Data-logging has suddenly got quicker. A lot quicker. Within two minutes of sitting down with Data Harvest's Barbara Higginbotham, we knew that the temperature was 22.3 degrees (the Royal Society for the Arts - RSA - likes to keep its premises comfortable), the humidity was surprisingly high at 58 per cent (well, it was pouring outside) and the sound level was an impressively low 50 decibels (a tribute to our whispers) but what do you expect in a library?
If this had been a science lesson or on a geography field trip we would have been analysing live data feeds within seconds of the start, rather than waiting for laggardly laptops to boot up and then loading software. The revolutionary new EasySense VISION, which has its UK debut at BETT 2010 in Olympia, London, in January, dispenses with the need for computers other than for communicating data.
And maybe it's time to forget the term "data-logging" as it's now "data analysing" from the get-go.
Data Harvest has liberated data-logging from the classroom chore of managing laptops and desktops by putting all the EasySense software and computing together on a RAM chip (easily upgradable as improvements become available) in one little box. It boots up instantly and learners and teachers use a touchscreen to manipulate the data by finger or stylus. It's as simple as that, And for those already familiar with EasySense software - it's already in about 50 per cent of UK schools - there's nothing new to learn.
This clever little box, designed and manufactured in the UK, has four inputs for sensors, including two light gates for timing (speed/acceleration). If a teacher needs to link to a PC – for sharing data or importing datasets for example – this can be done simply via a USB connection. Immediate sharing via a monitor or data projector for whiteboard or wall is also simple - just connect via a VGA lead. The only other connection is to a power source – but the device also has its own rechargeable batteries that can provide juice for a full school day or, for those on a field trip, up to 14 days.
The software is the same EasySense program that schools are familiar with - and it has been tweaked for use on a smaller screen as Data Harvest already has considerable experience of versioning its software for handheld devices. For example, the digital input from one sensor can fill the whole screen just as easily as it can be dropped into a live, dynamic graph. There's also an on-screen keyboard for adding text where necessary.
Right now the Data Harvest team is tweaking the move from prototype to full production model. And that includes extras like fast logging and timing – up to 50,000 samples per second for sound analysis. All will be ready and in place for BETT 2010.
There's more good news - the VISION is compatible with all the Data Harvest sensors out there in schools. For £279 (UK schools introductory price), science and geography teachers are freed from managing computers and can get straight to grips with their subject work.
It's a step change for data-logging, and there are other solutions out there (Pasco and Fourier for example), but nothing as simple and cost-effective. That's why Barbara Higginbotham (left) is tired but elated. "There is no more hanging about for teachers and learners now that we have instant-on," she says, "and far fewer snaking wires and connectors.
"The EasySense VISION is, simply, a data-logging computer in a small package that can be operated by touch-screen. We have bypassed the network and timewasting log-ons, and users only see our software. It had been our longterm objective but we only started working with the right partner last year. Yesterday we showed it to a teacher at Sheffield Hallam University who felt that her children will love it. She asked, 'What have we, the teachers, got to learn?' The simple answer is, 'If you have already used our software, absolutely nothing!'
"The VISION is great for collecting and saving data and making it make sense. Want to share it via a data projector? Just connect it to a digital projector. Yes, you can connect it to a PC to share the data, or do that via a USB memory stick. Teachers can even 'drive' it from a PC, but I can't imagine why they would want to."
Like all great presenters, Barbara Higginbotham likes to have a good story to tell. And watching her with a prototype of the new EasySense VISION it's clear that this is one of the best. It's also one that teachers needing innovative, creative data-logging tools for their learners are waiting to hear. So far the news is so fresh that it has only been shared with close collaborators and overseas partners at WorldDidac 2009 in Bangkok. It's certain to attract science teachers at the annual ASE (Association for Science n Education) event in January and science and geography teachers at BETT 2010.
“Everyone at Data Harvest is excited by how liberating EasySense VISION is in use," Barbara Higginbotham concludes. "We know that it is the right tool for practical science, and are all looking forward to showing and using VISION in schools and teacher workshops up and down the country.”
A full review of the EasySense VISION, by Chris Drage, will appear on this site in December as soon as production models are available.
January 13-16, Olympia, London
You can see the EasySense VISION on the Data Harvest stand at the BETT Show. Stand Q40