "see" what you write, read it out loud, and respond to written commands."

    Oh yeah, I can just see kids using it to spell a whole load of non-educational words and have the pen read them out aloud in the classroom. LOL!
    • You can pick up a Palm Zire 31 for around USD$130 and you get something that kids would think is SO much better than a talking pen.

      My 3.5 year old son loves the notepad application on my Palm. He has 23 pages of inexpensive scribble on there.

      I had to take him to a family funeral last week and when he got bored the palm was just the thing to keep him occupied. I know who is going to inherit this unit when I upgrade.

    • I totally agree, check this out from TFA:

      "Many of the games are fairly complex, the sort of logic exercises I remember going through to get ready for my graduate school exam. One example: You see a drawing of an ant, a bear, a cat, and a dog. It's a multiple-choice question, so you have to pick, by tapping with the pen, the next animal to complete this chain. The answer is elephant, of course, as the creatures in the chain are placed in alphabetical order, and the word starts with an 'e'"

      ahahahahahaha ... g
  • I really doubt they'll sell a whole lot of them. The whole concept is rather pointless, really. You can use your phone for far more, it may be bigger, but at least it's wifi! And I suppose you can make calls on it. As a great comedian once pointed out, you buy hundreds of pens, but where's one when you need it? This product will not last very long.
    • Leapfrog "computers" are very popular at libraries. My daughter checked out nd completed the entire set of leapfrog learning modules over a period of time. I bet between libraries and educational institutions alone they will be successful.
  • Missing something (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kafka47 ( 801886 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:24AM (#13387689) Homepage

    We just had a thread on the future of technology in schools [].

    Something tells me that this is not it. Seriously.


    • They need a catchy name for an activity involving the pens and web pages so that cyber-posers can act cool using it. Wait .. a paper diary that syncs straight to a web page. Fly Logging or Flogging!

      I for one, blah blah, Flogger Overlords...

  • If it didn't need this special 'paper' I would find it more interesting, that and an API/development kit for authoring my own applications for the device.

    Using any flat surface (within reason) as a 'tablet'/gestural interface interests me greatly.
    • If it didn't need this special 'paper' I would find it more interesting,

      There is no reason why it can't work like a computer mouse. They must be trying to make money off their paper.

      • Wouldn't you encounter tracking problems when lifting the pen from the normal paper?
        • Far from it. That would be the perfect way to recognize letters, if you instituted a Graffiti-like set of rules for how to write letters. It would be easy to learn, and then you'd have a nearly-indestructible device that could do silent text input. I think such a device would be very clever -- in fact that's what the article summary made me think of, I'm disappointed to hear they didn't do that.

          I envision an actual ballpoint pen, that writes, with a calculator-like LCD display along the spine and a couple

  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:26AM (#13387692)
    One of the many gushing tidbits from TFA:

    It took me a while to get hang of using the calculator (the circled "C" is the shortcut), one of Fly's really cool features. Following Fly's instructions, you draw a calculator box with numbers including "plus" and "minus" symbols on a piece of Fly paper. Then, you tap the numbers you want to calculate with the pen, and the gadget makes additions, subtractions, divisions, and multiplications for you. Here, too, you need good handwriting.

    OK, so I need special paper, good handwriting, I draw a picture of a calculator, tap the numbers, and it speaks the answer. What could be simpler?

    The UI on this thing sounds horrible, and the features it provides don't sound fun or useful, but other than that, it seems like a great device.

    • by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:54AM (#13387747) Homepage
      Not to mention that the calculator doesn't have an actual display, just the pen talking. That seems awkward when it's some large number. Any bets that if you start writing the number down (with the pen) as the pen speaks it, you'll interrupt it?
    • If that's the calculator interface, I'm really worried about the calendar interface.

      I mean, if I draw the first of the month in the wrong weekday column, will the pen assume I meant a different year, or will it just bomb out with some unuseful error, forcing me to get out another sheet of "special" ie. expensive paper?

      I see very limited uses for this technology, because it seems to remove one of the most useful aspects of computing, the ability to quickly organize and reference pre-existing information. If
    • I have a better gadget that requires only ordinary paper and an ordinary pen.
      The way it works is that I write the calculation down on the paper and then using the power of thinking and the standard mathematical notation that I learnt at school, I perform the calculation.

      In this way I can add, divide, multiply and subtract. If I'm feeling brave I can do simple equations where one or more variables are unknown and if I really push myself I can even do simple calculations in my head.

      I'm not so old that I d

    • Not to mention that there is a way better way to implement a calculator with a pen computer: Just have the thing give the answer to any mathematical expression you write, so if you write "5+3=" the pen would say "eight". There is no need to draw a calculator to do math, and kids would learn more from writing expressions. This seems like a lost opportunity.
    • Leapfrogs products are not about the most expensive polished electronics. They are about platforms that cost as little as possible to deliver compelling educational content for kids. Instead of whining, go play with one of these. I was blown away after 5 minutes and totally intrigued as to what the developers will come up with once they have got comfy with such a radically different computing paradigm.
      And to those that say, hey why the hell are you not teaching your own kids instead of buying them gadgets,
    • It would be great to have everyone use this feature during the SATs. Speaking the answer out loud is such a great help to some of us...
  • This pen could be better utilized as a utility for the disabled, the blind could use it to learn how to write, could they not? Or it could be used as a tool to help the learning disabled.
  • Website (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Those guys have some pretty badass website, check it out: []
  • ...a talking computer hidden within a pen the size of an electric toothbrush ... aimed at 9-14 year-olds who can use it as a calculator, a calendar, to create and record music, and to play logic and geography games...

    ...and to aim at other 9-14 year-olds...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yeahh... but does it run Linux?
    • Yeahh... but does it run Linux?

      NetBSD was ported to the device, but the project was scrapped due to the difficulty of teaching kids 9-14 how to write out the slice/partitioning stuff. Theo rejected it for OpenBSD due to possible buffer overflows with the ink mechanism.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    there was a learning toy that consisted of an electronic pen, which you would press the tip to the pages of special work books made for it, and it would beep and light up to indicate if the answer was right or wrong. The "pen" was pretty large and bulky, and it was a black color. Does anyone remember what the name of it was?
  • normal paper (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LosManos ( 538072 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @06:59AM (#13387762) Homepage Journal

    Remove the neccessity for special paper (with an accelerometer or some fancy triangulating gadget) and increase its computing power by connecting it to a computer or PDA (by bluetooth) and you might have something. I am not sure exactly what but something.

    For instance have the pen somehow buzz which way to draw a line and it/you could make up a new interface on the fly.

    I have tried digital whiteboard and wacom board and these solve other problems. If someone figures out how to put these solutions together into yet another solution we might have a cool thing.

    • Yes that struck me too. They are trying to pull the inktjet trick. Why should this paper have invisible dots? Why can't it use lined or grid paper.
      Why does it need special paper at all? My optical mouse can certainly follow my hand movements just fine.

      And aside from that, the concept looks interesting, but i cannot see this becoming the killer gadget of 2005. You need to draw your own interfaces before you can use them. When programmers make them they already look shitty, what happens when endusers have to
      • hejdig.

        Experimentation with this should be easy. Use a Wacom board and replace the tip with a tip from an ordinary pen /crayon/pencil/whatever. Put a sheet of paper on the wacom board and start hacking in your favourite language.

        Not a perfect solution but an easy way to try it out.

      • My optical mouse can certainly follow my hand movements just fine

        Don't know about you, but my optical mouse tracking is quite poor on plain white paper. Maybe this is (partly) why they needed invisible markers. Obviously, the fact they can charge a premium for the stuff is an added bonus (for them). Hmm... I wonder how long it will be before someone tries to undercut them, as happened with Epson's ink?

        Another option, I suppose, is to get some of this paper and laminate it, so that you can wipe it clea

  • by Emil Brink ( 69213 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @07:04AM (#13387779) Homepage
    I bet it's based on technology from Anoto []. The whole thing sounds very much like what their technology [] is said to be capable of, and the "special paper" is very much in line as well. Cool application, but it does sound rather annoying, heh.
  • by SFA_AOK ( 752620 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @07:07AM (#13387787)
    I guess it's powered by a PEN-tium?


    I'll get my coat.
    • Pentop - Pentium

      I think it's time for another lawsuit about the misuse of a brand name registered by Intel.

      I mean, there have been lawsuits (or attempts) for less than that, like "wxWindows", "lindows", "mike rowe soft"...
    • I must be really tired... I thought the headline was:

      New 'Pentium' Computer To Help Children Learn

      and I thought... nah, it won't help kids learn.

  • Well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by mangus_angus ( 873781 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @07:07AM (#13387789)
    judging by the number of 9-14 year-olds that told me how bad they "pwnd my n00b ass" at Counter Strike last night, something tells me they are beyond this.
  • Easter Eggs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Fleetie ( 603229 )
    I wonder how many "Easter Eggs" are hidden in this baby's handwriting / command recognition system.


    "Tell me a rude joke"

    If I were a programmer devloping that thing, I'd find it hard to resist sticking a few in!

  • RED RUM!

    RED RUM!!!

  • only catches on when the porn industry starts supporting it. hmm... okay, maybe it's not their target audience
  • Imagine a version that had a built in spell checker - you start writing then suddenly the pen takes over, your hand is mysteriously guided back to the start of the current word, you are powerless to resist as the pen forces you to strike a line through the word and then places you underneath the excision. Despite your writhing, your hand takes on a mind of its own and slowly and neatly traces out the letters r-e-c-e-i-v-e-d
  • that will get lost very easily and run out of battery even quicker when you can buy a good old fashioned everything that it can do for less? The target age is 9-14 but by the time I was 12 any pen larger than the deluxe BIC one with a rubber grip was already too phony for us "teenagers". I highly doubt anyone older than the age of 11 would really want a $99 penputer to show off in english class. The games will probably get really boring really quickly and the pen will loose its snazz.

    The point is, techno
  • who wants to enlighten me
  • by Remlik ( 654872 )
    Great! Pretty soon parents won't ever have to interact with their children, a talking computer will do it all for them!

    My wife is 8 months pregnant and has arranged her life and job to allow her to stay home with the child and then work part time as a nanny and bring the child with her.

    Why the hell would anyone just toss a talking pen at a kid and leave them be? Why not instead sit down with them and HELP them learn. Computers don't help anyone learn anything. They are merely a delivery device.

    I'm a Sys
    • Re:Kids (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MrCopilot ( 871878 )
      "I'm a Sys Admin, I have 4 computers in my home, my child won't have his or her own computer until Highschool at best. Learning tool my ass, the only they help you learn is how to download music and pr0n."

      As a sysAdmin, I know you have a dim view of users, but think of it in the terms Why not instead sit down with them and HELP them learn. to be responsible, educated users. There are responsible places your kids can download music. Open frank discussions about pornography and your ability to see every p

      • 26yr Olds, No PC in the bedroom. I have to lock the PC's up until chores and....

        Damn, That should read: 2 16yr olds.
        Locking away a 26yr olds computer, that's not right. /KMeany

        In addition, I think this PEN thing is being applied to the wrong market. Seems more suited to an engineering/FootBall-Basketball Coach/Graphic Artist market.
        Thats a big market, Football Engineer Artists, two moved in next door to me. As an Input device I'm with ya. But as a toy or learning device, not so much.

  • No one have a link of the NetBSD port for this thing yet?
  • by brxndxn ( 461473 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @08:57AM (#13388277)
    Instead of charging $99 for a stupid talking device that doesn't even have a screen, and then having it compete against their Gameboy SP's and PSP's, how about develop some software for their portable devices.

    Like.. put some educational interactive software on a PSP UMD disk. Make it so the kid has to get to certain levels in his educational software in order for him to 'earn' PSP time to play his games.

    The idea of some $99 device that 9-14yo's will talk to annoys the hell out of me. When the fvck can a 9-14yo kid talk aloud and separate himself from friends, school, and family comotion?

    Seriously.. the PSP and the Gameboy SP are two of the most ultimate devices that could be used for teaching... Instead, that aspect is completely ignored. Kids carry those things around.. They play them more than the parents control. How about some software that at least makes it so the kid has to spend a third of his time learning to spell or something.

  • Geez, I was making fun of this thing back in January []. I'm used to seeing stories on Slashdot 3 days or so after they break, but 8 months is a little long.
  • A) Yes, but can it run Linux?
    B) Imagine a Beowulf Cluster of pens!!!
  • What the hell is this? A computer for ANTS??? How do you expect Children to fit in this thing? It would have to be at LEAST 3 times the size!!!
  • by szfsoft ( 909855 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:29AM (#13388515)
    I am a big supporter of technology in our school systems - it only makes sense to acquaint kids - to some degree- with what technology is available. However, as per useless technology like this: the focus needs to be taken AWAY from trying to substitute real teaching with toys like this. Plus it's expensive and I wouldn't want my kid taking a $99 pen to school - When I was that age it was hard to keep track of a pencil.
    • 100% agreed!

      The people involved in our education systems seem to have missed the point of having computers in the classroom. It's stupid and counter-productive to try and teach regular subjects using the computer. Even if you find an effective way to do it, it's just going to make kids think that they can't do it without the computer and that'll screw them royally when they get to college and are told they can't use calculators for their math classes. Rather, we should be teaching kids how to USE the com
    • the focus needs to be taken AWAY from trying to substitute real teaching with toys like this.
      Everytime we talk about educational technology, we get the same kneejerk crap. Who said anything about this pen replacing teachers? Sure kids need good teachers. But they also need to be able to learn on their own. And good educational tech helps with that.
  • there is less learning being achieved.

    before the advent of electronics children learned a lot more than they are learning now, all these electronic gizmos, computers included, are nothing more than a distraction. look at the quality of education in the last 20 years. teachers are using these items as a crutch, its time to go back to the basics
  • by panurge ( 573432 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @09:49AM (#13388665)
    From the article, I have the impression that to get anything out of it, you need good manual pen manipulation skills and the ability to write clearly. The problem looks like it is probably too big for the target audience- I would hate to have to write with an electric toothbrush size pen, and I have normal size hands.

    If this thing could work so as to encourage children who cannot be bothered to learn to write clearly or draw even simple lines, it could actually be useful at one stage of development. Anyone who thinks to ask for hand-written applications for jobs nowadays will realise that many people cannot write properly, and there are still places where this is essential. Those of us who were educated before progressive education will remember how we were forced to learn to write letters and numbers clearly, use rulers and compasses etc.(and how long it took) Nowadays forcing children does not seem to be an option, but the simple ability to write does not motivate them to learn unless they have very involved parents. So, given the number of parents who are too busy or cannot be bothered, perhaps this thing or a derivative has a place.

  • [i]I bought a seven-dollar pen because I always lose pens and I got sick of not caring.[/i] - Mitch Hedberg (RIP)
  • How can they use a pentop computer from inside the pen? Something about this doesn't make sense.
  • As a parent myself, I've personally discovered that LeapFrog really doesn't seem to make *any* products I'd consider very "useful" for kid's learning.

    Reading about this latest gadget from them doesn't surprise me much....

    My kid was given one of LeapFrog's earlier products when she was 1 or 2... a big plastic caterpilar pull-toy that speaks letters and sounds of the alphabet when each of its legs (corresponding to one letter each) are pressed. IMHO, this was probably the most sensible/useful thing they've
  • 100 comments and no link to the actual product []?

    As another poster commented, their "special dot-matrix FLY paper" sounds a lot like Anoto paper, which means you can use the pen to write anywhere, but for it to actually do anything you need to be using official Anoto-licensed paper. It sounds like they've taken Logitech's and Nokia's digital pen concept and combined it with a kiddie-PDA. Interesting idea.

  • by tgeller ( 10260 ) on Wednesday August 24, 2005 @01:13PM (#13390499) Homepage
    I've seen this pen in use for about nine months. (A friend works at LeapFrog, and I sometimes stopped by to pick her up after work.) And I have to say: It's pretty freaking cool. A few points:

    * It doesn't compete (as some commenters have said) with Palm devices or general-purpose computers. Its real competitors are those "toy" computers, electronic learning tools... that is, LeapFrog's other products! It's more a grandchild of the Speak 'n' Spell [] than the Apple II.

    * As a product, it's kind of hard to "get" until demo'd... and then you get it immediately. If I were running the company's PR department I'd launch an aggressive journalist demo program. I did something similar with Globalstar satellite phones as a client... yeah, the company tanked, but we scored some GREAT press in the targeted marine sector. It's a similar product at base: a new, untested solution in a well-established market.

    * IMHO, the real application for Fly is outside children's education. For example: Real Estate appraisers and construction pros could draw a room's layout on ordinary-feeling paper and get back square footage, price per square foot, materials needed, etc.

    * I can't wait for it to be hacked. Slashdotters, your kids don't need Fly: YOU do.
  • We need more READING. It should be a crime to let someone graduate high school who still reads at a sixth grade level.

    I run into people at COLLEGE who I think still read at a third grade level.

    If you can't read well, you can't collect information and ideas well. If you can't do that, all you've got to form your worldview and reasoning is the vacuum between your ears. Pen sized computers aren't going to fix this. We need to abolish the "let's watch a video and talk about our feelings" curricula and have chil

  • I remember the last time they had this technology... when it was called "Mortimer Ichabod Marker".
  • This is just another step toward finding someone to beat the Buggers.

Reactor error - core dumped!