Data-logging suddenly got easier and better, reports Chris Drage
It’s been a long wait since we saw the first signs of Data Harvest’s EasySense VISION, designed to embed ICT in science by doing away with a PC or laptop altogether and managing data collection and analysis on its own. Now, with both a production models and firmware updates available, just how well does this unique data-logger perform? What do you get for your £299?
A BETT 2011 Digital Device Award winner, that's what. The EasySense VISION is a data-logging computer that can be operated via a touch-screen. It’s an all-in-one solution which is both ergonomically designed and robust enough for the task. The fact that it completely replaces the standard PC/data-logger combination is definitely a step in the right direction.
This diminutive device (160mm x 115mm x 53mm) weighs in at 410g and sports a 110mm, bright, LCD touch screen. The package is comprised of an EasySense VISION USB (including two Styli), a 1.8m, USB lead, a power supply unit, a rechargeable battery pack, two 150mm sensor leads, two 1.5m sensor leads and a CD of manuals and user guides. The review sample included a range of commonly used sensors for testing purposes but normally these would be additional purchases.
Before undertaking any logging in earnest, it is best to ‘play’ with the logger and get used to the menu structures and manipulating the stylus. It’s obviously easier for younger, more adept fingers, but the excellent software manual guides you easily through from the ‘Home’ window through to more esoteric features like monitoring your pulse-waveform via the ‘Scope’.
VISION offers three levels of operation: Level 1 (‘start’ level) aimed at up to 9 years; Level 2 (‘mid’ level) aimed at 9–15 years; Level 3 (‘exam’ level) aimed at 15-plus.
Stored on board are more than 480 set-up files matching Data Harvest’s printed investigations and activities. Although Data Harvest doesn’t make a point of advertising it, VISION is also ideal for all primary data-logging tasks; the built-in software is a full version of the well established EasySense program.
'It simplifies procedures that were the bane of my teaching life'
An excellent place to start for younger children is the ‘Meters’ screen where changes are seen as they occur. Similarly, ‘Easylog’, another entry to data-logging, creates a line graph of the data as it is being recorded. To a school used to EasySense it is all very familiar and reassuring. Of course, many primary schools will undoubtedly continue to opt for the cost-effective EasySenseQ3+ logger. However, for a primary school smitten with the VISION, it’s worth remembering that all the SmartQ sensors function perfectly on all Data Harvest loggers.
The four inputs on the top edge of VISION may be used with analogue and digital sensors. Both will be recorded side by side during data logging. Sensor inputs 1 and 2 are also labelled as A and B. These inputs are for timing activities when digital sensors must be connected. Smart Q Sensors are each equipped with a microprocessor which ensures accuracy and consistency, and as each one has auto-identification it simplifies the set-up procedure and calibration that I remember used to be the bane of my teaching life when undertaking logging activities in the ‘old days’.
The VISION is fitted with a rechargeable lithium ion battery and its operational life will depend on the sensors it is used with. Data Harvest has made the battery pack user-swappable at the end of its estimated five-year working life. If VISION is left idle (no screen taps, button press or mouse movement) for more than three-four minutes its screen automatically dims although logging continues. A simple tap and the screen returns to full brightness. Similarly, if its voltage level drops too low then VISION will automatically save its logged data before shutting down.
I particularly like the way you can use VISION in three different modes: standalone, with a PC and with a data projector. As a standalone device you can record, save, display and analyse data from the VISION without a PC in sight. As VISION is a full data-logger, it provides all the features you would expect for general purpose classroom data-logging – fast logging for physics, and long term recording for biology and environmental experiments.
Some features you would normally expect to find on a PC running data analysis software! Here VISION’s high-resolution, colour LCD touch screen, although small, clearly displays all the graphing and analysis tools. The only fault I could find was that in some modes and settings numbers on adjoining axes could overlap slightly thus losing some clarity.
VISION can print its graphs directly to any HP PCL Printer. However, I found I could easily transfer data from the VISION either via a USB memory stick or directly using the USB cable provided.
If you opt to connect VISION to a PC, you can control it from the PC which is useful for whole-class demonstrations. Data recorded on VISION can be transferred to the PC and opened directly into a PC version of EasySense. I like the ease with which you can simply plug in the VISION and transfer files (eg like the handy ‘Workroom’ set-up files) to and from the data-logger using Windows Explorer.
'It is very difficult to find fault with the EasySense VISION'
If you ever need to present a teacher/student led demonstration to a class of students then using VISION in ‘Projector Mode’ comes into its own. Simply plug VISION into a projector or monitor (VGA output) and it automatically switches from the built-in LCD to the connected display. And you can add a USB mouse to control the VISION. What could be easier? It’s a delightful means of sharing captured data or demonstrating how to use the logger with a group or the whole class.
It is very difficult to find fault with the EasySense VISION. As a left-hander, one minor problem I did encounter was inadvertently switching the device ‘off’ and blanking the screen when I was using the stylus on some menu options. A quick re-press revealed that everything was still intact. However, I would personally like to see the powerswitch moved to a less prominent position. ‘Sleep mode’ is not implemented in the current firmware release, making long-term recording only possible if the VISION is connected to mains power.
As the VISION is immediately ready to use, it can be used for those ’what if’ moments that lead to the most memorable practical, enquiry-based science experiments. Its versatility and usefulness is limited only by the range of sensors that a school invests in. It is certainly a data-logger for our times, being instantly on, with the same touch and feel as students’ mobile phones and hand-held computer games, giving them the same, instant feedback. More important, its design encourages pupils to ask questions and to see beyond the experiment. Thoroughly recommended.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 5
EasySense VISION data-logger
All-in-one mobile data-logger that can be used without the need for a PC or laptop. Small (160mm x 115mm x 53mm), light (410g) and sports a 110mm, bright, LCD touch screen. Package includes EasySense VISION USB (with two Styli), a 1.8m USB lead, power supply unit, rechargeable battery pack, two 150mm sensor leads, two 1.5m sensor leads and a CD of manuals and user guides. Price: £299 exVAT.
Data Harvest EasySense VISION
BETT 2011, January 12-15
Data Harvest: stand Q40