One of the most interesting science lessons that can be taught at an elementary, middle or high school is that of weather because it is so immediate and touches on chemistry, physics, biology and math. Up until now, the only way for a school to have a weather lab was to install something like the Davis Vantage Vue on the school’s roof. No more, because Netatmo combines the best of local meteorological measurements with what the Web has to offer to create an inexpensive weather station.
Rather than a large array of sensors that’s mounted on a roof, Netatmo comes with two small silver and while cylinders. The small one uses 4 AAA batteries, goes outside and needs to be sheltered from direct rain; it comes with a Velcro strap. It communicates with the large cylinder that is set up indoors and is powered by a USB AC adapter. The two cylinders communicate over an 868- or 915-MHz data link and the readings are eventually sent over the school’s WiFi network to a computer and Netatmo’s servers.
The small cylinder has sensors for temperature and humidity (inside and out) as well as barometric pressure, sound and carbon dioxide level. Readings are displayed roughly every 5 minutes; after pressing the top of the indoor module, Netatmo will take instant measurements.
To that Netatmo’s indoor cylinder adds readings for sound level and carbon dioxide levels. While Netatmo lacks a rain gauge and an anemometer, the device is fed data for the area about rain, wind direction and speed as well as cloud cover and forecasts from Meteogroup. The company promises to store your accumulated data forever, making the system a great year-to-year classroom resource.
Setting it up is quicker and easier than a traditional weather station, but the cylinders need to be within 100-feet of each other; extra indoor modules cost $79. All told, figure on the whole installation taking about 20 minutes to perform, and it can be a classroom activity. A word of advice, though, download, print and read the system’s manual or you might get a little hung up.
You’ll need to use a Mac or PC to get the gear connected with Netatmo’s set up wizard. After that you can view current readings with an iPad or iPhone as well as a connected Android 4.0 device, PC, Mac or Chromebook using Netatmo’s Web interface.
The interface shows an excellent summary of the current conditions as well as the last time the numbers were updated. All the data is available in either English or metric units. It takes a few seconds for the readings to be displayed and you can roll back the days to see what the weather was like in the past. The data can be manually exported as an Excel file for further analysis.
Everything is presented in an easy to read format with large numbers and letters. You can switch to a fever chart of the temperature or rain amount for the day, week, month or year. The screen shows the Air Quality Index as well as the UV Index and what temperature it feels like outside. Netatmo can show notifications based on sensor triggers or National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration weather warnings, but only the Web interface shows the battery level of the outdoor sensor cylinder and the quality of the link between the cylinders.
For those contemplating using Netatmo with a large class or as the basis of a homework assignment, a big bonus is that an unlimited number of clients can access the data at the same time. It can also be shared over a variety of social media outlets or an email that links to the data.
Over the course of three weeks, I used Netatmo with an iPad Mini, first-generation iPad, Lenovo IdeaPad S2110 tablet, Chromebook Pixel as well as several PCs and shared the data with others. It refused to work with my LG Nitro phone, though, because it didn’t have the latest Android software.
The system’s information was generally accurate compared to National Weather Service readings nearby, although once it registered a mind-numbing 107.1 degrees Fahrenheit, when the temperature was actually closer to 95 degrees. After realizing that the sensor cylinder was in the sun, I put it in a shadier location and got a truer temperature reading.
A great way to teach about all the components that make up climate, Netatmo is a must-have for every school.
+ Accurate weather sensors
+ Small, inexpensive
+ Data transmitted to whole class
+ iPad, Android, Chromebook or Web interface
+ Carbon dioxide monitor
+ Easy to understand interface
- No rain gauge
- Android tablets require latest software