What would you do with a laboratory in the palm of your hand?
The list of things that can be measured these days with small, low-cost sensors reads like a high-school physics curriculum: motion, acceleration, temperature, pressure, and magnetic fields just to name a few. Smart homes, cities and businesses are filling with devices built around measurements like these -- yet most science classrooms are still filled with bulky, expensive, analog equipment that students must learn to use before they can learn anything about science.
No doubt many enterprising and tech-savvy teachers are already making use of programmable DIY sensor kits to upgrade their lesson plans. But even the most user-friendly products require some amount of assembly and programming experience, and may not be robust enough to withstand the rigors of lab experiments or field trips. For a teacher with a curriculum to get through, those factors can distract students from being immersed in the learning process.
Clifton Roozeboom, a PhD student at Stanford University whose work in mechanical engineering focuses on sensors, saw that educators needed a ready-made and self-contained solution that students could pick up and begin learning with immediately. “If you have a device that’s easy to use, inexpensive and durable,” Roozeboom wondered, “what kind of science experiments would people build?”
To find out, he created Pocketlab -- basically a classroom-on-a-chip for collecting data in physics experiments. About the size of a chunky USB stick, Pocketlab contains a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, thermometer and barometer, along with a Bluetooth Low Energy module so it can connect to a phone, tablet or laptop. Attach it to a model rocket, egg-drop enclosure or other experimental set-up and Pocketlab is ready to collect, display and share real-time data at up to 50 samples per second.
Pocketlab is powered by a replaceable coin battery that runs for up to 80 hours of experimentation. The Bluetooth connection gives it a range of about 100 feet, which is enough for any classroom and most outdoor lessons. It’s built to withstand moderate drops and shocks, and will come with a silicon sleeve to make it splashproof, so it can survive a wide variety of experiments.
Roozeboom’s startup, Myriad Sensors, will provide a cloud-based platform where students and educators can store data, add other content like notes and photos, perform analyses, and share their results. The company also provides an “Exploration Guide” with 25 suggested experiments, and is working on curricula that will include hundreds of lessons.
Pocketlab can be preordered on Kickstarter through April 15, and will ship in June. Learn more in the video below.
Related: Citizen Sensing